Fort Worth takes aim at grackles in advance of Super Bowl

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by CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on January 17, 2011 at 6:36 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 18 at 6:54 PM

FORT WORTH — On their own, grackles perch. They strut. And they swoop from vehicles to branches, almost harmless.

But get these long-tailed black birds together with a few thousand friends and they can cause big, noisy, messy problems.

With flocks of visitors expected for Super Bowl week, Sundance Square wants no part of 200 to 300 grackles nesting and swarming in each of its 500 trees, leaving their unappetizing residue on the sidewalks below.

Rodney Beaman has a year-round contract with Downtown Fort Worth. His high-powered laser is about to earn some overtime.

"It's the be-all end-all of avian lasers, specifically designed for bird work," he explained. "We have extra men, extra lasers down there. Going a little farther out of the square, just making sure there's not any birds in the square and not around the square that would be moving in during the broadcast."

Contractors for ESPN are already downtown designing sets for the network's Super Bowl coverage, and should be ready to build next week.

With programs running from 5 a.m. to midnight, Sundance Square doesn't want the birds to give visitors any reason to avoid downtown.

ESPN also requires quiet on the set, so noisemakers to scare the birds away are not an option.

Instead, Beaman will have trained laser-handlers taking aim on the birds at dusk and dawn.

The red lasers look harmless on tree trunks, but shine them at night and grackles think a predator is moving in, so the smaller birds move out.

"They're real unpredictable, so at any time new flocks could come in," Beaman explained. "That's why we have men down there seven days a week."

The normal year-round contract also uses falconers to get rid of the noisy birds, but the raptors will be on the sideline for Super Bowl week. Handlers are afraid the falcons and hawks might be distracted by all the lights and sounds that are part of the ESPN broadcasts.

E-mail cnorton@wfaa.com

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