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Infestation of birbs: the story I wanted to tell them

Friends put me onto the NPR radio show Car Talk with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, otherwise known as Click and Clack. They dished out hilarity and actual advice on those beasts that our lives depend on: cars.

I hate cars.

I use cars. I even name my cars.

I am clueless about cars. That’s why I have a trusted mechanic.

I still don’t LIKE cars. (except mine, of course).

So the fact that I don’t change (can that radio dial actually be moved from NPR? I doubt it, it’s frozen there) the radio station when Click and Clack come on is a sign of their extreme skill at spinning yarns, telling stories and creating humor out of everyday mishaps.

They are geniuses.

Well actually, they are, graduating from MIT, and gaining a Peabody Award for their radio show.

I know that Tom sadly has left the Mortal Realm, and the show has gone into reruns. Still hilarious, even, or perhaps especially, with the vintage cars being discussed if you hear it now.

Sadly I can’t tell them this story… a tale of my personal car issue, and one they would have had a blast with.

Years ago, I had a full sized, butt kicking Ford Econoline van. In the summer, a kayak or two were lashed to the roofracks, and the (seatless) cargo hold was full of kayak and snorkeling and mosquito infested salt marsh exploring gear. in the winter, a three wheeled dog rig, a bike, a box of mushing gear, a few dog crates and a team of Siberian huskies and one 16 pound Schipperke (who had his own designer harness) filled the van.

It was a useful van and had a secret superhero name.

One day I walked outside to greet it and noticed a sprig of hay sticking out of the grill.

“Whattheactual (bleep!)” said I.

I pried open the hood to find a pile of dead grass from the pampas grass bush, a nest of Epic Proportions crammed between the inside fender on the passenger side, and the battery.

Game laws protect not only native birds, but their construction sites as well. I did not care, there were plenty of other places for them to nest so I ripped it out conversing like a mariner and using literary license. It was about two feet to the bottom of the nest, crammed in among narrow bits that my ample Pennsylvania Deutsch farm girl arm would not go, and wires that looked important, and stuff I didn’t recognize and other stuff that looked important and perhaps electrical.

Suffering Epic Fail at removing all of the mess, I duct-taped a bent fork to the end of a stick and fished out more. I inserted shop vac hoses, poked with salad tweezers and removed most of it.

The scent of toasting grass followed me down the road.

The next day I came out to find more grass poking out of the grill. I opened the hood to find an even bigger nest.


I extracted it. Called the park I volunteer with and learned that what I had was an infestation of European starlings. They like to build in cavities, like hollow trees. I guess a slightly rusty van qualifies as a rotting tree. They are not native and not protected by game laws (have all the blackbird pies you want). In fact they steal habitat, nesting sites and resources from native birds, though I have no idea what self-respecting native bird wants to nest in a van going down the road at 55 mph with screaming belts and smelly engines inches from their heads.

I found a nest again the next day. Extracted it. Mostly. I set up a fan to blow annoying wind on the nest site. I placed a boombox under it and played loud obnoxious rock music.

Nope. They ignored it all and apparently had a dance party.

At the suggestion of my fabulous mechanic, I tried stinky mothballs. Then I remembered (from being a wildlife rehab volunteer and doing educational talks) that birds have a very minimal sense of smell.

Then I tried the snake.

I had a nicely coiled full sized replica of a striking, really annoyed rattlesnake, a neat realistic rubber snake that I’d got at the park.

The snake did not deter the birds, who figured it out immediately (did I mention that you can teach starlings to talk?). That might have been the day that I took the van to the mechanic so they could extract the latest home design. Maybe that was the one I discovered after I’d driven two miles and smelled burning eggs and hay.

When I went to pick up the van I learned that one of the doughty mechanics had nearly had a heart attack when he walked out to get my van and encountered the rattlesnake.

I’d left it one the hood, and it had ridden nicely, all the way to the shop, trapped by the bug shield, until I parked, where it apparently slid off to lurk conveniently where the mechanic could encounter it.

The park meanwhile, had suggested a few ideas: park it inside (nope, doesn’t fit, and the other car owns the garage). Drive it over a huge tarp and wrap it up like a Christmas present.


Maybe ferrets or small dogs…

I finally resorted to a rather large set of mousetraps, carefully duct-taped to fence wire, bent to lower the traps into tiny little crevices where the birds liked to stuff their grass. Parking the van looked like a moment in Mission Impossible (cue theme): carefully lowering loaded mousetraps …one …at …a …time… into the depths, trying not to set them off, trap various important wires or hoses or stuff that might be electric.

Going out in the van involved the same in reverse: carefully extracting each mousetrap on its wire, some of which were sprung, some of which were lurking, waiting to grab a wire or hose or finger. Da da duh-duh da da duh-duh da da…


By June, they were sort of done trying to nest in the van.

Until they laid their second brood of the year.

Eventually the Econoline died of Rust Cancer (in an attempt to fix a small hole in the right rear panel, I made a much much larger one… and I won’t even mention the dog tie-chains that fell out past the carpet through the hole in the floor…).

I got a nice little Dodge Caravan.

Good fuel mileage, managed to cram stuff in there for expeditions. Great.

Then one day there was grass, poking out of the grill…

If you want to see the whole thing with pictures, check here:

Great story, you are quite the writer… but not so much a starling lover. :wink:

OMG, @swordwhale , you just destroyed the nest of the rare and almost extinct “Red Speckled Grill Nester”.

They are known to seek out Econoline vans. They are attracted by a faint smell of egg shells.
Ford uses a special paint…only on the Econoline Vans…that has finely crushed egg shells in the paint as a hardening agent.

I guess Dodge is using that paint now too.

I’ll bet you pull the wings off of flies too.

You should be ashamed, and may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits.