Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

April 24, 2014

Ruffling a few feathers

They might be federally protected, but egrets roosting in the city are not welcome


Mineral Wells Index

— By TODD GLASSCOCK

Over the next couple of weeks you may hear shotgun blasts, sirens and air horns and see firefighters spraying trees with their hoses at businesses and near residences.

They won’t be suppressing riots or quelling some mass civil disturbance. What they will be doing is alleviating those businesses and residences of a nuisance – cattle egrets.

“Egrets have begun to show back up,” said Mineral Well Police Chief Dean Sullivan.

Although the birds are less menacing than those in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, “The Birds,” the egrets, commonly seen in pastures alongside cattle, have been a nuisance inside the city of Mineral Wells for years, Sullivan said. In 2008, the birds got so bad the city cleared trees in a 3- to 4-acre area on the southeast side of town.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says that as a nuisance, egrets can be malodorous and noisy and their accumulated droppings can be detrimental to trees and other vegetation, as well as soil and water. Additionally, broken eggs, decomposing birds, parasites and numerous diseases such as encephalitis pose as health risks.

Typically, cattle egrets are short, thick-necked white-feathered birds with rusty-orange plumage. They normally forage for insects walking at the feet of cattle, or sometimes ride the cattle’s back to pick out ticks.

With the hope of trying to drive the birds out of the city, and keep them from becoming a nuisance,  police and firefighters will travel the city periodically in the evenings with noisemakers like shotgun blasts using nonlethal pyrotechnic rounds, air horns and sirens, or blasts from fire hoses to get the egrets out of trees and other roosting spots, Sullivan said. With luck, the egrets will relocate to a more rural habitat.

Thursday police practiced scaring the birds off using the pyrotechnic loads in a shotgun, blasting up at grackles, also a nuisance, in a tree outside the police department. The pyrotechnic loads are nonlethal but loud enough to scare the birds into taking flight. Firefighters also learned how to carefully spray the trees to get the birds out.

“We’re trying to get on it early, because [egrets] can cause a lot of damage,” Sullivan said said of the attempt to get the egrets to relocate. “Once they are in [and nesting and breeding], they are protected.”

The police and fire departments want to take a preventative measure to keep the birds from nesting, he said.

A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department code protects the egrets, a species of heron, from being killed, owned, sold or disturbed at breeding sites, he said. All species of egret and heron in Texas are subject to the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

A federal permit from the Texas Wildlife Damage Management Service is required to remove birds or nests or modify the nesting habitat, he said.

Already, the birds are making a nuisance of themselves at area businesses. They have made a roost in trees at First Financial Bank, for instance. One tree in front of the bank building seems to be a very popular spot: the sidewalk and grounds under the tree are littered with droppings and feathers.

“This is the first year we’ve had any issues with them,” said Eddie Gregory, senior vice president at First Financial.

“They’re driving us crazy. They are really tearing the trees up and the sidewalks are terrible.”

The bank has checked in with places to see what could be done, he said, and he’s happy to hear police the police and fire departments are trying to help. “There’s really nothing we can do.”