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Unwanted Visitors Wreak Havoc in Florida Town
by Karen Ross
August 2, 2009

Like a scene scripted for an Alfred Hitchcock movie, hundreds of vultures have once again descended on the residents of Bartow, Florida. Found throughout the United States and as far north as parts of Canada, vultures – which can weigh more than five pounds – tear shingles off roofs, rip the weather stripping from car windows, defecate on just about everything, vomit up road-kill and other carrion, and generally make life unbearable for nearby residents.

Vultures play an important role in ecosystems; known as ‘scavengers of the dead’ they are responsible for cleaning up decaying flesh that could otherwise spread bacteria and disease. But where vultures and people co-exist, instinctual vulture behaviour is leaving homeowners with damaged cars and leaky roofs. Herman Music, a former member of the Bartow code enforcement department, has helped local residents deal with problem vultures.

“I talked to one lady who had 100 to 150 of them land on her roof all at once. It was a metal roof so you can imagine the sound – scared the socks off her. She thought her roof was being blown off,” said Music. “They’ll rip entire shingles off a roof and can pick a hole right through the top of a mobile home”

The vultures’ destructive behaviour is compounded by the mess they create. The birds, that can eat up to 20 percent of their body weight in one sitting, regurgitate their meals. With a diet of road kill and other dead and decaying flesh, the conditions they leave behind are unsanitary and unpleasant;

“You can imagine the smell - there’s definitely an aroma when you get down there by the lake,” said Music. In addition, their excrement contains high levels of uric acid - enough to kill plants and trees in their roosting areas--and, if left long enough, to strip the paint off cars.

There is little residents can do to get rid of the vultures altogether (vultures are protected in the US by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act). To help residents combat the problem, the city of Bartow purchased four ScareCrow motion-activated sprinklers last year to rent out to residents. Mounted on roofs, the sprinklers detect when the vultures land, and spray them with a startling but harmless blast of water.

“The ScareCrow is a very cost effective way of keeping the vultures off your roof. It is not harmful to the birds, but it does make an area less attractive to roost,” said Breanne Strepina, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

In 2006, the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) – a division of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - conducted a study using the ScareCrows. Before sprinklers were installed, vultures perched on test roofs 72 percent of the time, but after the devices had been in place for three days, the number dropped to just 1.6 percent.

Traditionally used by gardeners to keep unwanted animals such as deer, cats, raccoons and other animals out of gardens, the ScareCrow motion-activated sprinkler is available from Contech at 1.800.767.8658 or www.contech-inc.com.

About Contech

Contech is a designer and provider of animal control and wellness products and non-toxic pest management products for home and garden, forestry, landscape, agriculture, and commercial applications. Safe and effective solutions such as the ScareCrow motion-activated sprinkler continue to reinforce the company’s reputation as a leading innovator in the pet and garden industries. Contech makes non-toxic traps for yellow jackets and wasps, outdoor flies, flour and pantry moths and fruit flies. For more information visit www.contech-inc.com

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