Unruly birds drop in on RP resident
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By Jud Snyder  March 15, 2013 12:00 am

Homeowners in Rohnert Park often have problems with backyard pests like moles, mice, rats, squirrels, opossums and occasionally, raccoons. But who would think robins, our beloved robin red-breasts, would make the list?

Meet Joan Colombo, Dawn Court homeowner who has a problem with robins.

You see, Colombo has a handsome privet tree in her backyard shading a wooden picnic table and chairs. It was there when she moved in 20 years ago.

Her home is just a few steps away from Hinebaugh Creek. The creek was cleared of all its invasive plants such as blackberry vines, weeds and other berry-bearing undergrowth by the Sonoma County Water Agency, which has jurisdiction over RP creeks. Robins liked it better before it was cleaned with a bike path added.

You know what happened next. Robins discovered Colombo’s privet tree, currently laden with clumps of delicious blue-black berries and her backyard picnic table has been rendered practically unusable. Repeated scrubbing and hosing, even steam-cleaning, provides temporary help, but by the time the wooden furniture dries, bird droppings have begun again. No one likes robin manure decorating scalps and shoulders.

Privets are a member of the olive family and used mainly for low-slung hedges in Europe and America, where they’re carefully manicured. Pretty white flowers precede the berry clumps on the trees.

Robins are gregarious birds who travel in flocks. They continually hop about lawns listening and looking for angleworms, their main diet. They prefer worms, insects and fruit. Smaller birds like sparrows and finches prefer seeds. Bigger birds like starlings (an invasive bird), Brewer’s blackbirds and cowbirds sometimes join the robins, but they’re in the minority.

Colombo can frighten away robins by banging her broom on the privet tree or sidewalk. They fly away en masse, but quickly return when she leaves. She lives with her elderly mother, who needs constant care, and their big dog, Madison, a friendly Rhodesian ridgeback, but she pays little attention to the robins.

The robins also have swooped down and attacked Colombo and her dog. She also worries about the robins dive-bombing her mother and causing her to take a painful fall.

She’s been told to hang bright colorful plastic strips in her tree like they do in some vineyards, or try a stuffed great horned owl perched on a limb. But she knows any intelligent robin, when they’re hungry, would soon get used to these human distractions and ignore them.

Colombo’s only consolation is the robins will abandon her privet tree as soon as they consume all the berries. At the rate they’re gobbling it shouldn’t take too long. Meanwhile, hosting a BBQ isn’t very practical. There’ll be a celebratory picnic later this spring.

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