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Egrets only, and a town's not too happy

August 14, 2008 |  9:33 am

Adrift_in_snowy_egrets Maybe it has to do with shrinking habitat as development eats up California's open spaces, maybe it's just an avian whim. Whatever the reason, more than a thousand snowy egrets and a handful of black-crowned night herons have moved into the Central Valley town of Willows. Steve Chawkins visits with the weary residents:

Memorial Park, a square-block stretch of green near the center of town, is encircled with yellow police tape and is off limits to normal use. More than 1,000 birds, mainly snowy egrets and some black-crested night herons, are nesting there, turning patches of lawn a lunar gray and showering the grass with broken shells and feathers. Officials say the guano is slowly killing 60-foot-tall redwoods and pines.

In the park and on bordering streets, county crews have picked up more than 1,200 dead chicks that toppled from nests on high. Neighbors complain about stench and flies, and half-digested crayfish raining down on them as they try to dine outdoors.

Wildlife experts wish the birds would just move a few hundred miles to the north, to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile the town is weighing its options -- strobe lights, cannon blasts and some precision tree pruning. Check out Steve's full story of the snowy egret invasion -- with some lovely and revealing photos -- here.

-- Veronique de Turenne

Photo: Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times