Tim Chitwood

Spring bird migration rains car wash windfall

When you’re workin’ at the car wash, bird droppings are like pennies from heaven — an annual windfall that’s as much a sign of spring as blooming flowers and budding trees.

Some birds that spend the winter here are loading up to fly north. Others migrating from farther south soon will be passing through.

What’s passing through them for a car wash rains like manna. Or like pollen.

“Right now we’ve got the pollen out, too,” says Fourth Avenue Car Wash owner Richard Davis. “It’s a double whammy for us. We’re excited about it.” Business booms.

On March 8, a resident on Gray Fox Drive north of Weems Road saw bird droppings carpeting his back deck and raining like sleet from the pines shading his back yard. While observing this Biblical plague of poop, he heard a neighbor come out and shout, “What the @#$%!”

What the @#$%’s going on?

What’s going on is that birds spending the winter here are refueling for their migration north, said ornithologist Annie Crary of Columbus’ Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center.

The migration from farther south is yet to peak, she said: “It really hasn’t hit this area yet. Things are starting to show up on the coast of Florida, but it hasn’t really trickled up to Columbus yet.”

A few bird species that haven’t spent their winter here are dribbling in, but the wave is yet to crest.When birds here pack up to leave, they load up on calories — “fueling,” Crary calls it, for a long flight to summer homes: “What they do is they put on fat, and the fat is what fuels their migration northward.”

Their metabolism’s so efficient that if you could measure some birds’ endurance like a car’s mileage, they would get 720,000 miles per gallon, she said.

Among those filling their tanks here now are yellow-rumped warblers, she said: “They’ll be heading north to Canada and the boreal forest.” There the white-throated sparrow also is to go.

The birds coming here from farther south likely will show up in late March, Crary said — some from as far away as Central and South America.

Some will fly 14 hours across the gulf from the Yucatan Peninsula, if they can.

If they hit a north wind, then along the U.S. gulf coast there will be a “fallout” of exhausted birds, Crary said.When the migration hits here, “you’ll see lots of warblers, scarlet tanagers, probably summer tanagers, rose-breasted grosbeaks; hummingbirds will be back.”

As for those already showing up, “we’ve been seeing purple martins, tree swallows, and today I saw a northern rough-winged swallow, so those things are here,” she said.

So the migration is “just starting to trickle in.”

Speaking of trickling in, some car-wash customers have made the mistake of parking in the shadow of a billboard, Davis said: “We’ve had a couple of customers who have done that to be in the shade, and they’ve left their sun roofs open, and then the birds have nailed not just the outside but the inside of the car, too.”

He says owners who can’t get their cars washed right away should hose them off:

“The sooner they can get it off, the better, because the stuff that’s in the birds, it can have an adverse effect to the paint.”

Bird droppings that bake in the sun have staying power — unlike the birds.