First wrath, now grapes: Caldwell targets crow woes

The city teams with a national firm that uses nonlethal ‘hazers’ to get birds to roost elsewhere.

krodine@idahostatesman.comFebruary 26, 2014 

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These crows are among thousands that roost in trees around Caldwell’s Wal-Mart. This week, a national company demonstrated several ways to discourage the crows, and the city plans to buy equipment that sends a blast of grape extract into the air to irritate the birds’ nerves.

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Next winter, the late-night quiet around Caldwell’s Wal-Mart won’t be punctured by shotgun blasts. Instead, a grape scent will waft through the air every few minutes.

Police hope the scented haze will do what years of city-sanctioned gunfire and other measures could not: Rid Caldwell of the thousands-strong flocks of crows that roost in trees at the shopping center each night during the winter months.

The collective noun for crows is murder, and the officer-involved shootings of the big black birds sparked concern from the group Animals in Distress and residents after the Statesman reported what was behind recent sightings of dead crows at the shopping plaza.

At that time, police saw no good alternative to firing shotgun blasts into the air in an effort to scare the crows away — an effort that wounded or killed some birds.

But this week they met with Steve Rehberg of Make Em Move, who demonstrated some of the New Jersey-based firm’s bird-control wares.

“I was very impressed by it,” said Caldwell Lt. Devin Riley. “It’s cleaner, it’s safer, it’s easier, and it’s just the right thing to do.”

CROWD-PLEASING APPROACH

Animals in Distress board member Toni Hicks agrees. One of the group’s members sparked this winter’s crow controversy when she brought four dead and dying crows to an Idaho Fish and Game veterinarian in late January, fearing that teenagers or others were taking potshots.

Hicks was outraged when she learned that police killed the crows. On Tuesday, she said she’s “really excited” that the city will invest in a nonviolent approach.

“I think it says good things about Canyon County,” Hicks said.

Steve Rehberg, a Coeur d’Alene resident who handles sales for Make Em Move, emailed Hicks early this month after his father, who lives in Boise, alerted him to Caldwell’s crow problem. Hicks advised him to approach the city.

About the same time, Riley said, a Fish and Game official gave him some material about Make Em Move. Before Riley could call Rehberg, Rehberg called Riley.

On Monday night, Rehberg hauled equipment called “hazers” to the Wal-Mart parking lot, setting up for a demonstration at dusk, when clouds of crows descend on their favorite trees. The equipment vaporizes an extract from the skins of Concord grapes, then blows it into the air as crows approach, he said. The vapor is acidic and irritates a sensory nerve in the birds’ beaks, he said, although humans perceive it as “a mild grape aroma.”

Riley said the devices worked much better than he expected.

“You can just tell they don’t like the air,” he said. “There were two trees upwind from the fans, and they landed there. There were probably not more than 10 to 15 birds in the other five trees.”

When the murder of crows descended about 7 p.m., Rehberg was impressed by the magnitude of Caldwell’s crow problem.

“There were probably 10,000 of them last night. None of us could count them,” he said Tuesday. “This is the only time we’ve ever seen this. Normally our machines are purchased for geese.”

TARGETING NEXT WINTER

Monday’s demonstration was designed to show city officials how the equipment works and make a sale in time for December, Rehberg said.

In a couple of weeks, the crows will pair up and fly elsewhere to nest. But next year, Caldwell plans to be ready, deploying hazers to send up bursts of irritating mist every couple of minutes.

Riley said he hasn’t seen a final cost quote, “but you’re probably talking $2,500 each” for several hazers.

It will be worth it, he said, if it can rid Caldwell of a nagging problem.

Canyon County’s seat of government mysteriously became the wintering spot of choice for the region’s crows more than a decade ago. The Caldwell City Council passed an ordinance in 2005 authorizing police to take lethal action when crows created a major nuisance, but dogged and varied efforts succeeded only in pushing the birds out of downtown and incrementally toward the city limits — first to the Rite Aid area along Cleveland Boulevard, and then another couple of miles to Wal-Mart.

When it comes down to it, the problem is poop — coating the sidewalk that accesses Wal-Mart from Ustick Road and plastering the approach to eateries.

Riley understands why merchants complain. He said he’ll be very happy when officers no longer have to include crow patrol in their winter duties.

“Nobody ever really wants to hurt birds,” Rehberg said. “But they get frustrated.”

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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