Friday, January 18, 2013

Birds of a Feather

Photo taken December 26, 2012
At a glance, the sky seemed streaked with wisps of smoke drifting skyward into a clear blue sky. From a mile away, the illusion continued, a gray-Crayon-smudged line climbing upward from the horizon.  But as I turned the corner toward home, the “smoke” awakened as thousands of birds took flight. The whoosh of flapping wings seemed to be in stereo, as the birds scattered in every direction.
It's like an intricate ballet. As I came closer, the sky was their stage, and there was more whirling and twirling than an afternoon matinee of The Nutcracker.
The birds arrive as winter temperatures get cold. They come because feed is scarce. They blanket crop fields and find food and shelter in feedlots. Starlings swoop in, morning and evening, filling the sky. Today, there are more than 200 million starlings across the United States, with about 5 million flocking to Kansas during the winter each year.

These birds damage crops, eat livestock feed, and have potential human health and safety concerns, such as salmonella. A study by the USDA in 2000 estimated that starlings cause roughly $800 million a year in damage. In 1999, three Kansas feedlot operators reported a $600,000 loss from bird damage alone. Feed and grain prices have skyrocketed in the past decade, which means even more significant losses for Kansas producers and especially feedlots. Several area feedlots have volunteered to be part of a new study by the USDA, looking for ways to control the pesky interlopers.

I'm not a bird watcher, but on this day, I was mesmerized by the free show. It reminded me of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," which I saw (and was terrified by) as a child. And while these birds aren't attacking me, the starlings are a nuisance this time of year in farm country, no matter how poetic they seem, set dramatically against an azure sky. 


  1. Replies
    1. The photos probably aren't that great, but hopefully, I "painted" with words. Thanks, Fred! I appreciate it.

  2. That sky is gorgeous! (Not a fan of Hitchcock's movie either! Scared the bejeesus out of me!)