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Another season of crows, another year of hazing

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Just about everything about crows fascinates Cody L. Baciuska.

Except their tendency to invade urban areas like the city of Watertown. Then it’s his job to get rid of them.

Mr. Baciuska, a wildlife biologist with Loomacres Wildlife Management, Warnerville, and a co-worker were armed at dusk Thursday with a variety of tools to disrupt the 20,000 to 25,000 crows that have made Watertown their home this season.

They spent about three hours hazing crows and planned to return tonight. And they probably will be back Thursday and Friday of next week.

A little smaller roost than last year’s, the crows have been spending their nights mainly in trees and on building roofs and houses north of the Black River. Smaller roosts also have been spotted in wooded fields behind the Price Chopper plaza off Arsenal Street, Mr. Baciuska said.

The crows have not been hanging out near the Jefferson County Historical Society and other nearby downtown buildings as they have in previous years.

Mr. Baciuska was surprised by the change in roosting location from last year.

“I wish I could give you an answer,” he said. “They’re starting out a little different this year.”

Crows are the smartest of all the bird species, Mr. Baciuska said. They can communicate with each other and teach others what to do, he said. That’s why they travel in groups.

“They’re really incredibly amazing birds,” he said.

This season, they are coming into the city mainly from the southeast. No one really knows why they like urban settings, but cities are a little warmer than the country, he said. Trees are also in tighter groups than in the country.

In November, the Watertown City Council expressed concerns about health and safety issues. Crows leave droppings on sidewalks, vehicles and buildings and seemingly all over some city neighborhoods. The city is paying Loomacres $14,506 on a three-year contract to haze them.

On Thursday, the two wildlife biologists were trying to disrupt the crows in smaller groups and eventually drive them out into the country, away from city neighborhoods. In their arsenal, they had pyrotechnics with a loud bang like an M-80, recordings of distressed crows and high-powered lasers to shoo them away.

There are no immediate plans to use lethal means, such as shooting a few birds with high-powered air rifles to scare the others away, Mr. Baciuska said. If the other hazing methods do not work, the biologists intend to talk to city officials about using the air rifles as a last resort.

But Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr., who has been a proponent of lethal means, said Thursday night he hopes they will pull out the air rifles to scare the birds away.

“I think we have to be as aggressive as we can to protect property,” he said.

Early in Thursday’s hazing, Mr. Baciuska was battling with about 1,500 crows near a parking lot off Mechanic Street and behind the Burger King and Wendy’s restaurants on State Street. Each time he used the pyrotechnics, the birds ruffled their feathers and flew from the trees. But they returned, until the loud bang moved them again.

A while later, the tree limbs at the Historical Society building were covered with crows.

Mr. Baciuska surmised they might head there after the hazing began.

But, he warned, crows beware; he’ll be on their tails.

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