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Crows damage downtown buildings, cause health concerns

About $350 million has been spent revitalizing downtown in the past 15 years, but business owners and city leaders say the estimated 100,000 crows roosting in their buildings each fall and winter could hurt that progress.

So they will combine their efforts this fall to help rid downtown of the crows, which can cause health issues and property damage.

“They’ve been a problem for patrons and employees,” Center City Association Executive Director Maureen Fagans said. “They’ve ruined buildings and damaged cars. It’s been a real problem for us downtown.”

The association held a meeting for downtown business owners and city leaders Thursday to provide information on how they can coordinate efforts. They brought in U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Wildlife Biologist Jeff Pelc to share proper techniques for driving out the crows.

The meeting was just the beginning; they hope to get enough support and equipment to make a difference.

“The sky is thick with them,” said Roger Sherrock, CEO of the Clark County Historical Society, which operates the Heritage Center. “With what they bring with them, it’s a big problem.”

City leaders have estimated nearly 100,000 crows have come into the city to roost each winter since at least the 1980s. They’ve used a variety of harassment techniques in the past 15 years, including pyrotechnics, lasers, distress calls, Mylar tape and different items on rooftops, with varying success.

Pelc told business owners and area leaders that with the estimated number of crows in the area, it’s going to take a large amount of manpower and a coordinated effort to prevent and reduce the damage. He applauded the attempt to be proactive.

“You’ve got to be persistent,” Pelc said. “Those birds want to fly back to their home. Somebody has to be dedicated to doing it and doing it right.”

Several types of non-lethal techniques can be used — like pyrotechnics, lasers and distress calls — to move the birds. He said several different stimuli must be used to keep them from their nightly “bedroom.”

“There’s no silver bullet to a solution,” Pelc said.

The fecal matter left by the crows can spread diseases such as histoplasmosis and other health issues.

“It’s not very likely, but it does happen,” Pelc said.

Clark County Public Library Director Sally Rizer called it a terrible problem compounded winter weather, making it difficult to clean sidewalks, rooftops and ledges.

“When they fly in at night, it looks like that Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds’,” Rizer said. “They’re that thick.”

Officials from both the library, 201 S. Fountain Ave., and the Heritage Center, 117 South Fountain Ave., said they’ve heard complaints from patrons about the mess left by the birds on sidewalks and parking lots.

Last February, the library spent $1,200 on a crow distress call system to keep the crows off the roof. She said it not clear how effective the system was because it was installed late in the winter. She’s anxious to get an early start this fall and to work with the rest of the downtown community.

“We’re not talking about 50, we’re talking about thousands,” Rizer said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Sherrock said they’ve only spent money to clean up the crows’ mess. This year, he plans to spend money to move them somewhere else.

The downtown’s largest project, the $235 million Springfield Regional Medical Center, opened last November, but didn’t have issues with crows.

“They certainly caught our attention when they roosted in the trees near Buck Creek behind the hospital,” spokesman Dave Lamb said.

The hospital staff members aren’t planning proactive steps at this point, Lamb said, but the meeting gave them a good idea of their options if needed. They likely won’t use noise harassment techniques because of the patients.

“We’ll need to keep an eye on it and see if it reaches a nuisance point,” Lamb said.

City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said some people may see a value in the crows, but when they’re damaging property, it’s concerning.

“I firmly believe it’s going to take a very well-organized, large effort to keep them moved out of certain areas of town,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep them away from Springfield, but I think that’s somewhat unlikely.”

Art Wilson, who owns several buildings downtown including the former Lagonda Club building, said he’s used a propane cannon that makes a loud noise to deter the birds.

“It’s really effective, almost instantly,” Wilson said. “When you catch them coming in, it’ll drive them off, but it just sends them to another location.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, he believes using lasers, which can be purchased for under $20, might be the best way to drive off the crows.

Wilson believes business owners and residents, not just the city, will have to help move the crows.

“We may have to do it longer, and have a more coordinated effort so there’s no place for them to go downtown,” Wilson said.

Sherrock said he’s excited to see the downtown move forward with plans to drive the birds out.

“It’s a positive thing,” Sherrock said. “I think it shows that if we all come together as a community, we can solve some of these issues that we have.”

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