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Too many birds of a feather flock to Nutley

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By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 

NUTLEY – 

Fire hoses didn’t work. Boom-boxes didn’t work. Will “fogging” do the job? Only time will tell.

The “job” is to drive the starlings from DeMuro Park, where they reportedly have been roosting in massive numbers.

Roosting and pooping. It’s the pooping that has the township concerned.

“They’re lovely little birds,” said Nutley Commissioner Mauro G. Tucci, “but when they roost in the thousands, they create a problem.” Which is why, for several nights last week, the park was temporarily closed for “fogging,” the spraying of an “environmentally responsible” aerosol called Methyl Anthranilate.

On Aug. 11, Tucci, director of Parks & Recreation, sent out an email alert to Nutley residents explaining the situation and noting that the town had contracted with a company called the Bird Doctor Nation wide (birddoctorinc.com) to apply the aerosol at DeMuro on the evenings of Aug. 18-23.

The area treated borders Wilson St. and Van Winkle, Margaret and Bloomfield Aves., where park neighbors reportedly have had to repeatedly clean extensive guano from cars and roofs and lawns, etc. (If you’d like to see what a mess masses of starlings can create, search Google Images for “starling droppings.” You might be surprised.)

In addition to being unsightly, the starlings’ excrement can pose a health hazard, Tucci said, since the spores become airborne. Besides, he added, “the smell is unbelievable.”

According to the commissioner’s email, the EPA has classified Methyl Anthranilate “as a naturally occurring flavorant and it has been declared GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) by the FDA.”

“It’s a food-based chemical,” Tucci told The Observer, noting that it is used to flavor grape gum and candy.

The alert explained, “Methyl Anthranilate’s method for bird control is a pain stimulus in the trigeminal nerves which are found in the throats and mucus membranes of the beak and eyes.” (Tucci put it in layman’s terms: “It irritates their nasal passages.”)

“Almost all animals have these nerves,” the email noted, “yet only birds have a negative response to Methyl Anthranilate. Birds ‘feel’ Methyl Anthranilate as pain, while mammals, including humans, sense it as a grape scent.”

When an area is “fogged,” the “target birds begin to associate the pain to the site. They are trained, with multiple applications, that the site is painful and they seek a new location.”

“Until now,” the email said, “there have been few options for the control of flocks of birds that invade and contaminate a site other than killing them. This fogging method will not kill the birds, it will simply cause them to not like coming to this area anymore.”

Tucci assured your correspondent that the chemical irritates the birds, but “it doesn’t harm them.”

“I would do anything not to harm them,” he said.

The Bird Doctor “fogged” the park at dusk, when the starlings come home to roost. Tucci had described prior roostings as resembling “something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.” We visited DeMuro on Sunday evening and saw some sort of feathered creatures flocking to the trees, but we could not tell if they were starlings. In any case, there did not seem to be an inordinate number. so perhaps the project has been a success. We await word.

Tucci told us that the township had previously tried to drive away the starlings with the help of the Nutley Fire Department’s hoses. Do not fret. This did not resemble riot control. “It was a gentle hosing,” the commissioner said.

“We just sprayed them with water.”

When that didn’t work, the town installed sonic boomboxes in the park, not for music, but to play the call of a predator bird. This was supposed to stress the starlings. It did not.

“We’ve called everybody” for advice, Tucci noted. Fish & Wildlife, the Audubon Society, et al. The Bird Doctor was finally contacted after a Nutleyite made that suggestion at a Township Commission meeting. Tucci said each “fogging” application was costing $895, for a total of $4,475.

By the way, according to its website, the Bird Doctor Nationwide is the “Official Pest Control Company of the N.Y. Yankees.”

Too bad it can’t control Orioles or Blue Jays. Or Red Sox.

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