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Wildlife Center of Virginia, Waynesboro residents react to use of sirens to deter vultures

Crystal Graham
black vulture in the air
(© mattcuda – stock.adobe.com)

The Wildlife Center of Virginia has been watching the reaction of the public to the news that Waynesboro plans to use screaming siren cartridges to deter vultures in the Bookerdale area of the city.

To date, there have been 66 comments and 133 shares on the noise alert warning residents of the loud noise posted to social media on Wednesday.

The noise “may be disruptive” and “will last for a few seconds each evening” around sunset for approximately two weeks.

“People are definitely in disagreement on the subject,” said Alex Wehrung, public affairs manager for The Wildlife Center of Virginia. “From the center’s perspective, I will say that we’re very happy to see people supporting the idea of living peacefully alongside vultures, and people supporting the idea of using non-lethal methods of deterring nuisance wildlife.”

Residents of Waynesboro have posted to social media both in favor of and in opposition to the decision to use the siren cartridges.

One person who lives in the area questions who made this decision and when it was made. Others have questions about why they are using deterrents in one area of the city – when vultures are also in other parts of the city – “near 4th Street down to about 2nd Street.”

Residents blame the nearby construction on Lew Dewitt Boulevard for destroying the natural habitat of the vultures. A housing development and storage units are planned for the area.

One resident said they blame “us,” i.e. people for encroaching on the bird’s natural habitat – not the other way around. They questioned: “where are they (the vultures) supposed to go?”

“We’ve lived in this general vicinity for almost 35 years, and we’ve seen vultures off and on the entire time, never bothering anything other than taking care of the carrion that’s not picked up,” said another resident.

“The majority of the roosting vultures I’ve seen in this area are turkey vultures which are exclusively scavengers of carrion. These birds will soon disperse from their communal roosts as the breeding season begins.”

While they appear to be in the minority, other people support the decision to deter the vultures pointing to an over-population in the area, that they feel needs to be brought down. One person said they saw 40-50 vultures near the water tower recently.

Those who support the decision say that vultures can damage cars and allege they are responsible for killing backyard free-range chickens in the city.

“Read about how they can damage cars, and I can understand why a large grouping of them near residential areas is discouraged,” one resident wrote.

The loud noise caused by the sirens is also a concern to people and their animals.

“Anything with ears that hears an inexplicable loud bang will likely be affected,” said Wehrung.

Wehrung said he had never heard of screaming siren cartridges before being contacted by AFP. When he researched the method, he said, he found that they are usually released a short distance from the area so the vultures will be conditioned to avoid a certain place instead of people.

Wehrung said he doesn’t know if the city will be successful in deterring the vultures with the cartridges since he’s unfamiliar with the method being used.

“Loud noises are certainly effective in invoking a fear response in wild animals in the short term, but I wasn’t able to find any data on the long-term effectiveness of using screamer cartridges,” said Wehrung. “They will likely be effective in deterring vultures, but we have no way of knowing how far they’ll relocate to … could be a block, could be a mile.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.