- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

FREDERICK, Md. — Carol Thompson has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller “The Birds.” But she never thought she would live it.

“The trees are just black with them,” said Ms. Thompson, the assistant manager at a For Eyes optometry store near where thousands of crows has taken roost.

Ms. Thompson’s unwitting role in a real-life horror story started about a month ago, when thousands of American crows arrived in a wooded, 2-acre field next to the store.

The birds have made the field their home — leaving every morning at dawn and returning at dusk.

Other employees at For Eyes and some at Petersen’s Carpet & Flooring, on the other side of the field off West Patrick Street, said there are 5,000 to 10,000 birds.

“It’s horrifying, and you have to run for your car after 5 p.m.,” said Becky McLaren, an assistant manager at Petersen’s. “I’ve dodged the bullets, but you have to wash your car two to three times a week.”

She said the birds have coated trees and the parking lots with so many layers of smelly, white droppings that customers and co-workers are complaining.

Pam Wisor, a doctor’s technician at For Eyes, said the smell is “vile,” especially after a rainstorm.

“We thought we had dead mice,” she said. “The odor inside was terrible.”

Kevin Sullivan, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program for Maryland, Delaware and the District, said the crows form large flocks during the winter but disperse during the spring and summer. He also said the field is an optimal roosting spot because it is close to humans, who leave behind food.

Officials don’t think the situation is an immediate health concern but acknowledge that birds can transmit diseases to humans.

“In this case, it’s more of a sanitary thing,” Mr. Sullivan said. “If the droppings were to accumulate after a year to an inch or an inch and a half, then there’d be a health concern.”

Still, residents have asked him for help.

On Monday night, Mr. Sullivan and Wildlife Services biologist Jeremy Smith arrived at the field shortly after 4:30 p.m., as the crows began streaming in from every direction and circling the field before attempting to land in the trees.

The men fired nonlethal “banger” shells and screamer fireworks into the trees to discourage the birds from landing without harming them. The men also pointed a red laser to annoy the birds into leaving.

By the time the sky was completely dark, only a couple hundred birds had settled in for the night.

“The goal is they won’t put up with this,” Mr. Sullivan said. “You have to do it for three or four nights in a row before they give up and go somewhere else. We just don’t know where they’re going to go. Someone could call me and say, ‘That roost you dispersed is over in my yard now.’ ”

Mrs. McLaren and David Petersen, owner of Petersen’s Carpet & Flooring, said they called several city and other state agencies but received no help.

“They say it’s our problem, but I think it’s a community problem,” Mr. Petersen said.

Mr. Sullivan said Wildlife Services has 26 employees who are often called to remove roosts and that he received three calls last week about breaking up vulture roosts.

He said having agency employees scare away the birds, like they did Monday night, will cost the store owners about $1,000, or they can bang together wooden boards and make other loud noises.

“This isn’t uncommon at all, whether it be crows, starlings or vultures,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The only time it gets the attention of people is when it’s right over their roofs or houses. If it was out on a golf course or state park, no one would notice it.”

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