Hazing by falcons is something to crow about
Wendy Alexander/Madera Tribune File Photo A crow scavenges for food in Yosemite National Park. Trained falcons are currently being used to rid the city of roosting crows, relocating the birds elsewhere.
Efforts to rid the downtown corridors of roosting crows and their unsanitary droppings continues, but with a new hopeful twist — the use of trained falcons flying to disrupt the birds’ seasonal roosting habits and retrain them to choose to roost in other locations.
A trial run with several of the falcons was made in December, reportedly with amazing results: the clearing of the multi-square-block target area of crows. The large flocks of the birds were seen being disrupted from their roosts and flying off, according to Steve Copland of the Downtown Association.
The initial, one-month trial effort in December was funded by the Madera Downtown Association with matching funds from various city grant programs.
The falcons, provided and handled by Avian Solutions, are trained to follow a green laser pointer light, and are effective in clearing a roosting area by startling and herding the flocks of large birds away, in the hour or so before sunset.
Business owners in the area say they have been long plagued in the fall and winter by the problems of the crow and bird droppings coating their sidewalks, cars and awnings, a mess they say is unsightly, unsanitary and discourages business.
Experts say the crows are smart and social, living to between 10 and 15 years old. Crows feed in the countryside during the day and then in the fall and winter seek the shelter of surrounding buildings and the heat of concrete cities provide in evenings. They also like to roost at about 25 to 30 feet in the air, finding power lines a perfect perch if there are no suitable trees nearby.
Over the last decades Madera has tried many approaches to ridding the downtown of the large flocks of roosting crows. The earliest newspaper reports from the 1900s describe Madera women banging in unison outside on their pots and pans about sunset, a technique that appeared to be effective at relocating the flocks but apparently fell out of favor.
Since that time many other methods have been tried, including gunfire, baits, large stationary plastic owls, large moving balloons, and playing repetitive recordings of the noises made by crow predators. The use of drones was also mentioned as another cost effective idea to disturbing the roosting birds.
The Madera City Council voted Wednesday night to contribute another $10,000 to this season’s falcon effort, which Copland said, was a good part of the funds needed for the remaining season but an ongoing funding partnership with the city and county was required to successfully relocate the crows.
The Madera Downtown Association will also be requesting matching funds from The County of Madera at their next Board of Supervisors meeting. According to Copland the success of the effort depended on raising the roughly $30,000 in funding each year for the seasonal falcon-based hazing program to continue for long enough, possibly several years, seasons or longer, to train or convince the nuisance birds to find a quieter place to roost. The city, county and Downtown Association would hopefully be equally sharing those costs in the foreseeable future, he said.