December 3, 2013
Crows fan out across city
Officials see fewer downtown as birds roost in other areas
When the temperature drops in Cortland, residents have grown accustomed to seeing the skies above the city darkened by the wings of crows and the ground covered with the mess they leave behind.
This year, though it seems as if the avian invaders have traded Cortland for a more desirable destination, experts and officials say their perceived absence in the city is only temporary.
Since the late 1980s, a growing number of crows have been spotted in the city perched atop places like the County Courthouse and in the trees in Courthouse Park making noise at all hours of the night and leaving large amounts of droppings on sidewalks for the city to deal with.
Over time, the city and county have consulted experts and employed different methods to get the birds to leave, including misting grape-seed oil — which is believed to irritate a crow’s breathing passages — on the courthouse and surrounding trees and the county also installed audio wailers, which replicate the calls of birds of prey and distress calls.
Wildlife Biologist Lance Clark, who works with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Fisher Avenue in Cortlandville, said unless an illness such as the West Nile virus killed off a large number of birds, it is more likely the crows have not left and have just moved to different parts of the city.
“I don’t think the crow population would have gone down that much if any,” Clark said, “So the numbers will probably increase during the winter.”
He added there are many benefits the city has to offer the crows and that while residents find their presence annoying, for the birds it is about survival.
“There’s some advantage to being in the city really,” Clark said. “That seems to be one of the main reasons they congregate like this in the winter time. It’s a little warmer in the city, it’s well lit, there aren’t that many predators that can attack them and (it’s easier to find a mate).”
Mack Cook, city director of administration and finance, said he has taken walks around the city and has noticed the birds have moved to a different part of town.
“They seem to be more in the north section of the city than downtown,” Cook said. “(And) they seem to be a little more subdued than they were last year. We’ll see what happens.”
Cook added the city invested in a new tractor it now uses to clean up after the birds which has worked well after concluding the deterrents had little effect on the crows.
“We’re not firing off pyrotechnics or anything,” Cook said. “We’ve invested considerably in a machine to do the sidewalks; we started sweeping off the sidewalks (and) we’re keeping up with any droppings.”
County Maintenance Director Brian Parker said the crows are not descending on the county Courthouse this year but the county is prepared in case they do.
The wailer goes off in two cycles nightly and lights flash from the Courthouse roof at the same time and the county is also prepared to use the grapeseed oil dispensers that would spray grapeseed oil from the roof of the Courthouse, if needed, Parker said.
He added that he hopes the crows stay at bay but he is unsure of where they have ended up and fears they are just bothering another neighborhood.
“We will keep our fingers crossed,” Parker said.
Staff reporter Catherine Wilde contributed to this article.
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