Wayne Frady Park is a 12-acre oasis on College Street in Old Town Lewisville. It has a neighborhood playground and a little over a half mile of walking trail encircling the park and connecting it to the neighborhood through approximately 4.5 acres of urban forest. It is home to the smaller of Lewisville’s two public swimming pools. It is also a temporary home to some unwelcome visitors.
The smell of bird urine and feces intensely permeates the area.
Thousands of migratory egrets and perhaps a few other species have established a nesting area or heronry in the wooded area at Wayne Frady park, and in some surrounding areas.
A quick jaunt into the woods soon reveals treetops teeming with as many of the nearly-chicken-sized birds as the limbs can hold. Coarse nests of twigs and leaves over a foot in diameter are jammed in just about every possible nook.
A cacophony of squawks and quacks — comparable to a gargling Donald Duck — dominates the soundscape. There are so many birds, that they squabble over space. One squawks and flaps its wings, then several take flight and scatter. Others walk along the ground as far as one can see through the trees.
The birds keep a watchful eye for visitors, and keep their distance.
It isn’t the first time the egrets have chosen Frady Park to nest. The birds first appeared in 2015 and they were able to get nested before the city could run them off. In 2016, the city used noisemakers to successfully discourage the birds from nesting there.
Nesting season for the egrets starts in early April. According to Lewisville’s Community Relations and Tourism Director James Kunke, a city worker visited the site during March and April, setting off noisemakers each time he visited. He said that no egrets were seen trying to roost on the site during those visits.
Kunke said that a resident called the city on May 9 to report an egret sighted on May 7. The city sent someone from the parks department to the site that day. The employee saw about six birds there, so he shot off a “banger” or noisemaker to try to get them to leave.
The egrets did not leave. Kunke said the employee reported that they flew up, circled, then returned.
When the employee entered the woods, he found a blue heron sitting on a nest and a broken egg on the ground.
That egg meant that any efforts to move the birds along to some other habitat had to stop.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 prohibits the removal of protected species such as the egrets and herons once they begin to nest.
Crystal Palmer, a field supervisor with Lewisville’s Animal Services department addressed the egret situation in a public information meeting on urban wildlife in the city Thursday night.
“If they’re migratory, then we cannot touch them, even if they’re injured, even if they can’t fly,” said Palmer. “We have to let nature take its course.”
Palmer explained that the reason the law went into effect back in 1918 was because people were shooting them in excess, causing animals to go extinct or near-extinct.
“So this is one of the least known or cared about laws in existence,” Palmer said. “For anybody, any lobbyist to try and push to change the law, there’s I guess more important laws that kind of take the forefront.”
Palmer noted that other cities have gotten themselves in trouble with fines by trying to move the birds in violation of the law. In 2008, Carrollton incurred a $70,000 fine for trying to move an egret colony.
“We recognize there is a problem but our hands are tied,” Palmer said. “It’s not like we don’t want to help the citizens of the city — we get it,” she said, acknowledging the birds are smelly and loud. “But the law is in effect still and until somebody steps up and tries to change something federally, it is what it is.”
According to the Texas Breeding Bird Atlas, the Cattle Egret species breeds from first eggs in April to last fledglings in mid-September or even as late as October.
The birds will be staying in Frady Park until then, dining on crickets and grasshoppers, and tending to their young.
Greg Smith, who lives on Degan Street, just west of the park, said the birds have not tried to nest at his house, but that they tear up his trees to get nesting materials.
Smith said the birds primarily keep their droppings in the park, but that the smell and noise reach his house easily. “You get that wind blowing in from the east, and you can smell it,” Smith said.
“We didn’t have this problem last year,” Smith said, referring to the city’s efforts to use noisemakers to scare the birds off before they could nest.
Kunke confirmed that last year, the city had spotted birds in April and used abatement procedures to keep them away. “As a point of reference, about this time last year staff had not found any birds during weekly visits, so [the city] stopped doing any abatement in the park since nesting season was well underway,” Kunke said.
Smith blamed the city for having dropped the ball on surveillance of the birds this year. “I think if they had done the same as last year — set up the noisemakers to keep them from coming around and nesting — we wouldn’t have this problem right now,” Smith said.
According to Smith, the city has not communicated with the neighbors about the bird situation. He said he had learned about the city’s response from a neighbor.
“My plan is first part of January or February, I’m going to start going to the city council meetings and start asking, ‘What are you guys going to do to prevent the egrets from coming around this year?’” Smith said.
Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified for this story, said they were working to get legislators to overturn the law protecting the birds. “The smell is so bad you can’t go out, and [you] absolutely can not use the park,” they said. “Their excrement peels paint off cars, boats and anything else parked without a cover.”
Kunke said the process that had been used in the prior year to keep the birds away was the same process used this year, so there was no reason to think it wouldn’t work.
“Anytime something does not work as planned, the city reviews the process to look for possible improvements,” Kunke said. “We will be working with our partners at LLELA, Animal Control and Texas Parks and Wildlife to evaluate our preventive program.”
Kunke said that parks staff had made contact with many of the residents near the park, and that there was a possibility the city would prepare some printed material. He said the city was also considering a meeting with residents later in the year to inform them of any adjustments to the prevention program, and establish better communications prior to the next year’s nesting season.