Date of this Version
Every fall millions of blackbirds come down the Mississippi Flyway to return to their winter roosts in Arkansas, Louisiana, and East Texas. When these roosts are located in urban areas, public pressure makes the more common chemical means of control impractical. A less destructive and more permanent method of control was sought. At Rice University, in Houston, Texas, there has been a blackbird roost of various sizes and durations since 1956. For the past two years we have had the opportunity both to study roosting blackbird biology and experiment with habitat alteration as a control method. This particular report concentrates on the results and interpretation of the tree- trimming program initiated in August 1974. The birds involved are primarily Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater), along with Starlings (sturnus vulgaris), Common and Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula and Cassidix mexicanus), Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoenicus) and Robins (Turdus migratorius). The campus comprises 121 ha and was planted with live oaks (Quercus virginiana) in 1912. These trees retain their foliage throughout the winter and now form a closed canopy over some 5-6 ha. In the 60s and early 70s most of the birds that came to Houston for the winter roosted in a 64-ha woodlot 10 km north of campus. In January 1970, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Roosting Survey reported one million birds at this site we call the North Loop. Fifteen- thousand birds were estimated at Rice.