Falconer launches air attack

Craig Fox
The citizen
From the Saturday, Feb. 20, 2004 issue of The Citizen.

    AUBURN- A California falconer has spent the last few nights trying to chase some of the city's nagging crows with his birds of prey.
    After two nights, professional falconer Jeffrey Diaz claims he pushed about 25,000 crows from the down town area with a squadron of Eurasian eagle owls and Eurasian falcons.
    He guarantees he can get rid of the city's crow population with-in three years.
    "I sympathize with your crow problem. I sympathize with the crows. I love crows. They're native birds," he said.
    Diaz, owner of Ronin Air Falconry Services from San Francisco, came to Auburn after hearing about the city's infamous problems with crows. He was on a job in Philadelphia and swung by to see what he could do.
    After being out Tuesday and Wednesday, Diaz said he moved just about all the crows from Grant Avenue to Seymour Street, including the areas around Schwartz Towers, the Holiday Inn and the city's police station on Market Street. He hoped to push them north.
    He described the city's situation of playing the winter home for as many as 70,000 crows as "a biological imbalance."
    "It's not natural, and it's not healthy," Diaz said.
    And he said he could solve the problem by using the "DNA fear instinct" - harass the birds, scare them enough and they'll move. There's no need to kill, he said.
    If hired, he could move the crows to Canada and out of the city forever, Diaz said.
    He contacted Mayor Tim Lattimore to show him what he could do in three nights work. Normally costing $75 an hour, Diaz worked for just lodging and meals.
    Diaz said he couldn't say how much it would cost to permanently remove the crows from Auburn, but he admitted it would be costly. For instance, it would have cost the city $4,800 for his three nights of work. The fee would be less during the fall, he said.
    "Did you see any crows out? Were there any out there?" the mayor said.
    The falconer used some owl decoys, some real ones and some "secret trademarks" Wednesday night to move them from near the Salvation Army and the Dunkin Donuts store on Genesee Street.
    Give him enough time and he could push them all the way to Canada, he said.
    Diaz, one of five professional falconry services in the country, has experience removing birds. He was in Philadelphia earlier this week trying to rid an oil refinery of some starlings.
    He's also worked for the U.S. Air Force Plant 42 Stealth Bomber factory in Northrop, Calif., to get rid of pigeon roosts there.
    Last year, the dirtiest beach in Santa Barbara County was cleaned up after he and his team of falcons drove out the sea gulls. It worked so well, Tajigaus County officials hired him.
    Lattimore said Thursday night he'll wait too see what kind of results Diaz gets. "We're just test-driving right now," he said.
    He'll give the findings to a city animal nuisance committee to see what it thinks about the program.
    "Just moving from (Auburn) into the towns is not enough," Lattimore said.
    Since the problem affects them, the mayor hopes to get the surrounding towns involved in paying for a crow abatement program. He plans to ask for some financial assistance from the towns to start a program.
    Aurelius town supervisor Ed Ide and Owasco Supervisor Michael Leary couldn't be reached for comment Thursday night.
    Earlier this week, Lattimore urged the city to hire the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct another type of crow abatement program that would include using birds of prey, pyrotechnics and recordings of distress calls.
    Last month, falconer Mark Westman of Earlville gave a presentation to City Council outlining how his birds of prey, pyrotechnics and dogs could do the job for about $50,000 over two seasons.
    But Westman couldn't guarantee his program would do the trick. It would be a challenge, but Diaz could rid the city of the crows, he said.
    "We've never failed a mission," he said

Crows move, but not far

Falconer manages to push them a few blocks east of downtown.

Craig Fox
The Citizen
From the Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004 issue of The Citizen.

    AUBURN - Parsons Street resident David Monroe thinks he knows where all the crows driven out of downtown this week have ended up. Or at least a lot of them.
    He claims they've been hanging around in trees in his yard and his neighborhood.
    The 68-year-old retired electrician couldn't figure out why thousands of them began roosting around the Seminary Avenue area during the night when they haven't all winter.
    But then he heard that a California falconer was chasing them out of downtown for three nights earlier this week.
    "I was hot." Monroe said about his reaction, especially since he had worked so hard to keep them out of his neighborhood this winter.
    Like he always does, Monroe took his dogs out about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday when he saw the crows. He made a little noise coming out of his back porch, and there it was, "a cloud of black." The startled crows took flight.
    "There was not a place in any of the trees where they weren't," he said.
    What was left in the crows' path wasn't pretty, Monroe said. Crow droppings were all over his car, on neighbor's driveways, sidewalks and yards.
    "Plus they never shut up." Monroe said, referring to loud cawing from the roost.
    At the mayor's request, falconer Jim Diaz from San Francisco was in town to show how his birds of prey could harass crows enough that they would move from the downtown business district. Diaz apparently did what he intended.
    The falconer insisted that he moved maybe 25,000 crows from downtown.
    But the nagging crows went just a few blocks, to Seminary Avenue, Monroe said.
    He went to talk to Mayor Tim Lattimore about what happened.
    "They should have told the public," Monroe said.
    Lattimore could not be reached Friday for comment.
    Lattimore would like the city to consider hiring Diaz to rid the crows forever.
    On Thursday night, Diaz said he would need to return next fall and work nightly on moving the birds from Auburn and up north to Canada.
    Within three years, the crow problem would be gone.
    For the past decade, between 25,000 and 75,000 crows make Auburn their winter home, causing havoc with their droppings, noise and scavenging for food.
    Lattimore has been looking for ways to clear the crows. He has urged possibly using a U.S. Department of Agriculture "hazing" program of using pyrotechnics, recordings of distress calls and non-harmful lasers.