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Leigh Street traders call for 10,000 birds to flock off

Leigh Street restaurants and business owners are calling for long-term solutions to the 10,000 tree martins – and their droppings – which have moved into laneway trees for another season.

Mar 28, 2024, updated Mar 28, 2024
Leigh Street trees shelter the largest house martin bird roost in Australia. Photo: Green Adelaide

Leigh Street trees shelter the largest house martin bird roost in Australia. Photo: Green Adelaide

Adelaide City Council is cleaning Leigh Street three times a day to keep up with the volume of bird droppings from the tree martins that have flocked there. 

Councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh said he consistently receives complaints from businesses and stakeholders in the area, and the increased cleaning is a “bandaid” solution. 

“Cleaning the street three times a day is great, but are we going to do that forever,” he said. 

“Are we going to do that every single year? What’s the long-term plan here?”

The migration season for these birds spans January to May, creating an unpleasant environment for office workers, pedestrians and restaurants in the popular city laneway. 

Green Adelaide ecologist Jason Van Weenen said tree martins favour the Callery pear trees lining Leigh Street to stay safe from other predators.

It’s pretty amazing, believe it or not, they can be relatively easy to miss,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“They descend really quickly into the pear trees on Leigh Street and they have a bit of a race to get in there because there’s a few falcons that like to get them on the way.” 

Thousands of tree martins hide from their predators, the peregrine falcon, in the trees of Leigh Street. This picture: Green Adelaide

Marshall King, co-owner of Pink Moon Saloon on Leigh Street said, “if it wasn’t so disgusting, it would be a beautiful spectacle”.

“I’ve seen tourists walking past… they think it’s just amazing, they’re filming and everything, it looks like a real sort of David Attenborough migration-style spectacle,” he said. 

But the spectacle has worn off for business owners and traders in the street who have seen the birds “in plague proportions” during their migration season for several years now. 

“Anything’s cute until there’s 10,000 of them in your house. If you have a couple of cats at home? Cute, awesome. 2000 cats in one house? Crazy,” King said.

Business owners, office workers and punters out for a drink in the popular laneway say it’s not just the mess that’s the issue, but the smell that comes with it. 

There have also been reports of birds injuring themselves on restaurant windows in their rush to the safety of the trees.

Green Adelaide said tree martins are a declining species in the Mount Lofty and Adelaide area, so from a conservation perspective, having them in the heart of the city is “quite amazing”. 

Green Adelaide have a number of resources on their website, and even a sign in Leigh Street encouraging people to see the birds as an attraction.

“We welcome the opportunity to work with any of our partners on maximising outcomes for our wildlife,” said a Green Adelaide spokesperson.

Pink Moon Saloon washes its umbrellas once a week, and King says staff are told: “Hey, do your best, but it’s pretty hard to sell a cocktail if there’s literally birds shitting in the drinks.” 

He suggested there may be “some kind of sci-fi solution” using sonar technology to disrupt the birds and move them on. 

“I’ve actually read about [sonar] in other places, that’s probably a bit of a more refined version of the old, you know, shotgun on the almond farm, that some people are trying to propose,” he said. 

This picture: Liam Jenkins

The council says it has investigated bird control technology, including sonar.

But the agenda note for this week’s meeting said the technology can risk eyesight, making it inappropriate for pedestrian locations like Leigh Street.

The council has considered netting the trees but decided it wasn’t viable due to their size.

Extra pruning had minimised tree overhang into dining areas, while the council had removed one smaller tree adjacent to Shobosho and approved a canopy for Shobosho’s outdoor dining in November 2023. 

The venue said it was a helpful measure but Leigh Street businesses needed a long-term solution. 

Property owner George Ginos said it had been an issue for years and wanted action. 

“Rather than solving the symptoms, we’d like the problem solved,” he said. 

Abrahimzadeh says it should be a priority to help traders in what was already a difficult time for hospitality and nightlife in the west end

“I challenge any elected member in that chamber to go and have a meal or have a drink in that vicinity without getting bird droppings or feathers on them,” he said. 

“I challenge them to do that because I don’t think they’ve actually been in that area at the time where the birds are there and they can actually hear them and see them and see the mess for themselves, and this is what the businesses have to put up with day in and day out.” 

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