They show up every spring like clockwork. In The Colony -- egrets are coming back. The birds can make a big mess. Last year, flocks of egrets made life miserable for many residents. This year, the city is trying prevent a repeat of that.
One issue -- egrets are a federally protected bird. Once they start nesting, the birds cannot be disturbed. In recent weeks, officials in The Colony began to take several steps in attempt to move the birds along, before it's too late.
Trees in the neighborhood near Pemberton Lane are decorated with streamers and large balloons. What resembles a block party is really part of the solution. So too are the loud, booming sounds, and a track of bird noises which come from speakers hung high in the trees.
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"The noise isn't bad," said Stephanie Cordell, as she walked with her daughter. "It doesn't terrify my dog or anything like that."
The sounds, of predatory or sick birds, are part of a plan to scare the egrets away. Last spring and summer, nesting egrets caused all sorts of problems. They painted cars, streets and sidewalks with their droppings. Birds swooped toward pets and children, neighbors said. When the babies hatched, dead birds, which fell from nests, littered yards and sidewalks.
"Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," said Pam Nelson, The Colony's community services director. "You don't get a break from it."
The city is passing out kits to residents, which include big mylar balloons, shiny tape, spray nozzles for hoses and other items. Before egrets begin to nest, it is legal to try and move the birds along. One thing which draws egrets to The Colony, is that it has established neighborhoods, with a thick tree canopy, in which the birds prefer to nest. Residents are also being urged to trim back trees, to make nesting less attractive.
By the time residents began to complain to the city last year about the egrets, they'd already begun to nest, so they could not be touched.
"This year, we're much more ahead of the game than we could be last year," said Jim Mackin, greenscapes and special projects crew leader for the city.
Mackin spends a few hours a day driving around neighborhoods in The Colony, trying to spot egrets. Over the winter, crews removed hundreds of nests from trees.
"Our goal is to try and encourage them to build their nests in more appropriate environments, where nature intends them to be," said Nelson, adding that the effort is not intended to harm the birds, but rather move them to open space in the city.
So far, the effort appears to be working, she said.
"It's helping them find another place," Cordell said. "Because once the egrets nest somewhere and there's a whole flock, they're always going to keep coming back."