Sometimes the cause of large bird die-offs is never found.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR HEALTH WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Crows by the thousands, maybe the tens of thousands, have invaded Boardman.
Some of the crows are dying for a reason not yet known. One resident reported 41 dead birds in his yard.
The deaths are in larger numbers than wildlife and health officials would normally expect, leading some to suspect deliberate poisoning.
Residents in other areas of Northeast Ohio also have noticed more crows than usual, but in some parts of Boardman their large numbers are making them a nuisance.
Residents' calls: Calls from residents have been coming for several weeks to township and Mahoning County Health Department officials. The calls from residents, and apparently the number of birds, increased over the weekend, particularly from the area bounded by U.S. Route 224 and Aylesboro, Glenwood and Amherst avenues.
The crows congregate in large trees, possibly attracted by the nice roosting sites and the higher urban temperatures, according to Joel Porath, assistant wildlife management supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife District 3 office in Akron.
As is often the case when wildlife and human habitats meet, the result is not ideal. The noise from one crow is loud enough to be intrusive. By the hundreds, crows can set up quite a clatter.
Also, not being potty-trained, a large number of large roosting birds in one tree can make quite a mess.
Porath said four of the dead Boardman crows were to arrive at his office Monday afternoon for testing.
Looking for cause: He said he would look at the birds for anything obvious, but because there is no lab available here, the birds would be sent to the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. Porath said it could be months before the test results are known.
Porath said he hasn't previously seen a large amount crows dying of West Nile virus. Crows and blue jays have been considered the primary carriers of West Niles virus in the area, although this summer, blackcapped chickadees captured in Mill Creek Park were also found to have the disease.
Matt Stefanak, Mahoning County health commissioner, said the birds should not be a hazard to humans, because West Nile virus is spread from birds to humans by mosquitoes, and at this time of the year mosquitoes are dead because of cold weather.
One possibility: It is possible, Porath said, that the birds could have gotten into naturally occurring toxins in fields.
Also, large die-offs are sometimes never explained. Porath said large numbers of geese died in the Canton area Feb. 19, 2001, and despite extensive testing, the cause was never determined.
Rick Setty, director of environmental health for the Mahoning County Health Department, said he received his first complaint about a crow roosting problem Jan. 2, and Monday the calls were coming in faster than he could keep up with them. Upon investigating, Setty said he saw a crow flyby that he estimated at tens of thousands of birds.
Porath does not consider the large number of birds unusual. It is something that happens all over the country, he said.
Porath said it can be problematic to put together a nuisance program because the birds aren't always in the same place.
He said crows, as migratory birds, are protected by state law and may not be poisoned.
He said there are other ways to deal with the crows. Lights, sirens, fireworks and crow distress calls can be used to disperse the birds, and he said information on techniques were sent some days ago to township officials.