Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 1, 2012

They’re ba-a-a-a-ck: Mega-roost of crows a smelly problem for city

— — It should have been a good day. It was the first day back at work after a long holiday weekend and a successful Little Jimmie party. We had but one more week to go until the new year.

The car window on my SUV was cracked about a half inch when I pulled into the Telegraph parking lot. It was more than enough to let in the odor. Eau de crow.

The stench permeated my vehicle before I even opened the door.

They were back.

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The Daily Telegraph’s history with crows is long, and frustrating. Each year, around the time of the general election in November, we began to notice we had a large number of the birds roosting in the trees around our building. The crows would hang out for a few weeks and then move on.

It was no big deal. We would watch the crows during the course of our day and night, and carry on.

Then, a couple of years ago, things changed. Instead of hundreds of crows we suddenly had thousands. We were bombarded by the birds, and their byproducts. The crows also extended their stay, lingering through the new year.

For years, Telegraph writers have attempted to describe the crow mega-roost on Bluefield Avenue, but our adjectives have been futile. We have learned that it is nearly impossible to convey, in written word, the horror of having thousands of birds descend upon one’s workplace.

The crows arrive each evening around dusk. Appearing to come from all directions, thousands of them converge above the avenue and begin circling. The sky turns completely black.

Those who have the misfortune of being out in the open at this time will quickly try to take cover or run for it. I have described it as being bombarded during a really bad hailstorm — except it’s not hail.

Some of the birds are angry, and will dive bomb anyone in the parking lot. At night, they gather on the roof and peck at the skylights.

The smell of the droppings — which cover parking lots, sidewalks, buildings and cars — is horrendous. It permeates the air 24 hours a day.

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When the birds first descended en masse a couple of years ago, I began researching our options. Speaking with wildlife officials, I learned that mega-roosts are a tough problem. The fact that our roost was made of crows compounded the issue.

Crows, you see, are very, very smart. And, since our roost was so large, I was told that things like owl decoys and such probably wouldn’t work.

I also learned that communities across the U.S. have been challenged by mega-roosts. Some of the options to deal with the problem are messy, and not very politically correct.

There are methods of killing the birds, but we didn’t want to do that. I was also told about effigies — kill just a few of the crows and hang their corpses out for the other birds to see. Cringing, I imagined the reaction of our customers and community.

We were looking for a less violent option. Something to gently shoo them away and encourage their relocation to the land of Bambi and Thumper.

As our crow problem intensified, one of our business office employees heard of a possible solution: a “Bird B Gone” box. The box emitted a sound that would allegedly drive crows away. Reviews of the product were mixed, but its price point was low enough for us to give it a try.

The box — we call it our squawker — arrived around the same time that a red-tailed hawk took up residence at the newspaper. (He appeared to enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet.) Within days, the crows disappeared.

We thought our problem was nothing more than a bad memory.

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Unfortunately, last week the squawk box went on the fritz. An electrical short, or some other problem, prevented it from emitting sounds of “crow in distress.”

The result: the trees surrounding our parking lot are once again filled with birds, and our parking lot with droppings.

A new squawker is supposed to arrive this week. If it works as well as the last one the crows will move on to another location.

Although this will make our lives a lot less messy, it certainly doesn’t solve the overall problem. The crows are roosting in several places along the avenue.

In a story last week, City Manager Andy Merriman said that, in addition to the Daily Telegraph grounds, the crows are roosting on Norfolk Southern property and at other locations. Some are also congregating on the trees near city hall.

Mayor Linda Whalen said the city will continue to try to research the problem and find a solution.

I hope that’s the case. In the past, there hasn’t appeared to be much zeal in dealing with this issue.

Bluefield already faces many challenges. It doesn’t need to become known as the smelly city of crows.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com.

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