The year of the bird

by Katie on December 3, 2009

Forget the Chinese Calendar.
2009 was definitely The Year of the Bird for us.
It all started when they invaded our home. And continued when they kept coming back. But then, when our sunflowers were two weeks from being harvested, they really did us in.
Turns out 53.2 acres of nearly-dry sunflowers is a 24-hour all-you-can eat buffet for birds.
The experimental sunflower crop of 2009 was harvested two days ago. Quite successfully, I might add. But prior to that, my job every day for two solid weeks? To load the four-wheeler, take it to the field, bundle up, and chase birds across the sunflowers with a certified “for agricultural use” mini-pistol (it looks like a water gun), and ammo called “Screamer Sirens” and “Bird Bangers”.
You see, the fields on this part of the farm are flanked by the following: Interstate 10 on the north, Super Wal-Mart, Sally Beauty Supply and Panda Express (among other places of business) on the west, a housing development to the south, and the Snyder’s Pretzels factory to the east.
Needless to say, a shotgun really isn’t an option.
So, we stick with our “screamers” and “bangers” and the minimal threat they pose to massive flocks of blackbirds.
My mom called one day while I was on bird duty and asked what I was up to. After I told her, she said, “There’s not some sort of net you could put over them or something?”
“Mom, over a 54 acre field of sunflowers? I’m not talking about a garden here.” (But I was a lot more polite about it than that statement sounds here. All about tone, right?)
After just the first five days, I ran out of ammunition. The only manufacturer in the U.S. for this stuff? Located in Greenville, Mississippi. And, since it is classified as a “pyrotechnic”, they make you sign your life away to buy it, and charge you a $30 HAZMAT fee, tacked on to whatever outrageous overnight shipping price they had.
And the only distributor in the entire state of Arizona? Located in Yuma, at the Vegetable Growers Supply.
Unfamiliar with Arizona geography? Yuma is located three hours southwest of Buckeye. Right on the border of both California and Mexico. And that three hours is through some of the most barren desert landscape possible. From what I’ve seen, I would classify it as the second ugliest drive in the state.
Brandon was a little upset I didn’t make it back that evening in time to help him move cows. But I told him, “Look, I drove to Yuma today so I could chase birds for another entire week. Let’s just be happy about that, okay?”
Anyway, it didn’t take very many days of chasing birds before I loathed it.
Brandon asked one day why I disliked it so much. I told him, “If I really felt like it was doing any good, it would be fine, but I blow a screamer through them, they fly twelve rows over, and we repeat. They never leave.”
Trying to be motivational, he asked, “Well, how much are they eating while they’re flying around?”
I was forced to answer “Nothing,” to this question, but I’m not sure it made me feel much better.
Brandon was driving a tractor in the field next to me when I left to change water one afternoon. I guess a giant flock migrated in, and he went to resume my post, because I received the following text messages:
“You were right about these birds.”
“They keep coming back.”
“When are you going to be back?”
We eventually were able to get the birds to migrate out of our field and into some cotton several times a day. You would feel a temporary sense of accomplishment and pride in your work. Then, as soon as you turned your back to celebrate a little, they would begin migrating right back in mini-flocks of thirty or so, and before you knew it, the entire mass of them was back in the field.
But it’s all over now. They’re still out there pecking at what was left behind the combine, but at least they’re not eating up our profit all day long anymore.
And one of my jobs today? To add more mesh screening to the attic ventilation holes around our house so birds quit nesting in there.
I’m telling you, it really is The Year of the Bird.

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