Flying rats say summer's here

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

Does anyone else feel like they're in a Hitchcock movie lately?

If it's "Psycho," you're on your own (and should probably avoid showering for a while). But if it's "The Birds," I can sympathize.

When the heck did they all show up? I thought bird migration was a gradual process. But it seems like in the last week we went from the normal winter population of magpies, crows and the occasional bald eagle to being overrun by things with wings.

Not that I mind the birds being back. I like birds as much as the next person chicken, turkey, pheasant, Cornish game hen. ...

I like live birds, too. I am not, however, particularly fond of flying rats, and that seems to be a large percentage of what's come back to town recently.

Flying rats, you say? Don't worry, there's no need to take blood samples to test me for Draino. I do realize rats don't fly.

But there is a type of bird that behaves as if it were a rat gulls.

Actually, "rat" is too charitable a description of their behavior. They're more like those distant cousins who show up unannounced at weddings in vehicles with no mufflers, drink all the good beer, make a pass at the bride, "borrow" money from anyone dumb enough to give it to them and invariably manage to stain something valuable.

It's kind of hard for a gull migration to go unnoticed, since they do a pretty good job of announcing their presence, what with scavenging busy parking lots and swooping small children on playgrounds and all.

Other, more mannered birds migrate south to time-share condominiums in Palm Beach and other sensible locations during the winter. They spend their time joining book clubs, taking yoga classes, planning out decorating schemes for their summer nests and attending symposiums on the comparative merits of different varieties of birdseed.

But not the gulls. They lurch off to Tijuana and spend their winters swilling tequila, setting off cheap fireworks and trying to trick tourists into drinking the water. When it comes time to migrate back north, many of them are so hung over they can't fly straight enough to make it back to the northern coastal areas they came from, so they end up staking out whatever parking lot they careen over for dropped hot dogs and discarded burrito wrappers.

Now swallows, that's a type of bird I'm happy to see return. They're cute, clean, cheerful, well-mannered and have a pleasant song that is a joy to listen to.

Or so I thought, until two of the most dysfunctional swallows I have ever seen took up residence in a tree outside my bedroom window last week.

I had no idea that much sound could come out of something that small. The first time they woke me up at daybreak, I was excited to hear them or as excited as one can be at six in the morning.

What a marvelous way to herald in spring, I thought, as I listening to their merry cacophony of trills and chirps. Or that's what I would have thought, if it hadn't have been, as mentioned before, 6 a.m. Since my level of mental activity slows to the capacity of congealed grape jelly between the hours of 3 and 9 a.m., my thought process was more like "Oooh, bird, unghhh."

But the point is I welcomed them at first. After about four days of dawn wake-up calls, I started to feel less charitable.

For one thing, I no longer considered the sounds they make to be merry, cheerful or anything resembling pleasant. The more I listened to them, the more they sounded like a bickering elderly couple fighting over whether they were going to spend the day watching a show about bass fishing or reruns of "The Golden Girls."

Now that it's been a week, I've revised my opinion again. Now they actually sound like they're screeching profanity at each other. It's like Sam Kinnison has been reincarnated as a bird and taken up residence with Marilyn Manson outside my window. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was a pair of gulls sucking on helium to make their voices higher.

It's starting to be a real problem, but I don't know what to do about it. I think I'd be asking for more blood tests if I called in a noise complaint to the police department.

The only other option I can think of is to climb up the tree and relocate the birds to a different part of the yard. But that strategy would just be trading one Hitchcock movie for another, since I do not deal well with heights.

The really disheartening thing is that in "The Birds," the humans didn't win the battle. The movie ended with the birds chasing the people out of town.

So I suppose that means the answer to my problem lies in me moving. Actually, that could work out pretty well. Since the gulls are back up here, I bet that means Tijuana is downright pleasant this time of year.

Jenny Neyman is a reporter for the Penin-sula Clarion.

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