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Rochester's war on crows: Service fires first laser-shot

A laser pointed into the trees just south of the Baldwin Building on Tuesday night sent hundreds of crows from their restful perches and into the air.

It was the first shot fired in Rochester's war on crows.

A trio of humans from United States Bird Abatement Services and about 10 of their predator helpers are trying to disperse the estimated 5,000 crows that converge each night in downtown Rochester to rest in a safe, warm place. The birds have become a nuisance, city officials say.

The laser harassment, disrupting the crows’ routines and making them expend energy when they need to rest, will eventually drive the mass of birds out of downtown to look for a safer roosting spot outside the urban center, said Heather Gast of United States Bird Abatement Services.

"We’re conditioning them to develop a new pattern," Gast said. "We start in one place and convince them that’s not a good place to be, then get them to move somewhere else."

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The goal is to take those 5,000-plus birds and turn them into smaller groups that are spread out away from downtown. Robin Woods of United States Bird Abatement Services, said 100 birds here or there is not the same nuisance that 5,000 can be.

Rochester City Council President Dennis Hanson said the crows represent a health and safety problem downtown, with pedestrians tracking the bird droppings into downtown buildings, including Mayo Clinic facilities.

Gast, along with her colleagues, will be battling the crows though Dec. 22 using a combination of audio and visual harassment along with a mix of peregrine falcons, goshawks, and Harris hawks. Gast said the raptors will likely remain on the sidelines for a few days. With so many crows in the area, the pests could gang up on the predators.

Instead, Gast and her colleagues will spend the first few days harassing the roosting birds with lasers and air horns. "We’re looking at how they will react at the beginning," said Robin Woods of United States Bird Abatement Services.

Lasers or sound alone would not be enough to drive the crows away, Woods said. Eventually, the crows would adapt to the nuisance. "When you combine the raptors and the human harassment, it’s more than the crows can handle," he said.

Woods, and his father, Richard Woods, have been breeding falcons for two decades. And all three members of the team are licensed falconers.

The birds of prey, Gast said, are trained to hunt, which serves as a natural form of harassment against the crows. Like other raptors that have helped clear nuisance birds from oil refineries, vineyards or airports, the birds of prey will strike enough fear into the hearts of the crows that downtown sidewalks should soon be clear of the droppings that have plagued the area.

"They are natural predators, trained to do a job," Gast said. "We’ll move them out and away."

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