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Lake Alfred losing battle to keep vultures off city water tower; droppings are corrosive

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LAKE ALFRED, Florida — Every evening they come.

After a day of circling the skies, scanning the ground for the dead and dying, they make their way back home — an inhospitable home, to be sure, but home.

During the past couple years, it has been turned into a fake bird cemetery; it has reverberated with loud, scary noises; it has sent electric jolts through their bodies; and most recently, it has flashed blinding light into their eyes.

But still, black vultures settle down each evening on the Lake Alfred water tower.

"We are kind of in the final attempts (to get rid of the vultures)," City Manager Ryan Leavengood told the City Commission last Monday. "You wouldn't think these things are as resilient as they are, but I'll give them credit where credit is due."

Leavengood's comment sparked laughter from the commissioners and audience, but the city has had about $24,000 worth of work done to try to persuade the vultures to settle somewhere else.

The city has tried using a buzzer to frighten them — which worked until they got used to the noise. Fake dead vultures didn't work, either. Those attempted solutions cost about $2,000.

Commissioners accepted a $20,332 bid in November for Terminix to install bird spikes and low-voltage electric tracks on the tower. The tracks were supposed to give the birds an uncomfortable, but harmless, shock. The spikes were supposed to make the surface uncomfortable to perch on.

Public Works Director John Deaton said the electric track works but doesn't cover the whole tower, leaving plenty of space to sit comfortably. The spikes don't seem to do anything, he said.

Leavengood said Monday the city will pay only part of that cost because it failed to deter the birds.

"Ultimately, we paid for a solution, and we didn't get a solution," he said.

PHOTO: ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JULY 20 -  Black vultures go through their morning routine on Thursday, July 10, 2014, after roosting overnight on the Lake Alfred, Fla., water tower. Despite efforts made by the city to make the tower less inviting the large scavengers return to roost every evening. (AP Photo/The Ledger, Paul Crate)
ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JULY 20 - Black vultures go through their morning routine on Thursday, July 10, 2014, after roosting overnight on the Lake Alfred, Fla., water tower. Despite efforts made by the city to make the tower less inviting the large scavengers return to roost every evening. (AP Photo/The Ledger, Paul Crate)

In an attempt to hold on to hope, the city bought two Eagle Eyes for about $1,600 in May.

Eagle Eyes are bird deterrents that reflect sunlight or artificial light, limiting birds' vision and causing them to steer away and find somewhere else to land.

It doesn't seem to work for vultures, though.

"It looks pretty flashing around out there," said Public Works Director John Deaton. "But the vultures are not annoyed by it at all."

Leavengood said the city has another last-ditch effort idea: putting up cables and wires to impede their ability to land.

"That's about the last thing we can think of," he said. "We were hesitant because we didn't want them to get caught up" in the wires.

City staff members have said they want the scavengers to find a new place to perch because they are worried about damage to the tower. Vultures' urine and regurgitated fluids are highly corrosive.

So far, the only damage has been to the paint. The vultures have no access to the water, so the water quality isn't in danger.

But cleaning and painting the tower is costly. Staff and residents don't find the sight of the birds particularly appealing, either.

Vultures are a protected species, and the city cannot do anything to remove the birds that would harm them.

"You know what it is?" Deaton said, with a laugh. "Lake Alfred is a great place to live, and the birds have figured it out, and they don't want to move."


Information from: The Ledger (Lakeland, Florida), http://www.theledger.com

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