Turkey vultures make a mess of Peabody
Peabody police and animal control officers are deploying the city’s bird cannon in an attempt to rid the town of an invasion of turkey vultures.
Up to 70 raptors have infested a tree near Peabody Baptist Church, turning the pavement beneath their roost into a whitewash of smelly droppings, rivaling a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
The cannon has sounded nearly every evening this past week, prompting a few complaints from confused residents.
“It makes an impressive noise,” city council president Jay Gfeller said. “It does sound like gunfire.”
However, church pastor Rodger Charles says the damage the birds stand to cause outweighs the nightly report of the gun, even though he admits he finds it “a bit annoying.”
In addition to leaving a rude mess, the large raptors can use their razor-sharp talons to tear the bark off trees, Charles said.
“It’s better to drive them off with a cannon, than to try to replace the trees, since they grow so slow,” he said.
The bird cannon is one of the “necessities of living in town,” he said.
“In the country you could shoot a shotgun and make them go away,” he said.
“In town, you can’t do that. It’s kind of frowned upon….It’s so it’s much better to use the cannon and keep the chief’s blood pressure down,” he said.
The city acquired the cannon in 2006 to combat the odor and health risk posed by hundreds of starlings.
The cannon has been used on several occasions, but hadn’t been for years, said police chief Bruce Burke.
Not until the turkey vultures left their usual roosts atop concrete grain elevators and chose to perch in Peabody’s old trees, he said.
The cannon has worked well in the past, he said. It is usually fired as many times as it takes to send roosting birds elsewhere.
“So far we have used it…Let’s see, about five nights in a row,” he said. “We use it when they are coming in to roost at night at about 8 p.m.”
Other communities have complained about the presence of the vultures and the damage they do, said Charlie Cope, a wildlife biologist with the state.
Unfortunately, the birds are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be shot or harmed if they become pests.
Propane cannons, flares, screamers and green or red lasers are all approved methods to get unwanted species to vanish, he said.
This is the time of the year that turkey vultures migrate through, Cope said, so efforts to let the raptors know they have worn out their welcome may pay off.
“This may be short-lived,” he said. “In two weeks, they could be gone.”
Last modified May 20, 2020