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Leesburg gets creative to address vulture problem (VIDEO)

Michelle Basch, wtop.com

LEESBURG, Va. – Residents of Leesburg shouldn’t be surprised if they hear loud bangs at sundown for the next week.

Biologists are trying to scare away some creepy-looking creatures.

Vultures have been roosting by the hundreds in trees right near people’s homes in parts of town.

The birds are a vital part of the food chain, but their droppings are so acidic they can damage the paint on cars.

The droppings and the weight of the birds can damage trees as well.

“They defecate all over the place and they destroyed one of our trees,” says Jessica Paulin, who lives on Mayfair Drive NE. The tree she’s talking about is bare and full of broken branches.

“In some locations, vultures will start to pick at anything that’s rubber or soft. Things like the shingles. On a car they’ll also pick at all of the weatherstripping on the car (and) they’ll do the windshield wipers,” says Carol Bannerman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.

So many complaints about the birds came in late last year that for the first time since 2007 the town hired the USDA’s Wildlife Services Program to drive the vultures away.

The most noticeable weapons in the program’s arsenal are pyrotechnics.

The cartridges are fired from a launcher that looks like a gun, and their names – “bangers” and “screamers” – describe the sounds they make.

Another way the biologists are harassing the birds is by hanging a dead vulture high in a tree where the birds like to roost.

Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Dage Blixt and two other biologists used a child’s bow and arrow, fishing line, some string and a dead, frozen vulture to set up the display called an effigy.

“The idea is to hang them by the feet upside down, so they’re hanging upside down and when they’re not frozen the wings will come out a little bit, and that seems to be the best pose that the other vultures don’t care for,” says Blixt.

He says the effigy is usually very effective at keeping live birds away.

“Without it, we could be doing this for 30 nights in a row. With it, we hope to be done in five to seven,” he says.

A third thing the biologists may use this week to drive away the birds is laser light.

Bannerman says she’s heard from some residents who were worried that the laser may damage the birds’ eyes, so she did some digging.

“I did check today with our National Wildlife Research Center which does research on birds for a variety of reasons, and they said that we have done testing on this 10 years ago with cormorants and they found that the birds really see the lasers as nothing more than an unusual disturbance and it does not harm them,” she says.

Blixt says he’s been coming to Leesburg on and off for 13 years to help scare vultures off.

“There are a lot of vultures in this part of Virginia, particularly this time of year. Why are they here? I don’t know,” he says.

Watch the video below to see officials firing the pyrotechnics.

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