This would never happen today, especially in the city limits with some help from the police, but it is a true story.
I do not remember my exact age, but I was probably 13 or 14, and a friend and I were scooping shovels full of dead starlings off the sidewalk in front of our house. It was an odd task, and not one we particularly cared for, but the job suddenly took a funny turn when one of the birds that must have hung on a little longer than the others finally gave up the ghost, fell from its roost, and landed squarely on my friend’s head.
He was bent over scooping up another shovelful and I just happened to be looking in his direction when the bird whacked him on the head. The look on his face was priceless.
That’s my favorite memory from a time when I lived on Pleasant Street, and the maple trees in front of our house were overloaded with starlings or blackbirds or whatever they were.
It is not, however, what my father remembers the most from the episode, and the two of us were laughing about it all the other day when I stopped by my parents’ home.
We had three large maple trees in front of our home on a lot that was really not wide enough for all three trees, but they were healthy, thick with leaves, and the birds really liked them. The trees were so loaded with birds that the sidewalk beneath them was pretty much covered with bird poop, not to mention the awful racket the birds made as they settled in each evening.
They were a major nuisance, and I suppose my dad and the neighbor guy directly across the street finally got fed up enough that they decided to do something about it. So one day they grabbed their shotguns, walked out into the street between our houses, and started blasting away. That probably was not legal, and maybe that’s why a couple police officers stopped by a time or two to help in the thinning out process.
That’s when some of us kids were tasked with scooping up the dead birds, loading them into a wheel barrow, and carting back to the 55-gallon drum where we burned our trash. The burning part was legal back in those days.
One night when the cops were helping, my friend and I waited several seconds after everyone got done shooting, then commenced our chore of scooping up the dead birds. That’s when a hanger-on fell out of the trees and plopped directly on top of my friend’s head. I thought that was one of the funniest things I had ever seen, but it did not hold a candle to what happened to my dad a few nights later.
Lots of birds were killed on those nights when the shotguns were brought out, but the shooting did not solve the problem. So my dad decided to try another approach.
He had heard that fake owls might scare the birds away, so he purchased a couple, and one evening he went to put them in the top of the trees where he thought they’d do the most good.
On the chosen evening he grabbed a ladder, placed it against the side of one of trees facing our house (where the neighbor man could not see the ladder due to the size of the trees), and shimmied up near the top of the tree to place an owl.
Evidently, the birds did not like the presence of an intruder in their tree, and they started squawking and such louder than usual. The neighbor man was already tired of the cacophony, and the extra noise must have put him over the edge. Because he walked out his front door and started blasting away with his shotgun, having no idea that my dad was in the tree.
I was not there, so I cannot tell you how loud my dad must have yelled when the neighbor started shooting in his direction, but I imagine it was pretty darn loud. I do know, though, that he said he was shaking like one of those leaves when his feet finally hit the ground, and had deep bruises on the inside of his knees and elbows for quite a while from hugging that tree so hard while buckshot was whizzing past him.
Somehow or other the local radio station caught wind of the story, and they had a little fun with it, adding a little color by joking live on air that my dad must have been trying to peep in the neighbors’ window, and that’s why he got shot at.
That was not the case, of course. But I’m pretty sure my dad checked with the neighbor before he ever climbed back up in those trees.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.