Augusta once used shotguns, fireworks, prayer against birds


Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie thriller, “The Birds,” frightened America with the concept of out-of-control winged threats.

Augustans, however, had seen it before.

In 1940, The Chronicle reported our town overwhelmed with starlings, small black birds that filled the sky (and trees and residential rooftops) in numbers no one had seen before.

On lower Greene Street residents called for city action, even recommending it set off fireworks to frighten the birds.

Augusta Mayor James Wooddall responded that the city did not have the money for fireworks, and urged homeowners to use their own firepower.

“The best thing I know to do is grab a shotgun and cut loose,” Mayor Wooddall said. According to the newspaper – it seems to have worked.

Augusta Mayor Jim Wooddall in 1940

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Drastic, maybe, but then starlings are not the most popular bird in America’s aviary.

Its Latin name – sturnus vulgaris – suggests it might be a bad boy and the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds” seems to agree. It says (on Page 649) starlings tend to live together in large roosts where they create “much noise, foul the area and have proved difficult to drive away.”

Their birdsong is also described as “a series of discordant, musical, squeaky and rasping notes.”

Their one redeeming talent seems to be insect consumption. They’re pretty good at that.

Bullets, poison and roman candles

Starlings were quite the pests in 1940 Augusta.

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It wasn’t enough, however, for the late Ben Fortson, of Wilkes County, Georgia’s longtime secretary of state and keeper of the grounds of the state Capitol in Atlanta.

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