February 22, 2012


Grapes of wrath come down on crows

County begins spraying grape seed mist to push the birds away from county courthouse

GrapesBob Ellis/staff photographer
Operations manager Chris Sablich, left, and Scott Lord, of Ehrlich, test a machine that sprays a mist of grape seed oil from the roof of the Cortland County Courthouse that hopefully will alleviate the crow problem in Courthouse Park.

Staff Reporter

The two grape seed oil dispensing machines designed to deter crows from roosting near the Cortland County Courthouse were installed Tuesday.
Workers from the company, Johnson City-based Ehrlich, were pouring the oil into the machines before mounting them on the roof of the Courthouse Tuesday afternoon.
The machines, known as hazing units, each hold a gallon and a half of the oil and they began misting the spray out Tuesday and will be doing so into the air every two minutes until Friday, said Chris Sablich, operations manager for Ehrlich.
Sablich said the schedule would change on Friday after the trees are doused with more oil to reinforce the deterrent efforts.
The company is still determining how much of the oil will need to be misted to deter the crows. The machines can be relocated as needed and additional oil can be purchased at approximately $50 a gallon.
“We’ve got to find out what the appropriate interval is,” said Sablich as he crouched in the Courthouse parking lot Tuesday funneling the pungent liquid into one of the tanks.
The grape seed oil is said to be a harmless though bothersome irritant to the airways of crows and has been likened to hot sauce for humans.
Sablich said it causes the crows to ‘hack,’ though he added it does not harm them. It deters most birds, though it is more effective on large birds like crows.
“The larger the bird, the more it gets into their olfactory senses,” Sablich said.
The county authorized contracting with Ehrlich for $9,000 at the December legislative session.
A mix-up on the application packet Ehrlich submitted to the county delayed a planned dousing of trees that was supposed to occur last week. The state Department of Environmental Conservation had to approve the location, which is the Courthouse and not the County Office Building, the site the application was mistakenly submitted for. That is why the dousing will occur Friday, said Sablich.
DEC approval was not needed to mount the units Tuesday.
The oil is “quite effective” in deterring crows, said Sablich, though it remains to be seen how factors like the wind and the height of the building will impact its efficacy.
County Maintenance Director Brian Parker said he was not sure yet how his workers would have to be trained to fill the machines or follow up with the applications. He said he would know more after Friday, adding Ehrlich is contracted to make two more visits after that.
Friday’s spraying will take place around 6 p.m., said Sablich. The purpose is to douse the trees on county property near the Courthouse. When the birds land in the branches and preen themselves the spray gets onto their feathers and irritates their breathing, encouraging them to fly off and relocate elsewhere.
The county’s winter crow population has increased in recent years, by some accounts tripling from about 10,000 to about 30,000 over the past five years.
That is about the time when Auburn started successfully shooing away much of its crow population, some of which are believed to have migrated to Cortland.
The crows flock to the treetops at night in the city during the colder months, drawn to the relative warmth and shelter of the buildings. In the warmer months, the crow problem is not as noticeable.


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