If it seems like there are more crows (and crow droppings) downtown these days, you can blame COVID-19.

City funding for crow mitigation, which usually runs about $40,000 annually, was axed this year as part of coronavirus budget cuts. It's been a disappointment for Rochester's health-minded downtown, where sidewalks are sometimes slick with droppings that both residents and visitors must navigate.

A normal crow season starts in mid-November and runs through mid-February.

Through the years, Rochester has developed a comprehensive crow plan of attack centered on keeping the birds from getting comfortable in the relatively warm downtown environment.

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About 3 p.m. on winter days, when the crows first start settling in for their night-time roosts in trees and on buildings, teams of city and contract workers would deploy to chase them from select locations using laser pointers, starter pistols and recordings of distressed crow calls.

Without those teams on the hunt, the birds have their pick of roosts.

"They are congregating more at City Hall than in the past," said Park Operations Manager Mike Schaver. "A cold snap really brings them in as they group together to stay warm. The area by the Salvation Army is just crazy."

With no city crews pushing the crows to move on, Mayo Clinic and the Rochester Downtown Alliance's Clean and Safe Ambassador Program are trying other ways to address the mess. One method is to string trees with netting that prevents the birds from roosting. Trial netting was installed recently near the Residences of Old City Hall and outside Grand Rounds Brewing Co.

Netting is seen covering some of the trees at the intersection of Third Street Southwest and First Avenue to prevent crows from landing in the trees Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2021, in downtown Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Netting is seen covering some of the trees at the intersection of Third Street Southwest and First Avenue to prevent crows from landing in the trees Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2021, in downtown Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

"We're just trying some things to see what works," said Karli McElroy, senior director of placemaking for the RDA. "They are very smart and can find their way around things."

McElroy said Mayo Clinic paid for the netting and its installation.

It's understandable that funding for crow mitigation was pushed out as the city rallied the wagons to battle a pandemic. But let's not make it a habit. It seems that $40,000 is a reasonable price to pay to prevent crows from making a slimy mess on sidewalks and windshields every winter.