Park playground closed due to bird activity

Monday, September 1, 2014
Birds take over Houston park
The protected species invade the park as they prepare for their seasonal migration

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- It is Labor Day, but in a neighborhood park in Middlegate Village Park, the picnic tables are empty. The playground is quiet. That's not to say there isn't activity.

The "visitors" are cattle egrets -- snowy white birds often seen in livestock pastures, riding atop the backs of cattle. The small park has developed over the years into their spring and summer home before they migrate south for the winter. From its small beginnings, that gathering has matured into a large colony that spans more than a dozen trees.

At its peak, it's said that hundreds of birds roost in the park that is less than two acres.

Brad Lapp lives two houses away from the park. As much as the bird chatter, his complaint is about the smell, which can only be compared to the odor of an uncleaned bird cage.

Then there is the playground section of the park, which now has a sign reading "park closed due to bird activity."

"It's a health hazard," Lapp believes. "The droppings are around and in the (community) pool in the morning. All they do is wash it off with a hose."

Lapp, and indeed some of his neighbors, want the birds gone. The solution isn't simple.

Cattle Egrets are protected by the Migratory Bird Act, which is enforced by US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is, in effect, a federal crime to tamper with active nests, or harm the birds. Nests can be removed after the nesting season, when the birds migrate.

Homeowners versus cattle egrets is not a new battle. The TWRC Wildlife Center in west Houston gets at least one complaint a year on how to address the birds. Any removal action must be done with a federal permit.

One of the options could be to remove the trees in which the egrets roost, an option Brad Lapp questions because parks imply trees.

The egrets will move on when the weather turns cooler. In the meantime, the egrets are the only ones on the playground.