December 1, 2009


Cold brings crows back to city treetops

City, county continue to battle infestation with noise-making devices designed to spook the birds

CrowsJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Crows continue to be an annual problem in the city of Cortland.

Staff Reporter

The trees around Courthouse Park that have been filled with crows most evenings this fall were empty Monday evening, and an employee leaving the county Courthouse said she had not seen any crows in the area since early last week.
The county has fixed a noise-making device used to scare the birds.
“We haven’t had any issues with crows since we got the program repaired,” said Brian Parker, supervisor of the county Maintenance Department. “My reports are that there are no crows at the Courthouse at night when the wailer is working properly, which it is now.”
The device, which makes imitation hawk or eagle calls and other noises, had been making noises during the daytime rather than at night as it is designed to do. Parker said he became aware of the problem during the first week of November, but does not know how long it was malfunctioning.
The County Maintenance Department fixed the wailer at no cost after speaking to Canada-based Phoenix Agritech, the company that manufactures the wailer, about how to reprogram it, Parker said.
A Maintenance Department employee e-mailed Parker Nov. 20 and said there had been no crows around Courthouse Park for the previous three nights, Parker said.
The wailer now makes noises intermittently from about 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., he said. It is designed to keep crows from roosting within 5 acres of it.
The county also has a portable wailer that it bought for $2,116 in 2008 to be used mainly within city limits. It creates noises in different neighborhoods when the residents there request it from their alderman, who has to request it from the county.
“It’s just a stopgap measure. It doesn’t prevent anything. It just moves them around,” Mayor Tom Gallagher said.
He said he thinks the portable wailer is worth having.
“It’s better than doing nothing,” he added.
Kevin J. McGowan, a researcher in Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology who studies crow behavior, said the crows have had a large presence in the city of Cortland for about 10 years.
“They’ve always been roosting somewhere around Cortland. Now they’re moving into towns because towns are warm and they have lights, and both of those things attract them,” McGowan said.
He was not familiar with Cortland’s wailers, but said such machines are not typically very effective.
“Loud noises don’t do a whole lot, especially if they’re constant and they stay in the same place,” he said.
McGowan said he thinks the crow population in Cortland has grown since people in Auburn began a program to harass about 80,000 crows that had gathered along the Owasco Outlet several years ago.
Auburn officials have used lasers and loud noises to scatter the birds. The city has also received help the past five years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which fired shells from pistols to make loud noises to scare crows.
USDA staff also used high-powered green lasers, McGowan said. Crows began to associate the noises with the lasers so that both tactics cause them to fly away, he said.
Since then, Auburn officials have continued to use the same tactics. The population of crows roosting in Auburn has decreased to about 5,000, he said. “I have no doubt that Cortland has taken on some of those birds,” McGowan said.
He estimates that there were about 10,000 to 15,000 crows in Cortland about five years ago.
He has not made a new estimate since Auburn started its program, but a couple of years ago he saw a gathering in Cortland and said there appeared to be more than 10,000 crows.
Crows generally roost in the city from October to March.
Some of them are local crows that spend the warmer months in the countryside and some are migrants from Canada, McGowan said.
Most of them spend the daytime in the countryside, and as it gets dark, groups of birds will move into the city and join other groups of birds, until the groups gathers into one spot.
“This is a manageable thing and people around the community are learning to manage it,” McGowan said. “It’s not an infestation. It’s just a winter phenomenon.”
Steve Muka, a local landlord who owns apartment houses behind Courthouse Park on Central Avenue, said he usually sees the crows flocking into the city from the north in the evening.
Muka said that over 10 years ago, when his children were young, they all would shine camping flashlights on the crows and they would fly away. After three nights the crows wouldn’t return to the same tree, he said.
“I know it works because we personally did it and it’s cheap entertainment for the kids,” he said.
Muka said he thinks people would volunteer to shine lights on trees where crows are roosting if someone organized the effort.
Police officers could also shine their lights on them when passing by to address the problem, he said.
“Unlike what they’re doing now that makes noise and costs money, this would be free,” Muka said.


To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe