L?IMA — Some problems never really go away.
Take birds roosting on downtown buildings, for instance. A fight against their presence first shows up in local newspapers in the 1920s, centered on the problem at the Allen County Courthouse.
“Seemingly oblivious of the fact that their presence is utterly unwelcome to most of the occupants of the building, the pigeons have unsuccessfully resisted all efforts to ban them from the structure. The pigeons are not of the ‘homing’ or other fancy breed but they have made a home out of the old building. Attempts to chase the birds from their adopted home have been made, and occasionally some irate building employee unlimbers a trusty shotgun and slays a few, but the others refuse to the bluffed, and the ranks of the pigeon brigade are soon refilled with new recruits,” a Jan. 10, 1928, story reported.
The flock thinned in winter, as some died because of the stress and lack of food, but the flock swelled again in spring. Sparrows and starlings were also thick.
A tongue-in-cheek story quoted a Chicago salesman on Feb. 5, 1937. He was driving downtown, trying to figure out the “perplexities of the square parking plan,” when a bird flew into his warm car via a cracked window.
“It would appear the way to rid the city of roosting birds is to decoy them into warm automobiles. In fact, it might even be a good idea to draw their attentions to the car havens by sprinkling corn about. Motorists could then drive away from Lima, after hooding their trapped charges like falcons with paper sacks, and release them at distant points.”
In fall 1940, a committee including the mayor and police chief met to try to find a solution. It would be the first of many such meetings.
Meanwhile, the papers continued to beg. One pointed out a building downtown had installed metal shields to keep the birds from roosting in the ledges and cornices.
“With spring here again, it won’t be long until the Lima business district will take on its annual ‘bottom of a bird cage’ appearance. Worst offenders, of course, are the starlings and the pigeons. Even the most ardent bird fan will admit that the starling is a most disgusting kind of pest, of no earthy good either from a decorative or a utilitarian standpoint, and it would perhaps be a good thing for you to start thinking early about methods of eradicating the starling,” another published March 28, 1941.
With so many birds present, the droppings they generated were a real problem. A story published Sept. 13, 1957, perhaps puts it best:
“A new and nicely worded charge has been levelled against Lima’s ‘nuisance’ birds. In a folder addressed to Councilman Neal B. O’Connell whose Finance Committee is studying a proposed ‘nuisance bird’ elimination program, the writer said the birds ‘jeopardize the tidiness of the passerby.’ According to some city officials and downtown pedestrians, this is the understatement of the year.”
And more than just a cleanliness aspect — although that’s of utmost importance to many — bird manure was just beginning to be suspected as causing dire diseases. In the early 1950s, it was realized a fungal infection called histoplasmosis caused many men to be rejected during World War II drafting because it caused calcification of their lungs. This, on X-ray, looks like tuberculosis. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that scientists saw the correlation between this and bird droppings.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service became interested in Lima in the late 1960s.
OVERSET FOLLOWS:“Ordinarily we don’t make any considerable contribution to a city’s bird problem,” said service representative John R. Beck, “but Lima has a peculiar problem in which we are intensely interested.”
The department offered a fulltime man — for a salary of $5,000 a year — to study the birds and recommend action. Beck suggested a combination of poison, gas and netting. Later, he recommended the narcotic Avertin. It made them high, essentially, and calm enough for men to walk through the flock and pick up and bag the unwanted birds. The birds they wanted to dispose of were the European starling, redwing blackbirds, domestic pigeons, cowbirds and grackles.
“Lima’s bird nuisance, which one city council last night said has passed the ‘humorous stage,’ may soon be in the hands of an expert,” a story reported July 27, 1957.
Shooting was deemed too dangerous. Trapping also wasn’t terribly effective, as the Lima Association of Commerce trapped some 4,000 pigeons in the mid 1950s but it didn’t make a dent.
“We aren’t suggesting to residents that they shoot starlings in their backyard, because some people have pretty poor eyesight,” said Councilman Frank Klein.
And then there was the question of legalities. Which birds could be killed? Were some protected? Bird lovers wrote to express their concern to council, commissioners and the papers. This mired down the process considerably.
In the end, council voted down the hiring of the birdwatcher because he couldn’t guarantee positive results. Local bird eradicators said there would be no way to kill all the problem birds, and they suggested taking away their roosting places. George B. Quatman, president and general manager of Lima Telephone and Telegraph Co., wrote that he installed bird barriers on his building to great success.
The city then tried bird-repelling gadgets on the south side of the courthouse to the tune of $511.10. Pigeons built nests on them. Then they installed wire fingers on ledges to discourage birds from landing. Birds used them for perches.
During this time, the late 1950s, there were news items that showed Bellefontaine and Bluffton were also dealing with this problem. In Bluffton, the pigeons had created so much manure the downspouts were clogging. In Columbus, the Statehouse was a haven for birds, and officials going between the Statehouse and the Senate had to dodge them. It’s now glassed in.
In the early 1960s, bird eradication companies from across the Midwest were in contact with city officials. An agreement was made with National Bird Elimination Corp. of Clinton, Ind. This company poisoned the roosts, and the poison soaked into the birds’ feet.
“Now, welfare recipients have formed a ‘bucket barricade’ and are picking up the dead birds as they fall in the streets and sidewalks near the courthouse,” a Dec. 5, 1962, story reported.
But the flocks returned. Health officials tried to direct attention to the vast amounts of litter downtown in the 1970s, saying it attracted nuisance birds.
“Downtown merchants may be wishing for a white Christmas today. In fact, many of them might find snow to be a welcome alternative to what currently covers some of the sidwalks of downtown Lima. Thousands of starlings, black birds with pointed beaks, have chosen the central business district as a winter haven,” a Dec. 25, 1988, story reported.
In the 1990s, Buckeye Exterminating of Ottoville used every weapon in its arsenal and managed to take out some of the flocks.
But there will always be birds looking for a place to roost, and the peregrine falcons can only dispatch so many.