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The Birds

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Area neighborhoods under fowl invasion

By Becky Barnes

If Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie “The Birds” makes the hair on your arms stand up and a sends a shiver down your spine, take a stroll down Grandview Drive about 6 p.m. any evening.

You can hear the flocks of birds screeching as they come to roost. Once in the trees, they continue an eerie song of unrest.

There are other telltale signs that millions of birds have come to rest. Grills and outdoor furniture, abandoned for the winter, have been dotted with bird manure, as have automobiles and sidewalks.

Several areas of the city are being invaded every evening by millions of birds looking for a place to roost.

Cynthiana Commissioner Mark Mattmiller, who lives on Grandview Drive, said his outdoor furniture had to be moved. His property backs up with an open field, where he said seven or eight million birds come in at night.

“I don’t recall ever having seen this many before,” Mattmiller said.

However, according to Thomas Barnes, Extension Wildlife Specialist with the University of Kentucky, there are no more birds this year than last year. However, they were likely someone else’s problem last year.

“This is absolutely normal behavior for starlings and blackbirds at this time of the year,” Barnes said. “They congregate in roosts and they move the roosts around from time to time.”

Barnes, author of “Managing Urban Pest Bird Problems in Kentucky,” wrote that the birds often establish large winter and summer roosts which can create a nuisance or health hazard in urban areas.

One of the problems associated with large bird populations is the risk of histoplasmosis, which is a systemic fungal disease that may be contracted by humans when they disturb accumulations of bird droppings, Barnes wrote.

He added that histoplasmosis is common in Kentucky and is primarily a respiratory disease caused by inhaling the spores from the fungus.

“Birds do not directly spread the disease, but bird droppings enrich the soil and promote the growth of the fungus. Infection by a few spores generally produces such a mild case in humans that a person may be unaware of the disease.”

Barnes added in his paper that a more severe infection can attack the person’s lungs or even their eyesight.

Forty-eight-year-old Greg Jenkins knows only too well the resulting effects of histoplasmosis. He lost sight in his left eye when he was 21 years old and working at Cynthiana Motor Co.

Jenkins said he knew something was wrong when he could no longer see the clock in the back of the garage. He went to a local eye doctor and was sent immediately to a Lexington specialist.

Jenkins also saw specialists in Indianapolis. All confirmed the diagnosis of histoplasmosis.

The once-active, former HCHS football and basketball player, Jenkins had lost his central vision.

Experts told him that there was no one specific event that caused the disease. There is also no cure.

“Everyone has the same chances of getting it,” he said, adding that he was told people in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys are all breathing the same spores and each stands as much chance as the other of contracting the disease.

The inseparable Jenkins brothers, Greg, Dwayne and Mark, did the same things growing up. They went the same places, lived in the same places and breathed the same air.

However, Greg is the only one of the three to have the disease.

Eight years after he lost the sight in his left eye, Jenkins lost the vision in his right eye.

He said he first had laser surgery in 1981 and declared then he would never go through that again. However, when the right eye was attacked, doctors convinced him that improvements had been made in the surgery.

Jenkins said advancements have been made in medicine to the extent that someone who had the same attacks that his eyes suffered would likely be able to keep their sight today.

And, just as there have been advancements in medicine, there has also been new technology that aids those who have lost most of their sight.

Jenkins was able to watch his son Jake play high school soccer through the use of special glasses.

He said large screen televisions have given him back some of what he missed.

He also learned how to live independently through a special six-week program in Louisville, and Louise Jackson at the Harrison Area Vo-Tech Center helped him learn computer software benefits from the Department for the Blind.

Jenkins has also learned that histoplasmosis can remain dormant in a person’s body for years, which is how the right eye infection was delayed for eight years.

Barnes noted in his paper that not all bird roosts pose an immediate health hazard.

He said that roosts that are more established or even abandoned roosts have the potential for a massive spore release if the dried bird droppings are disturbed.

Barnes said help is available for bird control. Residents can purchase bird distress tapes that scares roosting birds away.

He suggests that the Extension Wildlife specialists at UK be contacted for further assistance in quelling the bird population.

Gary Carter, Harrison County Extension agent for Agriculture, said there are other products available to help residents send the birds to another location. He reminded that no matter what avenue of control is used, it will always be someone’s problem.

He added that part of the birds’ attraction to Cynthiana or any town are the trees that provide a closer habitat than trees in rural areas.

Carter said the recent ice storm created broken branches which will encourage residents to trim back or top out trees. However, doing so, he said, will cause a leafier tree with more and more branches... a perfect place for birds looking to huddle together for warmth.