Near the banks of the Muscatatuck where once the woods had stretched, dark row on row, and where the fox grapes and wild mint still flourished, Jess Birdwell, an Irish Quaker, built his white clapboard house. Here he lacked for very little. On a peg by the front door hung a starling in a wooden cage and at the back door stood a spring house Ö - opening paragraph, The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West, "One Book, One City" 2003
Alicia Craig is a major force in nature education. With fellow Hoosier Kenn Kaufman, the internationally renowned bird expert, Craig presents birding programs for children nationwide. You can meet her Feb. 1 at Holliday Park for a 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. "Habitat Workshop" open to all ages. To register call 571-7100, ext. 121 or e-mail email@example.com
"It"s another attempted quick-fix with no lasting benefits, no satisfactory answers to possible side effects, or knowing whether it even can work," insists Kathy Cancilla, an environment advocate. Cancilla has been investigating the city"s plan to poison starlings with DRC1339, a toxic substance that attacks the birds" renal system. Cancilla"s research challenges the viability of poisoning food pellets where the starlings roost. From all observations, starlings do not forage where they roost. Instead, it is in their nature to fly off to find their food elsewhere. Her research into DRC1339 highlights its long-term negative consequences. Why, she wonders, aren"t the poisoning advocates worrying about run-off into an adjacent waterway? "It"s a mindset that keeps us from asking important questions and taking responsibility for actions that led to this situation," states Alicia Craig, senior manager of nature education with Wild Birds Unlimited, Inc. "We need to be asking, what environment are we living in? What habitats are we creating? Why aren"t we having well-planned green spaces downtown to encourage a healthier, more rounded habitat?" A past president of the Audubon Society, which has, nevertheless, endorsed the plan, Craig is also active with Operation Migration and backyard habitat projects associated with the National Wildlife Federation. As co-author with internationally known birder Kenn Kaufman of a series of programs and publications on "birding with kids," Craig"s in a position to evaluate and design effective ways for urban residents to build and maintain healthful, balanced environments in which to live, work, shop, play. Craig is quick to point out the difficulties in solving the starling situation because it has been compounded by inertia over a number of years. When bird feces isn"t cleaned away every day, it"s ripe for causing illness as well as unsightliness. A balanced urban habitat nurtures a viable native ecosystem, attracting and supporting a variety of birds and animals to compete with and thus contain and curb starlings. There is value in having starlings, Cancilla points out. They are known to feast on mosquitoes. If all the starlings are killed will the mosquito population increase? Craig explains that the best long-term plan and use of money is a system of green spaces, such as parks of varying sizes and plazas within and surrounding the downtown area with the kinds of trees, shrubs and gardens that do not attract starlings in large numbers. IUPUI is a case in point. Starlings congregating in the trees planted along the berm abutting the parking facility on the north side of Michigan Avenue became a nuisance. The trees were removed and replaced by bushes, proving that attractive landscaping unencumbered by scores of starlings is possible. "Birds of a feather do indeed flock together," Craig observes, adding that starlings are smart enough to find the easiest nesting places, such as nooks and crannies of building ledges where they"re sheltered from weather conditions. If it is a fact that starlings are a downtown nuisance, it should be recognized that humans invite them by design. Loud noises, spikes or balloons to scare starlings off work only until the crafty birds figure out a way to overcome the impediments. There is no argument about having to limit the starling population, from Craig, or anyone else who is a concerned birder and/or environmentalist. The way to do it is what separates those who want to spend time and money for long-term solutions and those who advocate immediate action. IDI"s position statement on "starling abatement" claims to have the support of officials at the Indiana Department of Health, United States Department of Agricultural-Wildlife Service at Purdue, Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indianapolis Zoo. In addition, IDI says "29 businesses in downtown Indianapolis, both public and private, have had or are having problems with starlings contaminating their property." To bolster their case, they cite possible connections to a buildup of starling feces around the Statehouse to two reported cases of histoplasmosis during 2002. However, no one in the health field can say this is definitely the case. John Althardt, public relations coordinator at Marion County Health and Hospital, says that while no deaths due to histoplasmosis have been reported since 1991 when reporting on the illness began, as of the end of December 2002, the department has confirmed 18 cases of histoplasmosis, a disease caused by inhalation of spores of the fungus caused by a buildup of bird droppings. Symptoms are acute pneumonia or an influenza-like illness. Cancilla argues that while no one deliberately should be exposed to such a health hazard, the IDI proposal is rife with equal, if not greater, hazards. "Haven"t we learned anything from the DDT debacle?" At press time, the starling eradication proposal was delayed pending acquisition of necessary materials and answers to questions pertaining to the relevance of city permits and approval.