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Chasing the crows away in city’s annual hazing efforts

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Tara M. Johnson heard what sounded like fireworks late Wednesday afternoon and knew right off the bat what it was.

The city’s crow hazing efforts began — right across the street from her Main Avenue home.

Cody L. Baciuska and partner Garrett Grilli, two wildlife biologists from Loomacres Wildlife Management, Warnerville, were shooting pyrotechnics off in an attempt to scare and move the approximately 20,000 crows out of the city.

And the commotion caused by screeching and gunshot-like sounds scared her dog, Duff, every time another one was shot off.

“I knew something was going on when the birds weren’t in the trees,” Ms. Johnson said, noting they congregate in a series of trees in her neighborhood along the Black River.

On Wednesday, the two wildlife biologists decided to use a two-prong attack on the main flock that gathers right before dusk and stays until dawn.

Each armed with a single-shot pyrotechnics pistol, Mr. Baciuska was on the north side of the river, his partner on the south. Starting before 4 p.m.. the biologists planned to be out in the cold for several hours until they could no longer move the crows from their overnight roost.

The hazing will continue tonight, again Friday and the team of two will return to Watertown several more nights until they can finally say they’ve moved the murder to the country. The city has given them permission to use lethal means — shooting a few of the crows with a high-powered air rifle to scare off the rest.

But Mr. Baciuska insisted it would be “only as a last resort,” if the other methods are not successful.

Loomacres got the job with the city last year, and had mixed results. Mr. Baciuska blamed the frequent change in temperatures throughout the winter. The birds just kept coming back.

“One night it was cold, and the next it wasn’t,” he said.

According to this year’s contract with the city, Loomacres — the company that the Watertown International Airport has used — will provide 150 hours of crow dispersing by hazing. If biologists must work more than 150 hours, Loomacres will be paid a rate of $35 per hour, with a maximum of 90 additional hours, for a total of $7,843.

Some people have complained about the health risks posed by the crows. Their droppings end up on sidewalks, cars and driveways. Many residents just want the city to get rid of them.

Residents still are encouraged to provide the location, estimated size, and dates and times of sightings of the crow flock. Loomacres Wildlife Management will continue to use this information as it works to move the crows out of the city. The toll-free phone number to report crow activities within the city is 1 (800) 243-1462.

This season’s roost may be not as big as last year’s, with the main flock stretching out for about a half-mile along the river. A couple of smaller ones hang out in clumps of other trees, he said.

They usually start their nightly visits around the river, but move around a little until they settle down for the night. At dawn, they head out to eat in the corn and grain fields in the country.

On Wednesday night, the temperatures hovered in the single-digits, so the crows were ready to call it a night early. Mr. Baciuska would not have it. He chased the crows while driving around neighborhoods in his white Chevy sedan with a yellow flashing light on its roof.

Each time he shot off the pyrotechnics, the birds scattered but stubbornly returned.

And on cue, a frightened Duff barked loudly.

“I like the crows,” said Ms. Johnson, who has two children. “I think they’re pretty. I like the noise they make.”

Every night when she gets home from work, the crows are there to greet her. The seasonal roost began in mid-October, a little earlier this year. They typically stick around until the end of March. But not if the two biologists get their way.

“We’re going to be persistent,” Mr. Baciuska said.

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