'The Birds' flock to town to escape cold

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The Independent Online

It must seem to the besieged residents of the Somerset town of Chard that they are part of a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film The Birds. But the reality is more prosaic. The starlings in the huge flock which has invaded the town are not planning to tear people apart with their beaks but are merely seeking a little respite from the cold weather.

Over the past couple of weeks, the flock of starlings, whose size has been estimated at anything between 100,000 and 250,000, has settled on top of and around a food factory and have covered houses and cars in the suurounding area with a blanket of excrement. Some residents are having to clean their cars twice a day to protect paintwork.

Bird experts say that although the size of the flock, or "murmuration", is large, it is not unprecedented and its presence in Chard is possibly due to the warmth of the factory roof.

Experts believe that the Chard birds are a "sub-flock" of a much larger gathering of about a million starlings from northern Europe and Britain that have been wintering on the reed beds of the Somerset Levels for the past few years.

Andre Farrow, a starlings expert with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "Normally, the Somerset Levels over-wintering flock would be breaking up this time of year as winter ends and it gets warmer, but the late cold snap has forced them to seek some warmth."

He said the birds would move on once the weather became warmer and the breeding season began. But that is little consolation to some residents. Stephen Fuller, 41, said his cars were covered in droppings every day. "When they flock around, it's like a locust storm," he said. "There's so much flying crap, you think twice before heading outside, and when you do you have to wear a hat and coat."

Bob Painting , whose bird control company was called in to help, said he had been playing recordings of distressed starlings close to the roosting birds. "It makes them think that it's not a good place to stay," he said.