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Fly Away

Every year, the USDA does its best to scare away the crows that flock to Albany

Every winter, it looks like Albany is playing host to a live-action remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Biologists from the United States Department of Agriculture did their best last week to frighten off the American crows that roost annually in the neighborhood of Hackett Boulevard, Academy Road and New Scotland and Holland avenues.

“The crows show up at this time of the year and become a nuisance for residents,” says Castleton-based USDA wildlife specialist Bryan Haslun. “It’s been an ongoing problem probably for 15 years or more now. We have, in recent years, been getting more and more complaints where it’s a financial issue. There’s so much ammonia in their droppings, it can damage the paint on vehicles. We have cars completely whitewashed with droppings because they parked underneath a tree. When you have 17,000 crows in a very small area, the smell is very repulsive. It is the noise as well.”

Crows are one of the relatively few species that have adapted to civilization and thrived within it, Haslun says. The species is doing better than when New York was blanketed with forest, he says.

It’s not possible to drive off the birds altogether. Instead, workers disperse huge masses of crows into multiple smaller groupings.

“Someone can deal with 10 or 15 on their block, but when it’s 10,000 or 15,000, it’s a serious issue,” Haslun says.

He and his colleagues use scare tactics ranging from high-intensity lasers to fireworks.

“A lot of birds are considered neophobic,” he says. “They’re very scared of new things in their environment. When they see the laser beam being projected through the branches, it scares them into flight. We also shine a powerful spotlight into the trees and use an electronic crow-in-distress recording. It usually gets them up and circling. That’s when we shoot a pyrotechnic. It’s very similar to a bottle rocket. It has a steam of light behind it. It makes a very loud whistling noise as it projects upward. It kind of concentrates them and pushes them out of the city. . . . For a period of a month or more, there will be no birds in that location. It’s all non-lethal. There is no harm physically being done to any of them.”

Extremely intelligent, these raucous black birds are corvids—cousins to ravens and jays. Their only natural predator is the great horned owl, which doesn’t typically venture into urban environments.

Murders of crows swoop in nightly from a 20-mile radius once the trees are bare. There’s safety in numbers. But that’s not the only reason they congregate.

“They are a very communal bird,” says Haslun. “They like to associate with one another.”

What attracts these social birds to urban areas?

It’s not entirely known, but, Haslun explains, there are several reasons why crows head into cities during the winter months. “They are a few degrees warmer than in the neighboring countryside because the vehicles, buildings and blacktop are putting out heat. There’s also lots of ambient light from buildings and cars to help them detect predators and loved ones. It gives them a sense of security.”

There’s one more thing that draws the crows—the smorgasbord of tasty morsels that cities have to offer.

“They’re very opportunistic,” Haslun says. “They’ll eat anything from scraps from trash cans, dumpsters and restaurants to a deer carcass on the side of the road. They’ll use the local landfills. Some people do put out bread and other food. There’s nothing a crow won’t eat, given the opportunity.”

The USDA has been playing scarecrow in Albany for at least a decade, and does the same thing in Troy and other cities.

“It is paid for by the city experiencing the damage,” Haslun says. “This is a not-for-profit program. Last year we received three quarters of our funding in New York State through private cooperators.”

—Laurie Lynn Fischer

Painful Post

Black leaders call for Albany County legislator’s resignation following racially loaded remarks

No stranger to controversy, Albany County Legislator Brian Scavo (District 7) is under fire again, this time for using a racially charged phrase in a comment made on the Times Union blog.

The blog thread concerned the uncertain future of the Albany City Democratic Committee, which Legislator Wanda Willingham is angling to chair. However, Albany County Democratic Committee Chairman and Albany County Legislator Daniel McCoy (District 10) insists that the committee technically no longer exists, because nobody called a reorganization meeting following the September primary. McCoy has refused to convene the committee, even though signatures from 30 percent of the committee’s membership would be enough to revive it.

