Monday, April 12, 2010

Rogue's Gallery of Nest Pests

There aren’t many things out here JOTOLR that fall into a category I would call "annoying." And, maybe some think it’s futile or mindless of me to take a stand against massive numbers of birds on an annual basis. Nonetheless, every year, without fail, I do.

Seeing a photo such as this one, strikes terror in my heart! These are Starlings darkening the sky. Yes, I am a dedicated birder. I cultivate wild birds’ attention with never-empty bird baths (made of an old garbage can lid) in the summer, and no cats. ( It’s not that I don’t like cats. I do. In fact, MM and I have had many, but when the last one died a natural death, we never added a cat back, discovering how many birds came to the yard when we hawere cat-less.) But I digress.  Let’s have a little frank discussion here. There are three (actually four if I include crows) birds that I consider “invasive.” My objections include their tendencies to overpopulate, their unpleasant, incessant voices, flocking behavior, parasitism, and untidiness. So here we go:


Villain number one is the cowbird, considered by the Audubon Society to be the THE number one “brood parasite” of all the birds in this country. For those who don’t know what that means, the Cowbird lays its eggs in other birds’ nests, and gives the job of raising their brood to the host bird, completely wiping out that bird’s potential brood. The poor Vireo, for example, winds up pouring all its energy into the rapacious hatchlings of the Cowbird and its own nestlings die. Sure, sometimes, the host-bird will gather enough strength to do another nest after the cowbird babies have flown, but that’s also not to say the same thing won’t happen again. Now, who am I to question Nature, right? Well… I do question Nature and sometimes she needs a little help.


Picture all the bird poo left behind (top photo above)! Can’t you just hear the cacophony of their oily, hingey, squeaks and warbles? Think of all the messy nests made from all manner of trash you never knew you had! String, sticks, old paper . Think of the birds you could have had in your yard. Birds that don’t clone massive hoards! Starlings are a non-native species. They were originally imported—legend has it—by a man who wanted to ensure that all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare were here in the U. S. Here are some (mostly unpleasant) facts about starlings from Sialis’s website:

An estimated 1/3 to 1/2 of returning females nest in the same box or area in consecutive years. That is why it's even more important not to let them nest in the first place.

A starling couple can build a nest in 1-3 days. Both sexes incubate.

• A migrating flock can number 100,000 birds. They roost communally in flocks that may contain as many as a million birds .

• Each year, starlings cause an estimated $800 million in damages to agricultural crops

• About 15-33% of first broods are parasitized (via egg dumping) by other starlings.

• Starlings have an unusual bill that springs open to grip prey or pry plants apart.

• Starlings only molt once a year (after breeding) but the spots that show up in the winter wear off by the spring, making them look glossy black.

• In Starlings, the length of the intestinal tract actually varies depending on the season. It is shorter in the summertime (when birds are mainly eating protein-rich) insect foods and larger in wintertime when they are mainly eating seeds, which are rich in carbohydrates.

My third pest is...the envelope please…..


This bird is simply obnoxious, and eventually creates huge flocks and runs other birds out of nesting spaces. For example, out here, JOTOLR, we want to cultivate Purple Martins in our garden. They are a wonderful bird which consume tremendous amounts of garden pest insects every year. The Purple Martins are beautiful to watch, too, as they soar to catch bugs mid-air, and eventually, we are able to witness their parenting skills as they teach their young to do the same. They are a delight!

We have a Purple Martin house with “rooms” in it for many Martins who, despite their gregariousness in nesting sites, never gather into large flocks.. But before they can nest, every year, we have to drive the House Sparrows out. A couple of times before the Purple Martins get here, I have to climb the ladder, clean out the Purple Martins’ nest box of the debris of messy nest material put in early in the spring by the unrelenting House Sparrows. Again, they make a most annoying screechy sound and they are pure scavengers, eating whatever they can find, including—as the year progresses, fruits and berries. They’re the birds you see all the time in cities (along with starlings), gobbling up discarded food and trash of one kind or another.

Originally, 100 were introduced into this country in 1850 to kill inchworms on trees! (The original 8 pairs died. Unfortunately, an all-too-successful re-importation was carried out in 1851.) They aren’t fussy about diet. In addition to fruits and berries, they consume huge amounts of grain in agricultural areas where it’s grown. Up to 90% of their diet is in seeds, and they gather in huge noisy flocks.

From my experience, there’s only one tool that can discourage all of these alien invaders.  It's called a 'bird swatter."  Together, my 16 gauge Browning automatic  and I keep the local pest population under control so the desirable birds...have a shot.

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