Grackles flock to Mansfield

02/03/2014 7:13 PM

02/03/2014 7:14 PM

Mansfield has attracted thousands of new residents, but it’s not the school district or housing that drew them here - it’s the fast food and parking lots.

Every evening, right about dusk, flocks of grackles roost near U.S. 287 and Walnut Creek Drive. The black birds light on trees, power lines and cars before settling in for the night, looking like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller, “The Birds.”

“It’s a population that is continuing to adjust to urban areas,” said Brett Johnson, urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks & Wildlife. “It’s possible that we are seeing a lot more now. They adjust to things very quickly.”

Although the terrain in North Texas looks a lot different than it did a century ago, there are still open spaces with a few trees, just what the grackles like, Johnson said.

“Historically, they followed the bison herds, which would heavily graze an area,” he explained. “That opened it up for the grackles to go in and find the insects. There weren’t a lot of trees in this area. We put in big parking lots, stick in one tree per couple of acres then we add food trash, which attracts all types of insects. We have created a great location for grackles.”

Although they like insects, “they are not opposed to French fries,” Johnson said. “They are extremely opportunistic.”

When the trees are pruned to have a mushroom shape, the grackles like that even more, Johnson said. They seem to have fallen in love with the intersections on the east and west sides of the U.S. 287 and Walnut Creek Drive. And people have noticed the swarms of birds swirling overhead and roosting.

“Oh, I just love them,” grimaced Will Schuchardt, a shift supervisor at CVS Pharmacy. “They wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t so messy.”

Reggie Phillips of Arlington watched the black birds cover the tops of cars parked near his at 24 Hour Fitness.

“I washed (my vehicle) and they have messed it up again,” he said. “There are just too many of them. They’re irritating.”

The ground under the trees in the parking lot was splotched with bird poop, too, which is the biggest problem the birds bring, Johnson said.

“If you get that many birds, you are going to get quite a bit of fecal matter,” he said. “If you wash your hands, you don’t have to worry about sanitation problems, but it can by quite annoying.”

Grackles do carry West Nile Virus, but “you’re not going to get West Nile from the birds,” Johnson said. “It tends to hammer the birds fairly quickly. Once they die, the issue doesn’t really exist. I would be more conscious of the mosquitoes than the birds.”

Getting rid of the flocks can be tricky, though, and takes timing, he said.

“The best thing to do is not let them get comfortable when they come in to roost in the evening,” Johnson said. “Around sunset you have a five-minute window. You’ll see them circling. If you can keep them out of the tree, you can keep from roosting. (Spraying them with) a water hose works pretty well. As soon as a handful settles in, nobody is leaving for the evening.”

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