SCOTLAND NECK, N.C. — Millions of birds mysteriously invaded the little town of Scotland Neck 35 years ago, capturing worldwide attention during their stay.
From 1969 through the early 1970s, 12 million birds would make their presence felt in the late afternoons and evening hours in the Halifax County town.
"You could hear them coming in," said Scotland Neck Mayor Robert Partin.
Bird droppings measured about 9 inches thick in some area, and according to historical documents, they contaminated a nearby canal, attracted lice, and caused a virus outbreak. Some residents had difficulty sleeping at night because of the noise the birds made. Remarkably, there are no reports the birds made anyone sick.
Partin said the birds' visit was like a nightmare.
"Just like the Alfred Hitchcock movie 'The Birds.' The only difference is they didn't attack people," Partin said.
Resident G.L. Coleman told WRAL that he's heard about the birds all his life. At that time, Coleman was serving military duty in Japan.
"One of the Japanese newspapers had a picture of the birds in Scotland Neck," Coleman said.
Town employees sprayed detergent on the birds from airplanes and blasted noise and set off explosions to scare them away, but the bird population doubled.
"These birds came back and they came back and they came back," author Susan Byrum Rountree said.
Rountree grew up in Scotland Neck. She said that she was a little bit scared at the time, but mostly fascinated. She's now writing a novel using the birds as a metaphor.
"They represent a loss of innocence," she said. "If I'm to execute this novel correctly, what they taught me is that you shouldn't fly away."
The birds eventually flew away in 1975, but Partin said the story never truly had an ending.
"It happened. We don't know why it happened. And we didn't know how to get rid of it," he said.
Now the town is perched to change again. The largest waterfowl center in North America is set to open this weekend in Scotland Neck.
"It's going to be an international treasure," Partin said.