BERRYVILLE — Town officials say it was like a scene from an early 1960s Alfred Hitchcock horror film.

Friday afternoon, thousands of birds — mostly dark-colored European starlings — flew into Berryville, causing a mess like feathered fliers frequently do when they forage.

"It was just like 'The Birds,'" Mayor Patricia Dickinson said. "They just didn't peck your eyes out," like in the movie.

Scientists consider European starlings, originally released in America in the late 19th century, an invasive species. They compete with native species for nesting areas and can damage crops, according to information online.

Officials received complaints about the birds and requests for help. Many were from people on the northwest side of town, particularly the Archer Court/Smith Street/Treadwell Street area.

Town Manager Keith Dalton turned the matter over to Police Chief Neal White, who sent several of his officers to the area. They used four "pyrotechnic charges" similar to bottle rockets to try and scare off the birds, White said.

"We've been doing this to move along flocks of buzzards in people's yards for years," added Dalton.

Some of the starlings may have left, White said. Many didn't.

"To be effective," he said, scare tactics "have to be sustained."

Complaints about the officers' actions then were received from bird enthusiasts concerned about potential animal cruelty.

"The feedback I have received from constituents ... since Friday has been overwhelmingly negative," Councilwoman Kara Rodriguez wrote on her Facebook page.

Berryville apparently has seen similar bird invasions on other days, officials said.

White speculated it's because the birds are seeking warmth, and the town usually is a few degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.

Councilwoman Donna Marie McDonald has another hypothesis.

As more and more land is developed, "the birds are coming out (of the woods) because we're taking space away from them," she said.

Tuesday night, Berryville Town Council members debated what — if anything — should be done about the birds. After a lengthy discussion during which various viewpoints were expressed, they and other town officials decided by consensus that no further bird-control measures will be taken, as long as problems don't worsen.

"We should just let nature take its course," Rodriguez said.

With limited resources, "we've got too many other things" for the town and police to focus on, said town Recorder Jay Arnold.

As the weather gets warmer as spring approaches, the birds likely will leave, several council members indicated.

In the meantime, "stop putting food in your (bird) feeders," said Councilwoman Diane Harrison. "That's going to keep them here."

Dickinson said she knows someone who had to have a lung transplant after being exposed to bird droppings.

"I love birds. I feed birds," McDonald said. "They crap on my banister, and I take a paper towel and wipe it off. I've never gotten infected" with an illness.

Councilwoman Erecka Gibson said she has seen vultures congregate in her backyard. She just leaves them alone, she said.

If throngs of birds start damaging property, the town will need to take some action, Gibson said, but not if they remain just an inconvenience, such as by pooping on cars.

Rodriguez has experience with that. She doesn't mind the poop much.

"It gives me another opportunity to take the kids through the car wash, which they enjoy," she wrote on Facebook.

Council members said people especially bothered by birds in their yards can contact private wildlife control services for help. McDonald said she understands the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center near Boyce also can assist.

McDonald suggested that property owners try scaring off birds with items such as pie pans, cap guns and air horns.

If someone uses an air horn, the town will get a noise complaint, Dalton quipped.

Ultimately, maybe "more people need to get married during the week," Arnold said.

That way, the historic Rosemont Manor — a popular wedding venue — will set off firecrackers more often, he said.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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