Vultures unnerve Lake Linganore neighbors

December 13, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

LINGANORE -- While hanging Christmas lights on his deck the other day, Nick Hylton turned and caught a glimpse of the beach across from his contemporary, two-story home on Lake Linganore. Where he usually sees an empty, sandy stretch, he saw black. Lots of black.

The vultures were back.

About 200 turkey vultures (and probably some cousins) on this particular morning. Thigh-high. Some stretching 6-foot-wide wings.

Standing.

Silent.

All staring with those penetrating eyes protruding from blood-red, bald, crinkly-skinned heads similar to those of turkeys.

The eerie sight has made Mr. Hylton and others in this 3,700-acre community east of Frederick wonder whether months-long efforts to relocate the large scavengers away from homes, boats and beaches have been successful.

"I would say no," said Mr. Hylton, a retired Montgomery County educator and home builder. "They are really worse than a nuisance because of their droppings. They're quite a problem. They won't leave."

Using pyrotechnics and other measures on a daily basis, Lake Linganore officials have been trying to shoo the birds away from traditional roosting areas -- trees along a hillside overlooking the 216-acre lake.

"It's pretty scary to look up into a tree with no leaves -- and it's totally black with birds. It looks just like something in that Hitchcock movie," said resident Cathy Alspaugh, referring to "The Birds," Alfred Hitchcock's horror movie of 1963.

Before efforts began to relocate the birds to an undeveloped area at the lake's southern end, the turkey vultures, sometimes called turkey buzzards, had become nuisances, damaging the roofs of several homes. They also tore up cushions and canvas on boats and polluted beaches with defecation and regurgitated food.

Nick and Bobbie Hylton's pontoon boat, docked outside their home off Coldstream Drive, was damaged three summers ago.

"In one 15-minute landing, they ripped that boat to shreds," Mrs. Hylton recalled. "They ripped apart every seat, every awning, every cover, fighting among themselves."

Mr. Hylton estimated the damage at $1,200.

Turkey vultures have been known to damage roofs, boat seats and boat covers and rubber gaskets around windows and air-conditioning units, said Les Terry, state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Damage Control Program in Annapolis.

The birds are sometimes known as nature's garbage collectors because they eat dead animals, ranging from road kills to creatures that die of natural causes. Why the birds sometimes damage and destroy property is unknown, Mr. Terry said, adding that it may be out of boredom.

"They can be quite a nuisance," he said.

Turkey vultures are indigenous to Maryland and can be found throughout the state, he said. Large flocks are quite common, especially during the fall and winter months. They roost together good take-off areas, such as trees on hills and around lakes. They soar gracefully for long periods on wind currents, usually alone, but gathering in numbers when carrion -- a meal -- is spotted.

Lake Linganore officials have recognized the birds' right to exist in the once-rural area. The birds were there, in these foothills, long before construction of the lake and development began in the late 1960s. About 7,000 people live around Lake Linganore.

Important role

"It was not our intent to destroy or kill the birds," said John Mulligan, general manager of the Lake Linganore Association, a homeowners organization that maintains public areas, such as beaches, trails and roads. "We're concerned with proper environmental stewardship. Turkey vultures play an important role in the ecological balance of the community."

Some would describe the birds as ugly, but Mr. Terry said, "Beauty is in the eye of beholder. Some people think they're beautiful. They're very graceful when they're in the air."

The birds, which are 26 inches to 32 inches tall, are protected by state and federal laws and cannot be killed without permits.

Mr. Terry said he believes the Lake Linganore population, which also includes the smaller black vultures, has lived in that area for decades. Their population is estimated at 80 to 120 birds, numbers that double during migration in fall and spring, Mr. Mulligan and others agree.

"They have strong ties to that particular area and come back year after year," Mr. Terry said.

To shoo them away, Lake Linganore officials shoot fireworks-type devices into the air. The explosions and siren noises scare the birds away from roosting areas. Residents have placed dangling metallic and tin material on docks to keep the birds away from boats.

"You really have to be persistent," Mr. Terry said. "The whole key is to break down traditional roosting habits. Some of these birds can live up to 20 years, and you have to either change their minds or erase their memory. I'm not sure which is the easiest."

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