Vultures have caused thousands of dollars in damage to Centre County's Willowbank Building in Bellefonte, and on Tuesday county commissioners approved a measure to bring a peaceful end to the birds' reign of destruction.
Deputy County Administrator Bob Jacobs said the black vultures have been roosting and putting holes in the roof of the building, which houses county government administrative offices. That has caused the tax assessment office to be flooded several times when it rains.
County staff and a U.S. Department of Agriculture representative were on the roof Tuesday morning to hang a vulture effigy to scare the birds away when they found a part of the roof that had been replaced just last year was damaged again.
"That’s a $14,000 repair right there," Jacobs said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a contract with J.C. Erlich Pest Control Company for $25,565 to install a "vulture deterrent system," on the roof. The system consists of a wire net that will be elevated above the roof, lower at the edges and higher at the center. It will allow for maintenance activity and can be removed and put back in place if needed.
Commissioner Michael Pipe said the wires are visible to the vultures, which because of their large wingspans will not want to get tangled in them.
Vultures are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, so roosting can only be addressed through non-lethal means. The county has tried using a fake bird moved around daily by maintenance staff and hanging a vulture effigy to scare the birds away, but they keep returning.
"They are some of the most persistent things I’ve seen in a while. You can go up there and scare them off and they just roost and do what they do again," Commissioner Steve Dershem said.
Pipe said the 911 tower next to the Willowbank Building is among the highest points in Bellefonte and a natural congregating space for the birds, while the amount of trees and forested areas nearby keep them well-fed.
Vultures are drawn to things like rubber roofing material, shingles and rubber on cars, though why isn't well understood. They rarely actually eat the material, and it may be a social activity or because the material has the consistency of animal hides.
The deterrent system is expected to be in place on the Willowbank Building by mid-fall.
"We come in peace with the black vultures, so we look for an amicable solution to this," Pipe said. "We think we’ve reached it today."
Added Commissioner Mark Higgins, "I think you’d file this under 'never a dull day.'"