City neighborhood set for war against feathered foes

Gary B. Gray • Feb 8, 2014 at 9:31 PM

Gump Addition residents are in lock-and-load mode to rid their neighborhood of pesky and poop-happy flocks of starlings, even if it means donning goggles, roaming the streets and launching pyrotechnics at the critters from devices resembling flame throwers.

“We have four options,” Washington County and Johnson City Commissioner David Tomita said about the troubled neighborhood in which he lives. “We can do nothing. We can remove the trees and bushes. We can use poison. Or, we can use what the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency calls ‘intensive harassment.’ ”

That last maneuver doesn’t have a passive ring to it, but it may be the only thing that works.

“Nobody wants to chop down their trees, and poisoning isn’t practical, because when they come in at about 5 p.m., they are coming in to roost; they’re coming in to sleep,” Tomita said. “We still need a consensus on this, but we’re thinking of closing off a street and having a neighborhood block party — maybe have a beer or a glass of wine and just make a bunch of flippin’ noise at the same time the state is doing their thing.

“We figured, hey, let’s get together and try and have a good time while we deal with this. We have to laugh from time to time, but myself, my kids and my neighbors are covered in poop. We still have to address liability issues, and if someone is firing projectiles within the city limits we will need a temporary ordinance.”

TWRA District Supervisor Keith Blanton met with residents and members of the Johnson City Police Department a few weeks ago. The discussion led to Blanton’s recommendations for dealing with the plentiful and stubborn birds.

City commissioners and “Gumpers” basically have boiled down their options to two, and both involve a melee in which either the state or a group of neighbors, or a combination of both, will conduct a militaristic, weeklong assault.

The first is a plan in which a handful of state personnel comes marching in armed to the teeth and blasts away for four to five days. This option would cost from $5,000 to $7,000. The alternative is for the state to train several residents and guide at least five city personnel on an attack lasting roughly one week. This harassment project would require the city to buy the needed pyrotechnics and about 2,000 rounds of what is known as “Bird Boosters.” Tomita likened them to large bottle rockets.

The pyrotechnic launchers cost about $35 to $120 each, depending on the size and style, and the pyrotechnics go for about $50 for 100 rounds. The state would loan the city pistols and launchers from which the July 4th-like explosives would be flung into the night sky.

“Roving personnel with pyrotechnics would work the perimeter of the roosting area and try to deter the birds as they first arrive, as well as drive around within the neighborhood shooting pyrotechnics and playing bird distress calls,” Blanton said. “Individual homeowners would use their propane cannons, as well as air horns, clapping sticks or pots and pans together, lights, water spray, shaking trees, whatever they can do to disturb the birds at their trees.”

Blanton estimated each shooter would need to use 100-150 rounds of pyros per night.

“We recommend eye and ear protection for those folks shooting pyrotechnics, and care should be taken not to hit tree limbs or power lines and cause the projectiles to ricochet onto a rooftop or into dry vegetation,” Blanton said. “Our personnel on site would also do harassment as well, and instruct city personnel on the best locations and actions to respond to bird activity each night.”

Yes, the solution, in many ways, sounds rather humorous, but the problem is real. The starlings also present some serious health concerns, because they are known to carry Histoplasmosis, a fungal disease that primarily affects human lungs.

Commissioners are expected to take action on the matter at their Feb. 20 meeting.

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