It may be too early to tell if Walnut Cove’s vulture effigy program will get the attention of the hundreds of birds which gather at the town’s southern gateway.
But the program has certainly gotten the attention of area residents, some of whom are speaking up for the birds.
“These birds could be a tourist attraction and while people come to see the buzzards, maybe they would shop, and eat, and fill up with gas, but maybe the new town manager is too busy loading his shotgun to think about economic growth,” said Karie Martin who lives between Walnut Cove and Madison. “They are not hurting anybody. Just because everybody does not voice their opinion, does not mean that everybody agrees with killing these birds.”
Marilyn McGee said she did not have a problem with the effigy program, but felt that the community needed to be more aware of why the birds are in the area and what they provide to an ecosystem.
“They are such great sanitation workers,” she said, noting that the birds roost on powerlines, trees and the tops of buildings to give them a better line of sight to possible carrion. “They are behaving as they are supposed to behave. The old cement factory is a perfect spot for them.”
McGee said town residents needed to consider non-lethal ways they could help to dissuade the birds from coming into town. She said that meant removing food sources, odors and standing water in the area they are roosting.
“It is not a bird problem, it is a people problem,” she said. “If you don’t close your trash bins you will invite vultures, crows, rats and possibly even coyotes. It takes a community effort.
“We also have to think about the number of people in the area who hunt,” she added. “If you gut an animal and you leave the guts behind that will also invite those sanitation workers who are doing clean up jobs for free.”
McGee also questioned the towns’s application for a license to “take” birds to use as future effigies, saying she did not mind the town using birds that had died naturally at a raptor center, which the town is currently doing to see if the effigy program works, but she draws the line at killing birds in town to use as effigies.
“Does it really deter the birds or are they just killing them in the hope they go away?” asked McGee. “If they were bald eagles would we be having this same conversation?”
Walnut Cove began its vulture effigy program in October after local business owners complained the birds were starting to move into town and were damaging roofs.
Town Manger Bobby Miller told the Walnut Cove of Commissioners last week that the birds were starting to become a real problem.
“This has gone from an occasional joking matter to now we are getting complaints everyday,” he said. “We moved them off of the buildings downtown, but now they have started roosting on the baptist church. It is really a problem.”
Miller said he understood the benefits the birds provided as carrion eaters, but worried about them being inside the town.
“They are very much a necessity to the ecosystem and they provide a great service to nature, but I think there is a common ground where everybody can exist together,” he said. “They are tearing up the roofs right now. It is a fluid problem. We are open to any expertise people may have.”
Commissioner Sharon Conaway said business owners and residents needed to do what they could to avoid attract the birds.
“The problem here is food sources,” she said. “We have encouraged the businesses in town to dispose of their food waste correctly. We need to do what we can to protect our businesses in town.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.