Real raptors cause problems too


In recent months, city officials have been making efforts to reduce the pigeon and starling population in the downtown Knoxville area, especially around Market Square. Visitors are assaulted while they gather together, enjoying an otherwise pleasant urban experience on their lunch breaks, when droppings are hurled at them by hungy birds.

Recently, the city installed an outdoor speaker system throughout the downtown area, piping raptor squawks and the sounds of pigeons being attacked by the raptors onto the city streets. Although this stressed the pigeon population by giving them the jitters, all the other birds were scared away and downtown appeared more vacant than ever. This was an unwanted side effect.

In this sequence of photos Jimbo’s fate is sealed.

City Official Mark Hammerstraub decided to contact Dollywood and the Knoxville Zoo to borrow some Eagles. He had heard about the success of New York’s work with the birds and thought using the real thing might have all sorts of positive effects. “Well first you got the tourist thing. People can now come downtown to see one of nature’s most majestic birds. And they might even get to see an eagle go ‘Discovery Channel’ all over a pigeon. Secondly, you get rid of the 24-7 squawks from the speakers, so residents and squirrels alike can sleep better. Finally, you might reduce the pigeon, starling, and rat populations,” he explained.

Early one Tuesday morning, Mark and the bird handlers released 10 Bald Eagles into Krutch Park. “It was a beautfiful sight,” Hammerstraub explained. “These majestic eagles was flying up in the air, pigeons were scatterin’ all around. And Ernie the Eagle actually caught one of them right away!”

The honeymoon did not last very long. Within a few days, hunters had shot two of the eagles. Another was wounded when it tried to fly into Club Le Conte during a KAMA meeting. Small dogs and cats began to disappear.

The positives still outweighed the negatives until Barbra Hershey and her husband, Elroy, were walking their beloved chihuahua Jimbo along Volunteer Landing last Thursday afternoon. Elroy was shooting footage with his Panasonic Mini-DV camcorder while Barbra whistled tunes and the dog scurried about sniffing this or that.

Suddenly and without warning, out of the sky swooped Daryl the Eagle and carried Jimbo away.

“I got the whole thing captured on video,” said Elroy. “It was awesome, I’ve never seen nothing like it!” After gouging Elroy in the ribs with her elbow and giving him a “go to Hell” look, Barbra began sobbing, “Jimbo was part of the family. He’ll be missed terribly, won’t he Elroy? Who would have thought there’d be predatatory birds in downtown Knoxville? I thought we just had pigeons!”

After she found out the birds were part of a pigeon reduction program, she was a little more understanding, but not quite satisfied, “How come that eagle had to come take my Jimbo away?”

City officials are trying to round up the remaining eagles and hope to eventually find some effective method of pigeon control. “It was worth a shot,” said Hammerstraub, “but there just ain’t no pleasin’ everybody.”