February 9, 2010

Dickson Residents Use Innovation to Deal with Crows

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Gliding through a snow-spangled sky, the teeming swarm of black crows on North Campus form a fluid tapestry of natural splendor. Soaring overhead, they create a magnificent, awe-inspiring sight, claiming the night by the Robert Purcell Community Center as their own.

This is all well and good — unless, of course, you happen to be living nearby.

However, in that case, you may have to be wary of flying chunks of crow feces.

Preslava Staneva ’13 wishes she had been warned of the danger lurking in the sky. Staneva was walking back from Bear Necessities one day, barely taking note of the heavens above, when she “suddenly felt something on [her] head.”

“I thought it was a snowflake,” Staneva later recalled. She then put her hand on her head and — as soon as the realization set in — set off for the showers, her friends “running away” from her.

Staneva was not the only victim of the birds’ fecal matter. Joey Sinopoli ’13, a fellow Dickson resident, was walking to his car one day when a bird “shat on” his shoulder.

Not one to be outdone, Sinopoli — a pitcher for Cornell’s baseball team — proceeded to pitch a snowball up at the crows. He said although they “freaked out” at the snowball, they soon returned to the tree.

Although it’s unlikely that even Sinopoli’s arm could move the birds, some techniques innovative Dickson students have already used could potentially displace the birds, according to Kevin McGowan, staff member at Cornell’s Laboratory of Ornithology and an expert on Ithaca birds.

For example, Jake Bucci ’13 has scattered the birds by shining a green laser at them. “It’s working … but there’s a lot of freaking birds,” Bucci said.

Another Dickson resident, Jane Esterline ’13, said that, in addition to using the green laser, she and her friend spent 20 minutes playing different animal sounds out of her window.

According to Esterline, rooster noises were the only “successful” ones.

McGowan said that both of these techniques could potentially work. He added, however, that the most effective known way to move the crow in roost was to set “shell-crackers off in the distance.”

Still, even if Dickson students somehow acquired these means, they wouldn’t be able to fully drive the birds off North Campus, an area they have been coming to in the winter for over a couple million years.

Birds are “like teenagers,” McGowan explained. “You can’t stop them, but you can only move them to another place.”

McGowan said that the current congregation of birds on North — 4,000 in Jessup Forest this season, by his estimate — is a “standard thing” that happens every year.

McGowan said that the birds use Jessup Woods because it’s a “good, high spot” where they can “see where [the other birds] are going.”

Of course, that doesn’t help Dickson residents much.

Bucci discussed how the birds have woken him up in the middle of the night and that he thought he was hallucinating when he first saw them.

“I’ve stopped bothering to clean it — feces — off [my car],” Alex Hilmer ’13 said, saying that every time she takes her Jeep to get washed the crows just defecate all over it again. A bio major, she noted that this could have serious ramifications for her car, as bird feces is made of “corrosive … uric acid.”

Stories abound of affected students.

“I just don’t understand what they’re doing,” said Julia Krauss ’13, who left her room to study in relative peace. “It’s like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.”

Still, some, like Morgan Bookheimer ’13, were able to look on the bright side.

“It’s good luck to get [pooped] on by a bird,” Bookheimer said.

McGowan predicted that the birds would leave in the first two weeks of early April or so, when many of the birds from Montreal will return Northeast.

But for now, Dickson residents will be the ones croaking, “Nevermore! Nevermore!”

Original Author: Jeff Stein