Bird debacle resolved peacefully

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

There is no doubt the feisty little Italian many of us knew from the old Mr. Hank Show on KENW has aged. It shows in his flowing gray mane. What we may not have known until this week was the deviousness age has bestowed on Tony Gennaro.

Earlier this year, a problem developed at the Roosevelt County Courthouse that the good Dr. Gennaro, trained in wildlife biology, was uniquely suited to handle. He accepted the assignment with his usual aplomb — having a good time and teaching everyone about wildlife in the process.

The assignment — encourage a flock of several thousand great-tailed grackles to move on from their roosting spot in the trees around the courthouse.

Mission accomplished!

Apparently the birds, which had been swarming the courthouse area like something from a Hitchcock movie, haven’t come back in great numbers for any length of time. With the departure of the birds the sidewalks and lawn beneath the trees are once again a safe place to step in your new shoes — if you know what I mean.

Gennaro accomplished the feat with an operation that was a cross between Chinese New Year and the London Blitzkrieg.

After hanging orange plastic buckets with iridescent streamers flying from them in every tree downtown Wednesday, Gennaro enlisted a team of 25 volunteers. The volunteers’ job was to, on Gennaro’s signal, simultaneously set off firecrackers inside the buckets hung beneath the squawking mass of birds.

Gennaro says if the birds do come back another barrage or two should take care of them.

I knew the noise would upset the birds, because a few nights earlier I was underneath the trees trying to get a photograph of a great-tailed grackle. The camera flash scared the birds, so did the jake-brake on the milk truck that went by while I was down there. They pooped on me as they took off but were back in minutes.

Gennaro explained that the distress noise created by the sound of 25 strings of firecrackers going off at once bothered the birds but the association of the stressful sound with the buckets and streamers are what kept them from coming back.

You needn’t worry that the buckets and streamers are going to have to stay around as alien-looking Christmas decorations. He figures they can be removed next week when the birds have other roosting habits established.

The whole event reminded me of a similar occurrence back in the 1970s that turned out a lot uglier.

At that time there were huge elm trees on the northeast corner of the courthouse where the old men gathered in the shade each afternoon to play dominoes, whittle and tell fish stories. One fall the bucolic scene abruptly changed as flocks of thousands of starlings and sparrows descended on the trees.

The old men didn’t care for the bird droppings on their chairs and health issues were raised. Half the town was in favor of some type of exterminations. The other half insisted whatever was done should be done humanely.

Then-editor of the PNT Gordon Greaves injected himself right into the middle of the controversy with stories and an almost daily posting about the event in the By-the-Way column. Greaves was on the humane side and contacted Gennaro for his help.

According to Gennaro, several tactics, including sticky stuff in the trees, didn’t work.

Finally the other faction in the battle dispatched a sheriff’s deputy with shotgun to keep the birds from roosting one evening. Greaves heard the shooting and got photos. The next morning, Gennaro says there were dead and wounded birds all over the courthouse lawn. The town was agitated over the whole deal, and yet the birds returned.

The county figured the only thing left to do was remove the trees. The trees were taken out and a gazebo was built for the old men. Greaves editorialized about the loss of the trees but eventually the town returned to normal.

We’re lucky that Gennaro’s tactics have become more wiley over the years. No birds were harmed in this scene and no trees have been removed.

Karl Terry is managing editor of the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4481, ext. 33 or e-mail: