‘Crows winning’ battle against cleaning crews in downtown Springfield

Downtown Springfield property owners and businesses spend several hours each week cleaning up the mess left behind by the more than 50,000 crows that invade the city each night.

Some Springfield businesses will spend thousands of dollars this year to clean up the mess.

“We’re fighting this battle with the crows, but sadly they’re winning,” said Amanda Honeycutt, director of Clark State Community College’s grounds crew.

>>RELATED: Crows cover downtown Springfield buildings with droppings

Downtown Springfield is a historical winter roost for the large black birds that return to the city en masse every November.

Clark State spends hours each week, sometimes as much as 20 to 30 hours, power washing sidewalks to clean up the bird droppings around their downtown buildings.

“That’s the only thing we can do,” Honeycutt said.

Clark State along with Security National Bank, the Clark County Historical Society, Courtyard by Marriott and other small businesses downtown use various tactics to scare the birds away.

“We try to act in unison to hopefully do what we can to control the situation,” Heritage Center CEO Roger Sherrock said.

Each year the historical society spends $5,000 to clean out gutters at the Heritage Center because the birds excrete pebbles that block up the gutters.

>>READ MORE: Downtown Springfield business battling crows

Because of tight budgets, the city of Springfield had to suspend efforts they made in the fight, Service Director Chris Moore said. City employees used to spend a few hours each night firing pyrotechnics toward the crows to scare them off, he said, but the overtime hours had to be cut.

Diesel-fueled boom cannons emit a loud noise that sometimes scares the birds off. Clark State has one on top of the Brinkman Education Center on the corner of East High and South Limestone streets.

Several other businesses use fake distress calls that mimic crows warning other crows that danger is near.

Professor John Marzluff works at the University of Washington in Seattle. He’s a crow expert who has studied the bird and their habits for decades.

Crows are extremely smart, Marzluff said, one of the smartest species of birds and can quickly detect when something is a fake threat.

“As long as you’re doing the same thing in the same place in the same way, unless it has a real consequence — the birds are going to, they’re going to ignore it pretty quickly,” Marzluff said.

Businesses in other, larger cities — like Indianapolis — have pushed hard to get rid of similar crow problems.

But the efforts can get expensive, he said, because humans need to be relentless in the fight.

“They’re really on it every night, there’s a crew of people (in Indianapolis) on it, harassing the birds every night,” Marzluff said.

The crows that historically return to Springfield each winter probably remember the tactics from the local businesses, he said.

“Some of these birds that are coming back to that roost are probably 30 years old, or some of them maybe even older, and they remember they’ve experienced this and so they’re just going to ignore it,” he said.

The downtown property owners know it’s an uphill battle, Honeycutt said, but it makes a small difference in deterring the mess each night.

“We want to make it nice for everybody who comes downtown and we want to keep it as clean as we can,” she said.

Some residents near downtown have complained about the booms they hear in the morning, Honeycutt said.

“We try to be respectful of our neighbors so we minimize the use of our cannons,” she said.

It’s not just about the mess, Sherrock said, but the damage to buildings and the safety hazard it can cause.

Power washing can work until it gets too cold, he said.

“In another two or three weeks, it’s a slip and fall hazard,” Sherrock said.

The crows tend to leave the city in the spring around March.

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