Massive flocks of pesky crows take over downtown Sunnyvale; how city is dealing with the nuisance

Some say they're hesitant to dine where the crows tend to hang out, as the birds have been known to ruin people's dinner.
SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KGO) -- Thousands of crows are leaving Downtown Sunnyvale residents and visitors with a list of grievances. Sidewalks are coated in white with bird droppings, the crows are interrupting dinners and their "caws" are creating noise issues.

At dusk on Tuesday, the large group of crows could've been mistaken for a scene straight out of a movie.

"When the sun starts going down, they come around," resident Frank Hampton told ABC7 News.

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Hampton was referring to the large group of crows that made another nightly return to Downtown Sunnyvale. A group of crows is called a "murder."

"You look up in the sky and it's almost like a planetarium," resident Scott Kilbourn described. "Where you see all these dots up in the sky and it's just, I don't know, nature at its best."

Swaminathan Sundaramurthy was in the downtown area with his 2-year-old son on Tuesday. He explained, "It's fascinating at some level, but I'm not really a big fan of them to be honest. Because they do tend to congregate in very large numbers, and they create a lot of ruckus."

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It's that ruckus- the noise and the mess coating sidewalks and outside seating areas, that is forcing city leaders to find a different way to keep downtown crow-free.

"We've tried multiple things. In the past, we've had falcons, we've put reflectors in our trees, and nothing seems to help," Mayor Larry Klein explained.

He said now, the city is turning to inexpensive tech - specifically, $20 green lasers to annoy the birds into leaving.

"It's far better than spending hundreds of dollars to spray wash the sidewalks every few weeks," Mayor Klein added. "Or spray wash Murphy Avenue because of that health risk."

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Mayor Klein said the Downtown Association is even providing lasers to restaurants along historic Murphy Avenue.

On Tuesday, ABC7 News saw clear signs and heard stories about bird droppings, dropping on dinner.

"That close," Hampton signaled with his hands. "Ha ha! Real close! I know a few people that have."

If he's having dinner on Murphy Ave., he does take the crows into consideration.

"I'll go inside unless I'm under an umbrella," Hampton shared. "Thing is, they're not here during the day, it's just at night. It's just when they start coming around when the sun goes down."

Hampton and others told ABC7 News about measures they've seen elsewhere, including recorded crow distress calls, pyrotechnics, even hanging effigies of dead crows. These are suggestions also posted by the Humane Society of the United States.

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Mayor Klein explained, "Effigies and other things... they catch on relatively quickly. But the green lasers do seem to get rid of a large percentage of them, at least talking to some of our residents who've already started using them."

However, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society said it's deeply concerned about the crows.

In a statement to ABC7 News, Executive Director Matthew Dodder said in-part, "We don't see the use of lasers as a reasonable way to address the problem of overpopulation among these intelligent birds. They may leave for a while, but will likely return. Additionally, lasers pose a threat of blindness to the birds which we cannot condone, as well as a risk to humans and aircraft. This should be avoided as a tactic against the birds' overpopulation in our area. We advocate for continued exploration of solutions that do not involve potentially harmful use of lasers."

Mayor Klein said the city plans to launch the pilot program at the end of the month.

He added, "If we can just get them to disperse throughout different neighborhoods and not be in one centralized location, I think that'll be helpful for Sunnyvale overall."

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