Commenting on the conflict between Willingham and McCoy, Scavo wrote in his Nov. 12 blog comment: “. . . back of the bus sister, so sayest king MC coy, let us bow before master MC coy.”

Although Scavo was targeting McCoy, Willingham found the rhetoric offensive.

Scavo, she said, “has taken on the Tea Party mentality, Democrat that he is supposed to be.” She suggested that voters might feel the same way.

“The district that he represents is now clearly grown to be quite diverse,” she said. “I know, for some of his constituents that they are not pleased with some of his antics on the floor of the Legislature. I think it’s time for him to end his constituency.”

Willingham and four of Albany County’s other black leaders held a press conference Nov. 19 to condemn Scavo’s comments and call for his resignation.

At the press conference, one TV reporter asked Willingham about Scavo’s reputation for forward conduct toward women.

“I think he should keep his hands to himself,” Willingham answered, who alleged that Scavo conducts himself similarly in chambers.

But racism, not sexism, was the issue Friday at the GWU community center on Washington Avenue.

Willingham said she was born in Waynesboro, Miss., when Jim Crow laws were still in effect. She was a little girl when her family moved north, but whenever they visited their Southern relations, the family could stay only in motels and hotels designated for African-Americans.

“I remember being in a department store and getting into the long line,” Willingham recalled. “I was underneath the wrong sign. It said, ‘Whites Only.’ I did not have an understanding of what I was getting into,” she said, but was hustled out of the store nonetheless.

Now Willingham is old enough to get it, and the Third District representative won’t stand for racism on her watch. She said she is looking into a formal process for disciplining her colleague.

McKinley Johnson was among several clergymen who condemned Scavo at the media event. “Jim Crow is dead, but maybe Jim Crow, Jr. is still alive,” he said.

Ann Pope, Regional Director of the NAACP, accused Scavo of “immaturity,” claiming she was “outraged” by his choice of metaphors. “It brings up the hurtful time of slavery,” she said. “It reminds us of how Rosa Parks was arrested because she would not go to the back of the bus.”

“He has no right to represent African-Americans as he does in his district, nor is there a place in the legislature for people such as him,” added Pope. “My suggestion is that he goes to the front of the bus, gets off, goes to the Legislature and resigns.”

Asked about the allegations of racist and chauvinistic behavior, Scavo declared them “character assassination and hearsay. This is all slander,” he said.

And asked whether he’ll step down, Scavo responded, “Never.”

“I went too far with political commentary,” he admitted. “But I broke no laws. I said no racist comments. I hurt her feelings and I told her I apologize.”

Scavo apologized both in the blogosphere and over the telephone.

According to Willingham, however, during his phone apology, Scavo invited her to a party and called her “hon,” although Scavo flatly denies that allegation.

“I am not your hon,” Willingham added, chagrined.

Scavo said he wants to move on.

“It’s over,” he said. “I have no time for petty politics. It’s time for healing. It’s a time for Democrats to start focusing on helping people, regardless of race color and creed.”

—Laurie Lynn Fischer

Open as Planned

Photo: Alicia Solsman

On Nov. 18, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and Senator Neil Breslin joined Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood President and CEO Patricia McGeown and a crowd of supporters for a ribbon cutting that marked the official opening of UHPP’s new facility. The new space, located at 855 Central Ave., occupies 18,000 newly renovated square feet. The move increases the agency’s capacity by 50 percent over its former Lark Street location, which provided reproductive services to more than 13,000 patients a year, as well as community education programs and advocacy work. The new facility houses the UHPP administrative offices and offers a private entrance and parking, bus access, a spacious reception area and private recovery spaces, as well as a teen room and community meeting rooms. A recent study by the Alan Guttmacher Foundation reported that 12,000 women living in Albany remain in need of free or low-cost contraceptive services; Planned Parenthood officials are hopeful that the expanded facility will help the agency better serve that population.




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