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DANA PARSONS / ORANGE COUNTY

Egrets foul homeowner's nest

September 26, 2008|DANA PARSONS

Felix Jebbia saw a TV news report the other night about a Florida couple overrun by peacocks.

Hmm, Jebbia thought. Why not?

He got ahold of us and asked if we could help. On the phone with him Thursday morning, I asked him for the short version, and he said, "Egrets."

Within the hour, I was at his doorstep in the Tennis Estates in the Huntington Harbour. The homes are not estates; they're just nice places in a great location adjoining the picturesque harbor.

So, what's the problem with the egrets?

"They fly over here and crap on everything," Jebbia says. He points to a tennis court not far from his backdoor and says, "I don't play here and I'll show you why."

We begin a short walking tour of the complex. Drawing my attention to the sidewalk, a set of concrete steps leading up to the tennis court and the iron railings along the steps, he says, "This was all cleaned off two weeks ago. They can't even clean it off. It eats right into the railings."

Speaking of which, he adds, "Don't touch them."

As if I would have. They were coated with a chalky white layer of you know what, as were the nearby sidewalk and steps. "I know it's unsanitary," Jebbia says. "It makes a mess, and it stinks."

It does make a mess, but I tell Jebbia I don't smell anything.

On the tennis court, he points to a corner that is badly soiled with the same gunk. We walk to another part of the complex, where sidewalks and some shrubs are also doused in the icky white stuff. In other parts, he says, ominously, "They're just starting here."

There's no mystery. The egrets arrive in the late afternoons and bivouac in the tall pine trees on the grounds. The next morning, with squawking fanfare, they take flight.

"During the day, I don't know where they fly to," Jebbia says.

"Probably the wetlands," I venture. The Bolsa Chica wetlands aren't far off.

"I wish they'd stay there," he says.

Jebbia, a retired banana wholesaler, doesn't come across as a crank. But he's not joking about this stuff either. He doesn't see why people who have paid to live in a nice place should have to put up with dried egret droppings that are off-putting to the eye and nose. He's tired of having his friends ask if he's washed his hands when he comes to visit them.

Because the birds apparently like to nest in the treetops, the solution is to cut the trees down to size. However, when the homeowners association petitioned Huntington Beach, someone at City Hall said that the California Coastal Commission governs such things and that the tree-cutting wouldn't be permitted, Jebbia says.

I made phone calls to the interested parties but didn't hear back. So I can't say for sure if Jebbia's information is correct.

But that wasn't really my intention. I was much more interested in Jebbia's vexation, because I know what he means -- why does there always have to be something out of left field to goof up your life?

Sure, the plumbing can go out or a storm can damage your roof. But who would expect the grounds to sustain a carpet-bombing from egrets?

"I can't use the court," Jebbia says, an extremely fit gentleman of 77. "I play three times a week, and I'd love to be able to play right here with my friends. They just won't come over here and play."

We're talking on his patio, and I pick up a mildly foul scent. I sense the wind has changed, and I assume it's the essence of egret droppings. In a way, I think Jebbia is pleased I detect it.

I ask why it bothers him so much. After all, birds do what they do.

"Birds come before human beings?" he says, as if the answer is obvious.

Can't he laugh about it?

"At first, it was kind of a joke," he says. "When there were one or two birds."

Now, he thinks dozens have staked a claim on the grounds.

The most I can get him to admit is that if someone else had an egret problem, he wouldn't give it a second thought.

But when it's your sidewalk and your tennis court and your bushes that are splattered in a whiter shade of pale, it eats at you.

"I thought maybe something in the paper would make somebody take notice," he says.

I tell him I genuinely sympathize but probably can't do much about it.

He can go somewhere else to play tennis, he says. He can deal with washing his car, only to have it soiled an hour later. He can handle his friends' jokes.

"I just don't think mankind should live under these conditions," he says.

What conditions?

"The bird conditions," he says. "The crap."

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Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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