Shell Beach residents battling sea birds
July 2, 2010
BY AIMEE VASQUEZ and KAREN VELIE
A colony of Cormorants’ invasion into a Shell Beach neighborhood has left homes splattered with excrement and neighbors questioning why they were forced to allow the birds to nest in their neighborhood.
Cormorants are known to move into an area, cover the landscape in droppings, which kills the trees before the birds move on.
And while public officials debated the definition of an “active nest,” homeowners along Ocean Boulevard were required to allow the invasive birds to roost in their backyards at a cost to their financial and physical health.
In the neighborhood, dried fowl excrement floats in the air like volcanic ash and fresh feces rains unpredictably from above. The stench burns the eyes and constricts the throat.
“It is constant,” resident Bruce Eisengart said. “If it’s not misty, it’s solid rain. I wear a hooded sweatshirt.”
On Thursday, tree trimmers removed the nests and trimmed a 90-year-old Monterey cypress tree, where a flock of Double-Crested Cormorant had roosted. Nevertheless, the neighbors contend that if the city had allowed them to scare the birds away before they had laid their eggs, their problems could have been avoided.
Some of the neighbors have left their homes because of the birds. Other are using breathing treatments to combat the effects of what one said was like living at the bottom of a bird cage.
“Because of this I have to take respirator treatments during the day and an inhaler,” Ellen Hudachek said. “I think this is deplorable.
“These birds are not unique to the area. In other areas they are allowed to shoot them.”
During the past few months, the homeowners have found dead birds and chunks of fish scattered throughout their yards.
Georganne Ferini’s said she has been spending $200 a week to have her walkways and patio power washed. Her grandchildren no longer visit because of the health risks.
In March, not long after the birds began to build their nests, Eisengart brought in falcons, a water truck and began trimming some branches in an effort to scare away the birds.
His attempt was short lived. A neighbor complained to Pismo Beach Police who told him to leave the birds alone because of federal laws that prohibit hazing migratory birds with active nests.
“The planning department said it was a no go, so we shut him down,” said Pismo Beach Police Chief Jeff Norton. “At that time it was thought that if a nest was in, it was an active nest.
“We were very sympathetic. It is clearly a health hazard,” Norton added.
Commander Jake Miller, assigned by the chief to assist Eisengart, contacted officials with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and was told that an active nest meant one with an egg or a young bird in it.
However, Pismo Beach Associate Planner Michael Gruver said that they had a letter that said an active nest meant a constructed nest.
“We were getting mixed messages from Fish and Wildlife,” Norton said.
And while officials debated the meaning of an active nest, the birds finished constructing their lairs and laid their eggs.
As a result, Eisengart had to file for a depredation permit to remove the colony of federally protected though non-endangered fowl.
The permit says that “in order to minimize the risk of illnesses from Double Crested Cormorant colony feces and regurgitant,” Eisengart is permitted to remove limbs and nests in which the eggs had hatched and the fledglings are able to fly.
Eisengart contends that if the city had been aware of the meaning of the law, he could have scared the birds away before they had laid their eggs.
He estimates the cost of removing the birds and repairing the damage will exceed $25,000.
“It’s a health hazard to people and people need to come first,” Hudachek added.
The following photo gallery is by Dennis Eamon Young. See more of the photographers work at www.DennisEamonYoungPhoto.com.