Volunteers go after pesky birds in city

The crows of Williamsport are yet to arrive, and maybe won’t this year, but a city-based crow-spotting group remains on watch once a week.

“If we see any we will agitate them until they move along,” said Maddi Dunlap, a city resident who also belongs to the Lycoming County Audubon Society.

Crows are migratory birds and highly intelligent, she said during a walk recently joining about six to 10 people to shine flashlights into trees throughout the central business district.

The effort is an attempt to spot black crow “scouts,” she said.

Much like the Army has scouts that seek information and communicate back to the larger group, crows talk to each other, Dunlap said.

“I don’t know what their language is but they seem to know it,” she said, as the group walked through the Lycoming College tree-lined campus and west along Ross Street, back to Market Street.

The group meets at 6:30 p.m. or dusk outside of the Pine Street United Methodist Church, said City Councilwoman Liz Miele who said it mostly is in response to a call for preventing prior year messes seen on vehicles in parking lots, on the lots, on sidewalks and streets.

The amount of roosts last year led officials to convene a crow management plan, and the result has been the volunteer effort to check periodically in seven “hot spots,” some of which are downtown but not all, Miele said.

Among the most talked about spaces 12 months ago was below an oak tree immediately outside of City Hall.

Miele said the walks are a means of preventing the roosts from “feeling comfortable.”

There have been possies as large as 15 people, she said.

So far, the crows are remaining in areas north of the downtown and across the river in South Williamsport, the group is told by spotters around the county, she said.

“They are probably waiting for the leaves to fall off the trees and the winds to blow around food in trash cans,” Dunlap said.

The purpose of the spotters is to move the crows, agitate them with lights, noise and general disruption of their quiet place among the trees.

The volunteers go out each Monday night and are prepared to walk more nights to move around and frighten crows roosting throughout the city, city officials said.

Miele said the means of moving the crows along is as important as education on health risks.

“We need to get an organized and dependable group together,” she said.

“You have to do this seven nights a week and keep it up until the crows are so bothered they don’t return,” said Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator, who keeps a crow management book in his office with tips provided by various bird experts. The book he has is one from the state of Utah, but there is good information on the Pennsylvania State Extension site, he said.

If the crow-spotters start to encounter a need for using more than their voices and lights, and start to shoot off noise-makers the noise may be mistaken for mischief and police should be informed to assist the public, Gerardi said.

Miele said if that happens information will be shared with the newspaper and the police will be contacted.

To ensure safety, the biologist site for Penn State suggested groups also should wear colored and reflective vests to ensure they are noticed by residents and not alarming them.

In the treasured historic district, Bob Esposito, chairman of the Way’s Garden Commission, said he has observed the crows.

“Sometimes they are in Way’s Garden,” he said, adding they also are in the rear yards of the residences.

“Fortunately, they have not created a huge mess that nature doesn’t clean up for the garden commission,” Esposito said. “But we always have a few crows which consider the garden their home.”