Murmuration intimidation

 

WASHINGTON

A bank officer who has earned the title “Duck Man” did it again for the third year in a row in Spokane: He saved the day by helping ducks fly away. Joel Armstrong watched a nest outside his office window until he realized that the ducklings were itching to take off. But the little birds were 15 feet from the ground, so he “rushed down to the pavement to catch them as they fell from their ledge.”  Then Duck Man carried them through traffic to the river, reports The Week magazine. Acting as guardian angel, Armstrong has caught 26 birds “and hasn’t dropped one yet.”

THE WEST

Ducklings in urban settings may be charming, but pigeons? In Carson City, Nev., “pigeons have gotten the best of the state Division of Insurance that oversees a multimillion dollar industry.” Once pigeons took up residence in the building’s ventilation system, 75 employees began getting sick with sore throats and breathing problems, reports the Las Vegas Sun. The heating and air conditioning systems were replaced and a variety of lethal chemicals were sprayed, but nothing helped, so workers are moving to a new office, costing the state $1.4 million for a five-year lease.


Then there are European starlings, those noisy black birds that love North America so much they’ve grown from a mere 100, when they were introduced to New York City’s Central Park in the early 1890s, to 200 million today. It’s truly a success story, albeit an unfortunate one for native birds, air travel and agriculture. Now one of the most common birds in the United States, “starlings breed like crazy, eat almost anything, are highly mobile and operate in overwhelming numbers,” reports AP. They also make an “intimidating statement as they swirl in vast clouds called murmurations.” Nationally, the federal Wildlife Services spends millions of dollars trying to kill or harass starlings, which take an estimated yearly toll of $800 million on agriculture.  Despite spending more on poisoning starlings than any other state, Washington remains a favorite hangout for the birds. At one feedlot, 200,000 starlings gather each day, “lining fence tops, wires, water troughs and even perching on top of cows.” Then when the cows get fed, the birds descend to snatch the best bits. Yet their biggest threat to people occurs at airports, where they sometimes collide with planes. At Salt Lake City International airport, where there have been 19 reported starling-plane strikes in the last 20 years, wildlife biologist Mike Smith has been trapping and poisoning the birds, once netting 800 in one day. But it’s clear that starlings are tough to control, much less eliminate. Says Greg Butcher of the National Audubon Society, “They’re great survivors and quite the biological machine.”

SOUTH DAKOTA

Ouch: A fierce thunderstorm in Vivian, S.D., dropped the fattest hailstone ever recorded — l pound 15 ounces — fortunately not on the head of the ranch worker who found it. Other ice balls left craters in the ground six inches deep, reports the Washington Post.

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