Carrollton residents ready for egret invasion

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 11:47 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 10 at 11:20 PM

CARROLLTON - These days, Allyson Baughn keeps her eye on the sky above her Carrollton home and a finger on the trigger of an air horn.

She’s leery an unwelcome summer visitor may return this year.

"We’re gearing up for a fight," she said. "We’re not going to go through what we went through last year. I refuse."
 
Last year, thousands of egrets suddenly settled into the oak trees lining her street.

The noise was deafening, neighbors complain. The mess and stench was even worse. Baughn had to carry an umbrella and wear a surgical mask simply to get her mail. Droppings and dead birds quickly piled up.
 
"The ammonia level was so high, it would burn your eyes and your sinuses," Baughn said.
 
Since a nearly-century-old federal law protects the birds as endangered species, the city and homeowners were unable to harm - or even harass - the birds.
 
Not this year, Carrollton leaders say. The city is preparing for their arrival and plan to aggressively fight it.
 
The birds only become off-limits once they start nesting. Carl Shooter, the city’s animal services manager, estimates they have about a month - between when the birds are first sighted and when they settle in - to scare them out of subdivisions.
 
"Not showing up at all would be optimal," Shooter said. "But if they do show up, we hope to scare them out of that neighborhood."
 
To do that, the city spent $2,000 on 50 deterrent kits to hand out to homeowners. The bags contain an air horn, high-pressure water nozzle, and reflective balloons designed to terrify the migratory birds.

"It’s been successful in other places," Shooter said.
 
The city also placed electronic highway signs around town urging homeowners to be on the look-out. And city workers are patrolling neighborhoods armed with flare guns and air cannons to spook the birds.
 
"We have left no stone unturned," Shooter said.
 
Inevitably every summer, the migrating birds bring howls of complaints from North Texas homeowners unlucky enough to find their neighborhood the egrets’ latest stop.
 
But egrets are an especially sensitive issue around here.

In 1998, the city found itself in the middle of a scandal after it got a little too aggressive with the bird. In a predawn assault, city crews suddenly bulldozed a habitat near Carrollton’s library. The operation scraped the earth bare and killed more than 300 of the endangered birds.
 
The outrage captured national attention. Environmentalists and bird lovers protested. A federal investigation resulted in a $70,000 fine against Carrollton for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
 
Although city leaders spent $120,000 rehabilitating injured birds and building a preserve, egrets were seldom spotted here since, until last year. Even then, the stubborn birds bypassed the sanctuary and instead chose a subdivision near a pond and park.
 
City leaders are careful to point out they’ve learned their lesson this time.
 
"We have been very careful this time," Shooter said. "None of the action we’re intending to take will harm the bird in any way."
 
He hopes the city won’t have to do anything and that the bird will pass over Carrollton.

Baughn’s a little more nervous. Already this year, she’s spotted a couple circling her home.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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