Written by By Mariam Kazim, CNN
Look up from the ground in front of the Fieldston Inwood home of investors Ed and Lyn Murray, and you’ll see the Milky Way above. It’s a beautiful sight, especially since, five years ago, the starlight kept defying the owners’ plans for their new living space.
The couple was impressed by the place they bought: It’s in an attractive neighborhood in the northwest Bronx near historic Woodlawn Cemetery. Indeed, upon first visiting, it felt no different to any other suburb in the neighborhood.
But then came the coming of the stars — and what seemed like an outbreak of bad allergies.
“I knew it was the Star of Bethlehem, a little tiny neighborhood light across the sky, but it was so big we didn’t even see it,” Ed Murray said. “Then we realized we couldn’t go out to the local park. It was a swarm of starbursts, and they were still going, and you couldn’t get out of the garage. Every night you heard them crackling and roaring, and it was hard to sleep.”
What the Star of Bethlehem wanted
While Ed and Lyn weren’t the first people in the neighborhood to have this problem, each time it was the same source of their problems: an infestation of starbursts — or starlings.
While water-loving starlings out in the wild cannot induce starlight, when they fly into gas-filled buildings, these flashlights are born — and it’s no longer a bird vs. bird battle, according to Douglas Besharov, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a spokesman for the organization “No Star-Lovers Among Us,” which promotes a peaceful solution to the starling infestation problem.
“They spend all day flying around in the blue sky and devouring mason flowers,” Besharov said. “They make this flapping noise and they start lighting up houses in the night. Their parents don’t know why, but they take up residence in the dead spaces of buildings, their feet often sticking out through the cracks, so the starlings have to fly around a lot.”
The most dangerous starling infestation that Besharov has personally been a part of was after he remodeled his bedroom at his family’s home in Upstate New York. Starlings were all over the house, and he said that his wife sent them away each time they tried to get rid of them, but their addictions meant that the family had to take down almost all of their kitchen cabinets to get rid of one starling in particular.
“Starlings are like property rights: They were given property when they hatched out, and we can’t take it away,” Besharov said. “This is the way they have chosen to build their futures: they’re self-sufficient and build for their needs, and once they get settled in, they’ll bail if someone disrupts their world.”
Where skies are the stars
Unlike the infestations that are a major nuisance in urban areas, the aerial starburst in the above Bronx home can be easily tolerated, and is an easy and safe fix, according to Rosemary Nolte, an advocate for controlled starbursts in public spaces and president of the Starlight Watch Foundation.
“The only time it is bad is if you are sitting on a deck overlooking the sky or on the top of a tall building, where you are bound to see them flutter through,” Nolte said. “But I’ve been trying to use starbursts to be more present with my house plants, and I love their soft call, their gentle blast.”
“They are relatively inexpensive,” Nolte added. “The homeowner doesn’t have to do anything. We don’t even want them to smell.”
Even the Murray’s enthusiasm for control aside, the solution may be less grand and more feasible than they imagine: According to Nolte, there are workable systems that require no contact with the starlings themselves.
“The effect is so quiet and so subtle,” she said. “It’s kind of like hearing a Ferrari chirp. It just sounds awesome.”
Although in the few years since the Murray’s house has been treated, the number of starlings arriving in their neighborhood has gone down.
“People say it has grown, but it hasn’t,” Ed Murray said. “There is a reason. It’s because the town has a control of the stars.”
It’s not perfect, but it’s more than they could have hoped for.