Sunnyvale deploys laser, crow effigies to disperse pesky bird population

Utilizing a green handheld laser pointer, a boombox, and crow effigies hung from trees, the city of Sunnyvale deployed new tactics to rid the city of the abundant crow population, which has become a nuisance during the pandemic.

Monday evening, a Sunnyvale city employee held a green laser pointer aimed at tree branches, a soft launch for a pilot program the city is testing nightly over the next few weeks. Prior attempts to hang reflective objects in trees and even bringing a licensed falconer with a hawk to downtown Sunnyvale proved fruitless in getting the city's large flocks of crows to leave.

"In the years past, there were hundreds of crows. Now, we're looking at thousands," Mike Johnson, the executive director of the Sunnyvale Downtown Association said.

Outdoor diners have seen their plates of food ruined by bird droppings, and the white droppings have become so overwhelming on downtown city streets and sidewalks, the city increased street cleanings to multiple times a week.

Sunnyvale mayor Larry Klein is optimistic the green laser, combined with crow effigies hung in trees, and a boombox playing "the sounds of birds in distress," may effectively scare the crows out of town. In a few weeks, he says the city will evaluate the results.

"Just looking how it's worked in other locations, it will scare some of the crows away," Klein said. "We don't care about all of them, we just care about moving a good portion of them along."

The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society worries the laser could be a hazard for aircraft flying in the night sky, and could potentially leave the crows permanently blind.

"If the birds are blinded, they won't be able to fly or feed properly, and then we've got avian casualties to worry about," Matthew Dodder, the executive director of SCVAS said.

Klein noted that the city staff are trained to point the laser away from planes and people, and will target branches, not the crows directly, to reduce harm.

The laser, just $20, is small in scale, though restaurants along Murphy Avenue are hopeful it has a big impact on scaring flocks of birds away.

"We've got to start somewhere, right?" Amit Rajgarhia the district manager at Dishdash restaurant, along Murphy Avenue, said. "I think small is good, and see if there's any improvement."