Holy cow!History: When a blackbird calls Kentucky

Something about birds makes them perfectly fit into the scary atmosphere of Halloween. Think of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic “The Raven” and Alfred Hitchcock’s chilling “bird.”

Almost 50 years ago this fall, the small town was in great trouble thanks to its winged creatures. This happened when the blackbird called Kentucky.

Hopkinsville, Kentucky is a classic Americana slice. Located a few miles above the Tennessee border, the 152-year-old courthouse is located in downtown, dotted with quaint little shops and shops, stately churches, and lovely old homes. It’s a place where people are happy to call it a home.

Unfortunately, in the mid-1970s, unwanted visitors decided to call it their hometown.

At some point in late October 1974, the sky around “Hop Town” became dark (as the locals lovingly call it). With birds, not clouds. Blackbirds, specifically starlings, are abundant, with a healthy number of gracles and cowbirds lined up properly. As the sun set each night, an estimated 5-7 million people filled the bare wood limbs, the air, and basically the place they chose.

But this was not an awe-inspiring natural wonder. Birds are free and insignificant anytime, anywhere. Hopkinsville suddenly noticed that it was covered with millions of pounds of dung. It caused serious health damage. The invaders spent their days feasting on grain farmers who were sent to feed their cattle. And that wasn’t the worst.

The birds eventually settled on a 30-acre block of pine trees as a base for their activities. As a result, they were in direct conflict with the US Army. The 101st Airborne Division of the US Army was headquartered in the vast Fort Campbell nearby. Now, airplane and helicopter pilots had to fight serious flight threats.

Tired peasants and locals grabbed shotguns and blew off feathered pests with little effect. The mayor of Hopkinsville called it “plague and tragedy.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Veterinarians warned about gastroenteritis that could kill infant pigs, and doctors warned humans to protect against histoplasmosis, an aerial infection that damages the lungs.

If all of this sounds creepy, reminiscent of a “bird,” it was. Parents did not allow their children to play outdoors. I couldn’t do it anyway. Their slides and swings were covered with white dung, like sidewalks, driveways, and car windshields.

By February, birds had suffered an estimated $ 2.6 million ($ 2021 was about $ 15 million). A desperate local civil servant issued an emergency SOS, which Uncle Sam responded to. In early 1975, planes and choppers took off from Fort Campbell and prepared to sprinkle blackbirds and their companions with Tergitol S-9, a biodegradable detergent that removes protective oils that help keep the wings warm.

And just as the strategy to counter the threat was implemented, two new characters appeared in the drama.

First, federal environmental quality council officials insisted that the Army make a statement about the impact. It took weeks, time and paperwork cost $ 20,000 (about $ 102,000 today).

Environmentalists then joined the act. The New York-based group Society for Animal Rights and Citizens for Animals has filed a proceeding in an attempt to stop what they call “a form of mass euthanasia.” (The Mayor of Hopkinsville has seriously considered seeking a retaliatory injunction to ban Big Apple residents from killing stray mice.)

Nature finally solved the calendar problem. As the weather warmed up in the spring, the birds took off in search of more lush meadows.

There was a similar episode in 2013, with millions of unwelcome poultry reappearing, causing misery for months.

They say feather birds flock together, and the people of Hopkinsville can prove the accuracy of the saying. And then some. The leaves are starting to fall from the trees and the temperature is starting to drop at night, so I’m nervously watching the sky and I can’t blame the leaves for crossing my fingers this year that the blackbirds won’t call again. To borrow from Po, “Nevermore”.

Holy cow! History is written by novelist, former television journalist, and avid history enthusiast J. Mark Powell. Is there a historical mystery that needs to be solved? Forgotten moments worth remembering? Please send to

Holy cow!History: When a blackbird calls Kentucky

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