WATERTOWN — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is not at all in support of shooting a few crows to scare off the remainder of the roost.
A PETA spokesman made that known to Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith in an email on Monday after he proposed it was time to use lethal means to try to move the thousands of crows out of the city.
In the email, Kristen Rickman, Emergency Response Division Manager for PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department, suggested that the city use “humane” deterrents and other scare tactics to harass the crow population.
“Certainly, this is an issue not unique to Watertown,” she said during a phone interview on Wednesday. “Other communities also have problems with crows.”
Showing up nightly at dusk, thousands of the pesky birds roost in trees around Watertown every year and stick around until the weather warms up in early spring.
This season, the crows are apparently creating more of a mess than in recent years, so Mayor Smith said last week that the city needs to take more drastic action to get rid of them.
At the Feb. 3 City Council meeting, Mayor Smith said he’s gotten so frustrated with crow droppings that he proposed using lethal means to kill a few crows and then the others in the roost would be scared away.
In an email to Ms. Rickman, the mayor wrote back that the city has used nonlethal hazing methods for more than a decade without any results, so it’s time to shoot a few crows.
“I invite you visit Watertown and the areas where the crow excrement is destroying historic buildings, causing potential public health hazard and causing financial cost to residents and businesses,” he said.
The mayor also said that PETA — an international animal rights organization with 6.5 million members worldwide — should come to Watertown to “relocate the crows and pay for the destruction they are causing.”
The Jefferson County Historical Society and the Flower Memorial Library, both on Washington Street, have been hit especially hard by crow poop this winter, the mayor said.
But killing some crows is not the answer, according to Ms. Rickman.
“It’s not going to have any impact,” Ms. Rickman said, adding a local resident contacted PETA about the mayor’s proposal to use lethal means.
She suggested that the city continue to use the current hazing methods on the roost. “Trying to control numbers by killing them is ineffective.”
Other communities use artificial crow effigies as an effective way to disperse crow populations, she said. Those inflatable plastic “air dancers,” daddy long legs bird barriers, decoy crows hung upside-down, sonic devices, motion-activated lights and sprinklers are some of the other items that work when they are used on a sporadic basis, she said.
And Ms. Rickman stressed that Watertown and other communities will never get rid of crow populations in their entirety. Communities can only try to keep roost numbers down, she said.
But Mayor Smith said that the city has used a variety of crow harassing methods for years, including killing a few crows during one season.
This winter, wildlife biologists from the city’s consultant, Loomacres Wildlife Management, Warnerville, have already been here eight times this season.
After three years of fewer crows and crow droppings, the situation is similar to 2015, said Senior Planner Geoffrey T. Urda, who arranges for Loomacres to conduct the hazing.
The crows have been a problem in the northern Washington Street all winter, he said. Other popular roost areas are behind Watertown High School on Washington Street, around Factory Street and along the Black River.
The 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.
The crows like to go into urban areas, like Watertown, because temperatures are higher than in the country, where they feed and stay during the day in the winter, before moving into the city at night.
Stopping the food source is crucial, Ms. Rickman said.
Mayor Smith has joked that a crow hunt should be organized that would bring in hunters to shoot as many crows as possible. About 15 years ago, the city of Auburn, where some 65,000 came to roost during winters, held crow hunts.
But Ms. Rickman said after crow hazing was introduced in 2005, about 27,000 fewer crows roosted in Auburn the following season.
In Nampa, Idaho, hazing efforts were successful after the mayor of that town also proposed shooting crows, she said.
Eight years ago, as many as 30,000 crows roosted in trees in and around downtown when Loomacres took over the hazing efforts in 2011.
Last winter, between 10,000 and 12,000 crows made downtown their home.
The company will be paid $16,238 over three years to chase the crows out of downtown and neighborhoods.