- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

AUBURN, N.Y. - Despite the crow’s reputation as a destructive pest, villain and harbinger of trouble, a hunting contest to thin the swarms of crows that winter in Auburn gives the city a black eye, according to critics who would rather celebrate the big, black bird.

“We don’t like the image it gives our city,” said Rita Sarnicola, who heads the Crow Committee, a group that opposed the second annual crow hunt. “It’s not hunting. It’s killing for killing’s sake. And then they throw a party.”

The contest was held informally for several years until it became organized and publicized last year, when nearly 150 hunters bagged 348 birds in a weekend. During a two-day hunt earlier this month, 208 hunters, including some from as far away as Kentucky and Arizona, killed 1,061 crows.

“We aren’t doing anything that’s illegal,” said Tom Lennox, an organizer whose tavern sponsors the contest.

“They like to portray us as bloodthirsty killers. These are people who go to the grocery store to buy slaughtered cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys,” said Mr. Lennox, adding that many hunters eat the crows.

“And they’re worried about Auburn’s image. We have a maximum security prison here that has some of the state’s most notorious murderers,” he said, “and where they used the electric chair for the first time.”

Residents in Auburn, a small city 20 miles west of Syracuse, have spent years grousing about huge numbers of crows roosting all winter long. About 15 years ago, Auburn became home to as many as 50,000 crows each winter, outnumbering the human population of 28,574. Many residents complain the crows, which flock into the city at dusk after daily feedings in the country, are a noisy nuisance that soil the city with their feces.

The roost has declined to about 25,000 recently. Cornell Ornithology Laboratory researchers say that’s likely from the effects of West Nile virus, which is fatal to crows.

Auburn Mayor Timothy Lattimore supports the crow hunt.

One recent protest by Miss Sarnicola’s group ended with a march to City Hall, where the group urged local and state lawmakers to outlaw wildlife shooting contests without limits on the number of animals that can be killed.

“What we should do is embrace this in a positive way,” said Miss Sarnicola.

“If these were deer, there would be no objections to thinning the herd,” Mr. Lattimore said. “The population here is overwhelming. It is affecting business downtown and the quality of life here.”

Mr. Lattimore said the city also is considering other control measures, such as special firecrackers, sirens, spotlights, laser beams and predators including hawks and falcons.

Instead of a hunt, Miss Sarnicola wants the city to put together a crow festival featuring music, entertainment and antiques where it honors someone who’s done “something to crow about.”

Miss Sarnicola argues that the hunt might just drive more crows into the city, where they are safe from hunters.

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