BLACKBIRDS STILL HARASS OWLS. RICE OWLS, THAT IS!
The Oc+ober, 1974 SPOONBILL carried a request for information from Dr. Dan Johnson
a teacher of Population Ecology at Rice University. As part of a research and management program at Rice Dr. Johnson was attempting to compile information concerning the history of the Rice roost of blackbirds (estimated in March of 1973 as being some 500,000 birds), as well as the location and history of other roosts In
the vicinity of Hous+on. Dr. Johnson wrote a most interesting article for the
March 1975 SPOONBILL on the history of Blackbirds at Rice, what was being attempted
in an effort to alleviate the situation, and what had been the results. The Editor
was reminded of this when reading the CH Editor's copy of the February 1980 SALLYPORT, Alumni newsletter from Rice U., which contained the following item:
Bird in the hand....It's that time of year. The annual battle of the birds has begun again—and the people aren't winning. Each evening a dark cloud hovers over
the campus and then descends, filling the oak trees with live leaves.
Jones and Brown Colleges and the President's House, usually some of the hardest hit
areas on campus, have been spared so far this season due to some Aggie ingenuity.
Loudspeakers broadcast a cassette of bird distress calls during the crucial forty-
five minutes when the birds return for their evening roost after a long day of
foraging for food north of town. To further deter the birds, empty white feed
sacks have been hung in the trees. All these attempts have driven the birds away
right to the other side of the campus, especially around the Memorial Center.
In retaliation, the RMC people got their own tape and Stan Barber says It has been
pretty successful over the patio area, but that the trees surrounding the RMC are
heavily inhabited, mora so than In past years.
One campus expert predicts that the first real cold spell will start the season in
earnest, bringing about half a million birds in a combination of grackles, robins,
blackbirds, cowbirds, and starlings.
Students haven't resorted to umbrellas yet, but they do tread softly on their way
to the Pub or to the library. Some students have found a way to make sport of the
spring visitors. A flock of Jones women have been seen letting out human distress
calls, otherwise known as bloodcurdling screams, beneath particularly "loaded' tret
Physical plant serves as the operations headquarters for anti-bird strategy planning. Over the past decade, the strategists have tried everything—tree "trimming,
defoliation, cannon booms, ultrasound starter pistols, helicopters, and giant tree
nets—all to great expense and very limited success.
Russ Pitman, '58, campus business manager, jokingly comments that, "Part of our
problem is the thickness of the trees on campus. If you could cut down every second tree, it would help" That, however. Is not a terribly popular solution. Meanwhile the battle of the birds rages on.
Ellen Red, who lives a very short distance from the Rice campus, has had to curtail her evening walk around her block because of slippery underfootlng and drips
from above! This is an increasing urban noisome nuisance, as populations of blackbirds seemingly climb ever upward. An estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 blackbirds
in the Rice University area makestfor a lot of guano!]
[Anne Elston's delightful article in the January 1980 SPOONBILL on showing a slide
program to some Katy third-graders brought her a letter from the grandmother of
one of the students, Mrs. Virginia Alviset of Schulenberg, who Is a SPOONBILL subscriber. The Editor asked Anne +o share the letter with you].
Dear Mrs. Elston, I read about your talk to the 3rd graders at the elementary
school where Kyle attends. When he was visiting us during the Christmas holidays
he told me about your talk and was most impressed. Especially about the Burrowing
Owls. He and I try to bird watch each time he comes up +o visit.
Keep up the good work with the youngsters. I have always regretted that I was too
dumb to take advantage of learning from Connie Hagar when I was a teenager.
Sincerely, Virginia Alviset.
CKyle Is a fortunate boy to have a grandmother who encourages his interest in birding. We would all like to know more about her memories of Connie Hagar!]