Dozens upon dozens of cattle egrets were evicted from the Harvest Apartments in Oakdale on Thursday.
The egrets for the past three years have taken up residence in a three-story pine tree at the apartment’s northwest corner at Oak Avenue and West F Street.
Some Oakdale residents have marveled as the tall white birds flock in from the south at sunset, giving the tree a snow-capped look as they settle down to roost for the evening.
But their droppings have destroyed everything below them and created a nuisance for their human neighbors. So on Thursday, while the egrets were out foraging, workers cut down the tree.
Property Manager Dena Jones said the residents near the tree complained regularly about the foul smell created by the birds. She even gave one tenant a discount on her rent because the bird dung invaded her outdoor living space.
It also created a slip hazard. Jones said the pathway below the tree was pressure washed every three days but it didn’t take long before it was again blanketed white.
The owners of the complex made the decision to cut down the tree, and it was just in time. Egrets are a protected species and cannot be disturbed while they are nesting, said Cristen Langner, a biologist for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Their nesting season is generally from April to July.
Jones said she’s tried other diversionary techniques, such as Mylar balloons and loud noises, but the egrets stood their ground and this year stayed through the winter instead of migrating south, she said.
“Migration is a response to depleted food sources,” Langner said. “With the land use changes over the last few hundred years, we are providing habitat that wasn’t previously here.”
Cattle egrets around here can often be found eating insects in cow pastures, hence their name.
The mild weather the past few winters also has created a welcoming habitat.
“A particularly bad weather event will come in and it will be the final push to get them out of town,” Langner said. “Maybe we just haven’t seen that.”
When the egrets came back to Oakdale on Thursday, Jones was ready for them. She used an air horn to prevent them from finding another tree on the property.
It worked for the time being because they scattered to trees at the Rite Aid across the street and Oak Valley Hospital.