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Rochester spends thousands annually to disperse a massive murder of crows

A drawing of crows surrounding downtown Rochester.
John Magnus Champlin
A drawing of crows surrounding downtown Rochester.

Like clockwork, tens of thousands of crows, also known as a murder, come together this time of year for their own safety. They’re noticeable in downtown Rochester.

Genesee Valley Audubon Society President June Summers said it's a way to protect themselves from predators, like owls. She said the crows are often distant relatives.

“Crows come together in a winter roost, in numbers because it's safer,” said Summers. “In the spring and the summer they disperse and go out and nest, and take up territories in the rest of the county.”

For most of the last decade, the birds have found their way downtown from their long time roost in Mount Hope Cemetery. Summers isn’t sure why they moved but mused that the heat from the pavement in the center of town may have attracted them.

The birds have a distinct sound, smell and droppings, particularly noticeable around downtown buildings like the Geva theater, the ESL Headquarters and Frontier Field. 

Justin Gansowski, who works on wildlife conflicts for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the city hired the USDA to break up the murders using non-lethal methods like lasers, pyrotechnics and sounds of crows.

“It's a tape recording of crows in distress, and we play that from our truck and that helps scare them away,” said Gansowski.

A city of Rochester statement said the sounds will hopefully break the crows up into smaller batches so the waste isn’t all in one place. The city would not say how much it spends but Gansowski said typical dispersals cost under $10,000. He said other New York municipalities have tried to disperse crows for much longer than Rochester has, and he doesn’t expect the process to end any time soon.

But at least one group thinks the city should reconsider. A Facebook group called Rochestarians for Crows emerged when the city decided to disperse the crows, as did petitions. Eight years later, that group includes 800 people including Ryan DeClerk of Rochester. He’d rather the city take pride in the birds like he does.

“Come sunset you have this massive flock of crows all get up and fly into the sunset,” said DeClerk. “It's beautiful.”

Artist Jon Gary agrees. He said the city should use that money elsewhere. 

“We like to have trees, and green spaces and tall buildings, and these are all places where they like to perch,” Gary said.” “So I think we oughta learn to live with them instead of trying to get rid of them.”

Summers understands the city’s position, but said the expense and the effort could be moot.

“I just don’t think they’re going to be able to get those crows out of there,” said Summers. “This is where the crows have decided to be. They’re not going to move them unless they start killing them and I’d hate to see that. When they decide this is home, this is home.”

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.
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