WATERTOWN — Cody Baciuska doesn’t know why he and other wildlife biologists had to turn to shooting and killing crows on Thursday night.
Out for about three hours on Thursday night, the biologists from Loomacres Wildlife Management, Warnersville, killed about 15 crows with high-powered air rifles, about 10 birds by 9 p.m. and expecting to shoot another five by the time they ended hazing them later in the night.
“They’ve been extremely persistent this year,” he said during a telephone call a little while before they were going to call it a night.
The hope is that crows will get scared off when they see their comrades get shot, fall from the trees and lay on the ground dead.
Previously, they’ve tried to use the same hazing methods as in past years, but the flocks of between 10,000 and 15,000 crows just don’t want to budge this winter. The crows have congregated in trees around downtown buildings — City Hall, the Flower Memorial Library, the Dulles State Office Building and the Best Western hotel — along the northern section of Washington Street this year.
People are particularly irritated this winter by the shear amount of droppings that the crows are leaving behind on buildings, sidewalks and cars. About an inch of crow poop covers the entire playground at the state office building.
Mr. Baciuska talked to a few people when they were hazing on Thursday.
“They hate the crows,” he said. “They want us to do whatever we can.”
The crows come into the city to roost in trees because the ambient light protects them from predators that they would have to face outside of the city, he said. Because of the Black River, the temperatures also are a little warmer in the urban setting.
But the big question: Why are they so persistent this year?
The biologists are speculating it could have something to do with the trees that were cut down on Sewalls Island last summer. It’s been a natural roost for them.
Maybe the lack of snow and the mild winter also could have something to do with it. Without a lot of snow, the poop also is probably more noticeable than other years.
No matter what it is, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith called for the lethal means a few weeks ago during a City Council meeting. Loomacres, the city’s crow consultant, got authorization earlier this week to use the air rifles.
“About time,” Mayor Smith said, stressing that the nonlethal means were not working.
He’s counting on the crows to leave after seeing a few birds dead on the ground.
“Maybe then they won’t want to come back,” Mayor Smith said.
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.
A PETA official warned not to count on getting rid of them. Crows like to be in urban settings, she said.
For years, thousands of crows have spent the night roosting in trees around the city. In 2016, 20 crows were killed by air rifles.
The other types of hazing includes the use of spotlights, specialized remote-controlled aircraft, playing distress calls, firing pyrotechnics and using hand-held lasers and paint ball markers. So far, high-powered air rifles have not been used.
City officials have been worried about the health risks of the crow droppings.
Residents are encouraged to provide the location, estimated size and dates and times of crow flock sightings in their neighborhoods.
Loomacres relies on this information to identify nuisance crow flocks and to target hazing efforts. The toll-free number to report crow activities is 1-800-243-1462, ext. 1. To report crow activities online, go to www.airportwildlife.com/crows.php or click on the link on the city’s home page at www.watertown-ny.gov. The link will appear in the center of the page in the “Press Releases” column.