In early January, more than 200 vultures were roosting in trees in northeast Leesburg, prompting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to try to chase them off. Pyrotechnics and an effigy of a dead vulture were employed. And it seemed to work.
But then an estimated 30 vultures began roosting in the trees of Jen and Todd Severance’s home in Northwest Leesburg.
“We have some large pine trees in our backyard and vultures seem to like those trees. They come flying in at sunset and circle around until they rest for the night. It is like a scene out of The Birds when they come flying in,” Jen Severance said, referring to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller.
The Severances said vultures started roosting in their yard after hearing about the actions taken to remove the birds in the northeast section.
And while the vultures are not targeting people like Hitchock’s avian aces, Jen Serverance said the birds are causing damage to the family's yard. She’s also concerned they could be carrying disease.
“Our playhouse is covered with bird poop, there is damage to the trees, branches down everywhere,” she said. “The kids play out there, and now I am hesitant to let them out.”
Unless the numbers in that area grow, pyrotechnics and effigys will not be employed, according to Leesburg Police spokesman Lt. Jeff Dube, who has been in contact with the Severances. The family has tried banging pots and pans but that does not seem to bother the birds, Jen Severance said. She also said the police set off fireworks, which worked … but only for about three days.
“The 30 or so vultures that they have roosting in their yard do not rise to the level of contacting the USDA,” Dube said. “We don’t usually get involved with the vulture situation until we see the numbers that we had earlier this year.”
He said the cost of bringing in the USDA comes out of the town’s budget, and that based on recent experience, the birds leave in mid-March.
“We ask for the homeowners’ patience and try to wait it out a few more weeks,” he said.
In the meantime, the Serverances are left with some very unseemly guests.
“They are big, ugly ungraceful birds,” Severance said. “I respect that they provide a service but would rather they did not roost in our yard.”
Todd Severance, a former U.S. Navy pilot, said he hopes the birds don’t create a horror show of their own – interference with flights into Leesburg Executive Airport.
“The corner of Dodd Drive and Dodd Court NW is approximately 8,000 feet on extended centerline with Runway 17, Leesburg Executive Airport,” he wrote in one email to Dube. “A 10-pound bird striking an aircraft can result in catastrophic damage or loss of aircraft.”
Todd Serverance said he received a message from Leesburg Town Manager John Wells, who asked him to return the call.
"I hadn't done so in part because rainy and windy weather depressed the vulture population for nearly a week's time and I thought that the birds may have moved on," he said.
But they have returned.
According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, vultures, unlike many other "raptors," have chicken-like feet, and lack the strong grasping ability and talons found on hawks or eagles. Many online reports indicate the birds do not carry disease, although some people have claimed the droppings have sickened their pets. As scavengers, rather than predators, many consider the birds helpful at cleaning up road kills.
According to a Virginia group called the Center for Human-Wildlife Conflict, concerns about disease are not unusual. Here's an excerpt from the group's website:
People tend to have health concerns about these roosts due to excessive accumulations of fecal droppings, concern for the health of children and pets who may be exposed to bacteria or viruses in vulture fecal droppings or vomit. Damage caused by turkey or black vulture roosts include loss of use of the property, the over-powering ammonia odor emanating from the roost site, death of ornamental trees from acidic fecal droppings or excessive limb breakage, and the aesthetically unappealing white-wash effect from fecal droppings on lawn furniture, the home, walkways, vehicles, and the yard. Damage concerns often associated with live stock are predation by black vultures and disease transmission but both species.