Thinking Citizen Blog — Avian Apocalypse: Purple Martins Invade Nashville
Thinking Citizen Blog — Wednesday is Climate Change, the Environment, and Sustainability Day
Today’s Topic: Avian Apocalypse: Purple Martins Invade Nashville
No doubt, Alfred Hitchcock is snickering in his grave. An op-ed piece in the New York Times has termed the invasion “a miracle, a disaster, and a conundrum.” We’re talking about 150,000 of these excrement-emitting flying objects messing with the daily lives of the residents of the capital of country music. But, ironically, the birds are congregating around the Schermerhorn Symphony Center causing an “existential threat” to the cash-strapped organization already under huge pressure due to the pandemic. Today, a few more details. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
IT ALL STARTED IN 2020. INITIALLY CONSIDERED A ONE OFF, BUT THEN THEY CAME BACK
1. “In the summer of 2020, a massive flock of purple martins set up camp in the trees surrounding the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, in the heart of downtown Nashville. The birds had left their nesting territories, both nearby and farther north, and were gathering in preparation for the fall migration. They stayed for two months.”
2. “The flock was a glorious sight — 150,000 birds descending from the sky night after night — but the problems they created for the cash-strapped symphony were extensive. Imagine the weight of so many birds on a few dozen trees, the stench of so many bird droppings on a public plaza.”
3. “For the symphony, shuttered by the pandemic, unsure when it would ever be able to hold concerts again, the birds were pouring salt into a hemorrhaging wound.”
NB: “In September, the birds departed for their wintering grounds in South America, but the pandemic was still raging when they returned the following summer, this time in even greater numbers, causing an even bigger mess and even more damage to the trees. It became clear that this was not a one-time miracle that could be managed through the generosity of bird lovers.”
WHAT TO DO IN CASE THEY RETURN THIS YEAR? GET RID OF THEIR NESTING SITES?
1. “If the birds come back this year, with the Schermerhorn fully open again, their presence will be catastrophic. No audience wants to enter a symphony hall covered in bird droppings, but closing the building during the purple martins’ next visit would cost another $4 million in lost revenue. This is why Alan D. Valentine, president and chief executive of the Nashville Symphony, calls the birds “an existential threat” to his organization.”
2. “Mr. Valentine and his team have decided that the best thing for everyone, purple martins included, is to cut down the severely damaged elms before the birds return and replace them with smaller trees that will make the symphony grounds a less attractive roost site.”
3. “When radio station WPLN’s Caroline Eggers first broke the news, a great hue and cry arose in the local conservation community, and far beyond it too. The symphony’s plan pleases no one: not the wildlife advocates, who don’t want the purple martin roost disturbed; not the tree advocates, who want to protect the urban tree-canopy; and not even symphony officials, who want to go back to holding concerts before full houses.”
THE MIRACLE AND THE CONUNDRUM — A CASE STUDY IN COMPLEXITY
1. “I love purple martins, and it’s easy for me to understand why conservation activists might view the symphony’s decision as a betrayal of a sacred trust. The birds’ presence here — despite this city’s unplanned and poorly regulated growth, despite developers’ relentless destruction of mature trees — feels like nothing less than a miracle. The people who are mobilizing to protect them are showing what love in action looks like.”
2. “But I sympathize with the symphony, too. I have spent nearly three decades making my own yard hospitable to songbirds, but I don’t want 150,000 birds roosting in my own fragile trees. It’s hard for me to admit that, even to myself, but it’s true.”
3. “I’ve looked at this from many different aspects, and it’s difficult to find an approach that meets everybody’s needs or desires. I don’t think there’s a simple answer.” (Terry Cook, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee).
NB: “Few situations involving wild animals in cities lend themselves to simple solutions: If a coyote starts killing neighborhood pets, for example, some residents will propose killing the coyote. Others will argue for keeping pets indoors. As divergent as they are, both answers represent the simplest possible — and least permanent — solutions to a problem that is much bigger than a single territorial coyote.”
A LINK TO THE LAST FOUR YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED BY THEME:
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#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20
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