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Illinois State University battling Hitchcock-esque crow problem

NORMAL — Illinois State University has tried just about everything to vanquish its Hitchcock-esque crow problem — plastic owls, rubber snakes, and so on. But thousands of the pesky birds are still roosting on the quad this winter and causing a nuisance with their noise and droppings, which have to be power washed off the walkways.

West Nile virus took a heavy toll in 2001, but since then the blackbirds have bounced back.

“We’ve tried about everything we can,” said Chuck Scott, ISU’s director of facilities management. “It’s a battle this time of year.”

Now, a new weapon, akin to crowd control for birds, is having at least some impact: Pyrotronics, which are something like bottle rockets, are being launched into the trees to break up the birds’ roosting habits with loud bangs. But this, too, might have only a limited impact.

“Crows are pretty smart. They figure things out,” said ISU biological sciences professor Angelo Capparella.

However brief, the smaller number of birds was a welcome development.

“Before they did that, every single tree was just covered in crows,” Capparella told the (Bloomington) Pantagraph, referring to the use of the noisemakers. “I’m going to keep an eye on them to see how effective this will be.”

The birds stream into the quad at dusk to roost after spending the day feeding elsewhere, mostly out in rural fields. They’re drawn to the island of trees sheltered by the surrounding university buildings, which act as a wind break for the birds.

“It’s a winter phenomenon,” Capparella said.


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