For weeks Leesburg resident Allyson Camp would drive through Tyson’s Corner on her way home from work and see vultures soaring in the air.
Not an uncommon sight in Northern Virginia.
But Camp had another thought:
“They reminded me of the flying monkeys in the “Wizard of Oz” and I thought ‘they’re going to my house,’” she said.
Truth be told, they very well could have been.
For weeks, Allyson Camp and her husband John Camp watched as dozens of black and turkey vultures roosted in the trees behind their Mayfair Drive home. The results weren’t pretty to say the least.
Ivy along the couples home is now white from the birds defecating in their yard and their fence needs repairs.
These vultures, up to 250 a night, have taken over this southeast portion of Leesburg – stripping bark off trees, eating rubber off roofs, cars, hot tub, pool and boat covers and destroying grills. Lawn furniture tends to be a favorite treat as well. And their excrement is acidic – enough to eat the paint off cars.
Vultures have highly acidic stomach liquids and urine which helps in their role as scavengers but contributes to the damage they can cause, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“At night you can hear them up on the roof. They’ve stripped the bark off the pine trees. The sound is bad … and the drippings, they’re just horrible,” said Sarah Corde, who lives in the home behind the Camps. “We have people that just drive up and down the street each night to look at them.”
The Camps finally got enough of the vultures shenanigans and called in the feds.
On Jan. 7 a large crowd gathered along the street to watch officials with the USDA scare off the birds, firing blanks, pyrotechnics, lasers and other devices into the air as the vultures came home to roost.
“We’re here for the excitement,” joked neighbor Heather Hess as she stood with her 8-year-old daughter Sidney watching officials fire blanks into the air. “It’s something to see with the kids on a Monday night.”
USDA officials also hung the dead body of a vulture from one of the Camps’ trees – a technique that can sometimes prove effective – although the best way to scare off the birds is a combination of techniques, said Scott Barras, state director for the USDA’s wildlife service program.
“For a species making a living at eating dead things they’re sensitive to their own species,” Barras said.
It’s not the first time a large flock of vultures decided to terrorize Leesburg. In 2007 about 200 to 250 decided the area near the Cornwall campus of Inova Loudoun Hospital was a good spot to call home, said Leesburg Police Department’s Lt. Jeffrey Dube’.
“We don’t know what brings them here. They’re just attracted to the town every time this year and they usually stay until the spring,” Dube’ said. “But every now and then they come in mass. They’re very destructive … They’re quiet. But they’re very destructive and they’re a health hazard. The smell is horrible.”
It’s an annual ritual in the winter to see vultures in the neighborhood and they’re usually not too bothersome, neighbors said. It’s when they decide to gather in massive flocks that the trouble starts.
Barras said the vultures exhibit two types of behaviors: roosting and loafing. These behaviors, Barras said, are dictated by the time of day and year.
Roosting is when the vultures get together in groups and sleep, especially during the winter. There can be up to 500 vultures in a particular roost, he said.
“When you get that many together there are a lot of problems that can occur. When they roost they can roost on buildings and on rooftops and damage can occur,” Barras said.
When vultures loaf they all fly down from their roost at the same time, usually at day break when the temperatures warm. The warmer weather increases updraft and makes soaring easier for the birds, he said.
“When you don’t have those temperatures, they hang out and they tend to get bored and cause damage,” Barras said.
The problem is not specific to Leesburg. Statewide, the USDA fielded 213 complaints in 2012 of vultures causing damage in neighborhoods.
Turkey vultures tend to feed mostly on the carcases of other animals, while black vultures are sometimes predatory and can prey on small animals, Barras said.
The population for both species has increased in abundance and range over the last 30 years, according to the USDA.
But for all the problems the vultures are causing in Leesburg, Barras was quick to point out that the birds do serve an important role in Virginia’s environment by helping to recycle the bodies of dead animals and sanitize the area.
“They do serve a very valuable function in the ecology of Virginia, but when they form big groups in towns, that’s when you get serious problems,” he said.
The USDA will be in the neighborhood for the rest of the week to scare the vultures away.
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