Keep Our Park Clean | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Keep Our Park Clean

For several years now, municipal authorities have been battling birds that nest in Juarez Park. Large flocks of egrets and grackles find the park to be an ideal place to mate and raise chicks. They like the many tall trees (100 feet and more) that provide security and lots of branches for holding their nests.

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Egrets nesting in Juarez Park.

These are the tallest trees for miles around, the forests once surrounding San Miguel de Allende having long ago been cut for beams, furniture and firewood. Many years ago, when the trees of Juarez Park were smaller, and some large trees remained in the countryside, egrets and grackles opted for the quiet of the campo. But now, the trees in the city are the only game in town, so it is here that they come.

The noise they make is incredible. Hundreds of birds all calling at once sounds like a late-stage cocktail party. Neither of the two species have pleasant songs. Egrets squawk and occasionally gargle. Grackles make lewd catcalls. Approach a tree where birds are gathered, and conversation becomes impossible until you're well past it.

I sort of like it.

The main complaint of park users is that the birds defecate where people want to congregate. A lot. Walks, walls and plants become encrusted with a nearly unbroken layer of guano. It smells. The whole park smells. Bird poop sticks to the soles of shoes, weighing down the feet of joggers. Staying in the park for an hour increases the probability of a direct hit to a near-certainty. People slip and fall. Plants die, suffocated under the alkaline mess.

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Bespattered Wall and Plants.

The situation called for war. It was the birds or us.

The initial salvo was literally, a salvo. Attempts were made to shoot the birds, or at least to scare them away with gunfire. The birds, except for those few that were actually hit, were unmoved.

However, some citizens were outraged.

WHAT??? You're shooting NESTING egrets? Those beautiful, graceful white birds? And their CHICKS? Baby birds? You're BLASTING their nests out of the trees? What are you—barbarians?

(Our municipal government has a penchant for getting itself into these situations.)

Time for Plan B. Someone suggested that playing warbling electronic noises over loudspeakers situated throughout the park would cause the birds to stay away. Up went the speakers. A tape of genuine guaranteed-to-scare-birds noises was obtained. The sound system volume was turned to "10." Someone pushed "Play."

The entire neighborhood vibrated to car alarm sounds. We all grimaced and shut our doors. We inserted earplugs and burrowed under pillows.

The birds, unruffled, continued to breed and care for their young. Hmmm.

You would think someone could have figured this out beforehand. After all, the good residents of Valle de Maiz, which immediately overlooks the park, are constantly exploding fireworks. Rosie, our Boston Terrier spends every other night huddled against one of us shaking in terror. As I write this, it sounds like Baghdad outside my window. None of this ever disturbed the birds. Why would anyone think electronic whistles would?

Unwilling to admit defeat, the municipal authorities played the tapes for months. Some of our neighbors left to take extended vacations. The birds stayed. At the end of the season, having exhaustively proved that sounds would not discourage nesting, the city relented and turned off the noise. The birds left for their annual migration. The neighbors returned to their parkside homes. Birds: 2, City: 0.

Plan C involved "pruning" the trees in such a way as to make them unsuitable for nesting. As a first step in this process, the city went out and bought a huge cherry picker.

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The Cherry Picker

This is the largest, the most sophisticated and the most expensive piece of equipment owned by the city. Streets are repaved, not with bulldozers, graders and backhoes. They are repaved by gangs of men with shovels and picks—and a wheelbarrow if they're lucky, or a five-gallon plastic bucket if they're not. But there's no way workers are getting up into the trees without some serious gear. Influential people live around Juarez Park. They will not tolerate the messy birds. So priorities were set, funds were reshuffled and the cherry picker was purchased.

The strategy for pruning the trees was to go as high as possible in the cherry picker, and lop off however much tree extended above that level. Short on esthetics, but effective insofar that birds didn't build nests in trees that had undergone amputation. No they didn't. Instead, they just moved over to trees that had not been "pruned."

Of course, once the egrets had built their nests in the trees that hadn't been modified yet, they were off-limits to our urban foresters until next year. Meanwhile, once-elegant trees now look astonishingly ugly, having had their upper thirds hacked off. (Look again at the photo of the cherry picker.)

The final insult was delivered this year to those who insisted on having the trees cut. Their elegant yards to the east of the park contain large old trees, too. Having been evicted from the park, some of the birds moved to the yards of these lovely villas.

Keeping Juarez Park clean is a constant battle. Not only do birds soil it, but dogs, too. During the dry season, dust from the countryside coats the leaves of plants. Untreated sewage flows into the creek that runs through the park. And people throw trash on the walkways and in the gardens: soda bottles, Cheetos bags, popsicle sicks, corncobs, used chewing gum and more.

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"No Littering"

Signs posted here and there remind the public to not litter. The signs are about as effective as the bird noises. This sign elegantly delivers the message as can only be done in Spanish: "To Throw Garbage [Is] Prohibited. The person who would be surprised [while littering] will be consigned to the corresponding authorities."

As one might expect, the sign is marked with graffiti and is spattered with bird sh*t. Apparently we now know what both humans and birds think of it.

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