READING — It starts with a just handful of birds.
Like clockwork, a half-hour before sundown, the flock swoops over the fields along Hampshire Road, curving and turning in unison as if controlled by one mind.
Then another small flock joins. Then a group of a hundred. Then hundreds of thousands, maybe a million.
In minutes the rural Cumru Township neighborhood is transformed into the likes of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. The loud whoosh of thousands of little wings echoes over the houses as the sky blackens.
I just cleaned all these cars today and in the morning they'll be covered in poop, says Scott Payne as the birds swarm over his driveway.
He's not kidding.
The birds will spend the night packed like sardines in patches of bamboo across the road. When they shoot out of the thicket in a single torrent in the morning, it will - as if some biblical plague were unfolding over Payne's house - rain guano.
In the morning when they leave, it sounds like a gasoline fire is going off, Payne said. And then they swirl around all over the houses and poop on the way.
Payne gets hit regularly. So do his kids. He cleans the cars and power washes his house and driveway multiple times per week.
But what worries him the most are the flulike symptoms he's started to feel since the birds arrived in August. He's getting tested for fungal diseases that spread through bird droppings.
The problem Payne and his neighbors face is the European starling, a foreign bird that was brought to North America in the 1890s and, free of the checks and balances of its natural habitat, proceeded to take over the continent.
Despite efforts to stop the birds, considered a nuisance to homes and farms because of their large numbers, voracious appetites and tendency to defecate on everything and everyone, they seem to keep coming back.
The starlings have roosted in Payne's neighborhood between August and winter for the last few years. He and neighbors noticed their arrival coincided with the growth of several patches of bamboo in the neighborhood.
That's the only place they roost, Payne said. They don't roost in the pine trees. They roost in the bamboo.
The quick-growing trees make a perfect place for flocks of thousands of starlings to roost in cold weather.
If the roost is removed, the birds will go elsewhere. But you can't force somebody to remove bamboo from their property.
So the other option is for the USDA to find out where the starlings eat during the day and spike the food with a bird-specific poison.