WATERTOWN — Although it’s a few months away before the crows return to roost this winter, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and the City Council are already coming up with ways to get rid of them.
It was more difficult to haze the pesky crow population last winter when the roost stuck around in and around downtown despite hazing by the city’s consultant.
There were more complaints about crows leaving their droppings on sidewalks, downtown buildings and on a children’s playground at the Dulles State Office Building.
“Hit them early and hit them hard,” Mayor Smith said, suggesting that wildlife biologists from Loomacres Wildlife Management start hazing earlier in the year before the crows settle down to roost.
The mayor also thinks it’s time for city staff to help in the hazing efforts. They should be trained to play distress calls, fire pyrotechnics and use hand-held lasers to disrupt the birds.
However, City Manager Kenneth A. Mix stressed that employees could not be used for lethal means because Loomacres biologists are sharp shooters with high-powered air rifles.
Cody Baciuska, whose company handles crow hazing for the city, said city employees can receive training and licensing through the state Department of Environment Conservation.
On Monday night, City Council met with Mr. Baciuska to plan for a strategy to move the crows out of the city and to talk about last season’s hazing.
During the season, Loomacres shot and killed 15 crows during one night of hazing and then returned to kill seven more on another night. The idea is that the crows are scared away by seeing a few dead crows lying on the ground.
But the crows seemed to have ignored the killings and returned a few days later to the trees where they were roosting. Mayor Smith said deadly force worked, however.
After the mayor suggested killing some crows, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, came out to oppose shooting crows to scare off the remainder of the roost.
People were particularly irritated this past winter by the sheer amount of droppings that the crows left on buildings, sidewalks and cars. It was difficult to maneuver around crow feces that covered sidewalks leading to the Flower Memorial Library, Jefferson County Historical Museum and City Hall, and on the children’s playground outside the state office building, the mayor said.
“It was devastating,” he said.
Last winter, small flocks initially gathered in trees near the Black River and away from downtown but gradually grew to a roost of between 5,000 and 9,000 crows, down from about 20,000 when Loomacres began hazing them several years ago.
During the season, crows mainly congregated off Newell, Lillian, Washington, and East Main streets, Waterman Drive, Keyes Avenue, the church by Parker Street and near the city snow dumping site off Mill Street.
But they were less scared of nonlethal hazing, so deadly force was used to try to move the flocks, Mr. Baciuska said. By the time hazing ended in March, fewer than 1,000 crows remained in the city, he said.
City planner Geoffrey T. Urda suggested that the city improve its reporting methods of resident complaints, so it’s better known where the popular roosting locations exist.
Every year, thousands of crows show up in late October and stick around until sometime in March because they like the warmer temperatures in the city and the ambient light that protects them from their predators. After the season, they stay in fields in the country.
Loomacres just completed the first year of a three-year, $16,238 contract to chase the crows out of downtown and neighborhoods.