National Grid's feathers ruffled by 'hazardous' birds perching on North Adams power substations

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NORTH ADAMS — With no other good options to move swarms of crows that have descended on this city, an energy company is calling in a cannon.

A sound-emitting propane cannon, that is.

National Grid wants the birds to find a new home because of the threat they pose to company infrastructure. The crows have settled into treetops around the area of Furnace, West Main and Brown streets.

And as mesmerizing as their flights can be at dusk and dawn, when the crows alight on the wires and superstructure of the National Grid substation on Brown Street, it could become a hazard for the birds and the community.

National Grid issued a statement Monday saying there is a potential for a power loss if a crow lands on the wrong piece of equipment. So this week workers will use a loud booming device — a propane cannon — to hopefully shift the crows to other locales.

According to a Facebook post from Joanne DeRose of National Grid, the company will fire the cannon between 4 and 6 p.m. starting Tuesday and continuing through Saturday.

In the post, DeRose said the company has tried several other tactics to deter the crow flock, known as a "murder," from the substation, but they were not successful.

She said city officials have been notified, and anyone with questions should contact National Grid.

"The device will create a loud boom each time it is used which should deter the crows from this location," she said in the post. "Local officials have been contacted and have agreed to issue a Code Red phone alert to notify residents. The National Grid Customer Service Center has also been notified and will be available for any questions. The number is 800-322-3223. Hopefully, this measure will remove the hazardous condition."

In a separate Facebook post, North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio termed this particular murder of crows "hazardous."

"The sonic cannon will be aimed at the flock daily," he wrote. "No projectiles will be fired from it."

Several tactics have been tried over the past few years, but the crows kept coming back, according to Robert Kievra, spokesman for National Grid

"The city has no shortage of crows and for some reason several hundred crows roost in the trees each evening near our facility and substation," Kievra said. "Birds can cause outages. ... In addition, bird droppings can cause issues due to their corrosive, semiliquid content."

He noted that if this doesn't work, the company will continue to investigate other options.

Bird are attracted to utility wires because it gives them a view of their surroundings to spot predators and prey, according to the science news website LiveScience.com. They are not electrocuted because they do not present an alternate route for the electricity to flow since they are not grounded.

In fall and winter, crows roost in large flocks numbering in the thousands, according to WildBirdWatching.com. Each day in late afternoon, the birds begin flying fixed routes to pre-roost sites, gathering with other flocks and moving to the final roost. They fly as far as 50 miles each day to join the roost. Once there, they relax quietly until dawn to fly back to their feeding territories.

Many North Adams residents have been noticing the hypnotic, ballet-like performance of the murder during sunset, with thousands of jet-black birds swooping and swirling as one among the trees and rooftops just west of downtown.

Interestingly, notes LiveScience.com, when one crow dies, the murder surrounds the deceased. This funeral isn't to mourn the dead. The crows gather to find out what killed their member. Then, the murder of crows will chase predators in a behavior called mobbing.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.

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