DAUPHIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Tracy Brown understands why someone would want to live along Trinidad Avenue, next to ZooAmerica and across from Hersheypark.
“These are some of the oldest homes in Hershey, and the chocolate workers used to live here,” she said.
Too attractive, perhaps, for the wrong new residents of the area within Derry Township?
“Derry is a great place to live, and unfortunately the black vultures like it here as well,” Chris Christman, the township manager said.
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Countless black vultures, Brown says. The first dozen or so came a few years ago and were manageable. Whatever they liked about the place, word spread throughout the vulture community to the point where Brown estimates the black vultures now number perhaps a thousand.
No one knows for sure how many there are, but everyone agrees the vultures are killing trees, roofs, and (with their poop) car paint jobs — damage car and home insurers have declined to cover, Brown, said.
Why? “They say it’s not an act of God, and there’s just no coverage for it,” Brown said.
But didn’t God create the vultures? “You’d think, right?” she answered.
And although vultures generally scavenge, they’ve also been known to kill small animals: Brown guesses it’s no coincidence that a colony of feral cats is gone or — even more suspiciously — that a rabbit dropped from the sky, according to another neighbor’s report.
No one knows for sure either what attracted the vultures to the area. An early neighborhood theory focused on the zoo — more precisely, the zoo’s carnivore’s meals, which might be appetizing to vultures too.
But Brown says zoo leaders told her they doubted that (“Our naturalists confirmed that the vultures do not eat the food we put out for our animals and carnivores like the bears are fed indoors where the vultures don’t have access,” the zoo’s owner, Hershey Entertainment, told abc27 Monday) and she has come around to believing them.
“There’s really only two carnivorous animals that are in open exhibits,” Brown said. “And I just don’t think they have enough of a food source to draw this amount of vultures.”
Another neighbor, who didn’t want to speak on camera, said he suspected the birds’ presence had something to do with the zoo but said the zoo has generally been a good neighbor.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 prohibits neighbors from harming the birds, and humane methods of encouraging them to move elsewhere — loud noises and spikes on roofs — haven’t worked.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) can help but — Brown says — was leery of showing up uninvited by township officials, who initially told Brown they weren’t sure they could do anything.
But Brown — who insists she’s not a vulture expert but sure knows a lot about vultures — persevered, studying successful efforts to repel vultures in other areas. Those triumphs provided a template for Derry.
“We just learned recently that we can work cooperatively with the USDA directly,” Christman, the township manager, said. Monday afternoon, he accompanied a USDA researcher on a factfinding mission — led by Brown — around the neighborhood. The researcher declined to speak on camera but will speak publicly at a township meeting at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, Oct. 12.
The zoo said it has already been working with the feds.
“Since 2019, we have been working closely under the protocols set by [USDA], which calls for the birds to be trapped and then removed by personnel from the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” the statement read. “We continue to remain in contact with them as we utilize various other methods of management to discourage the vultures from roosting at ZooAmerica.”
Christman said he hopes all the cooperation causes the unwelcome newcomers to found Derry a little less attractive.
“We’re hopeful that through our efforts with the USDA, we’ll continue to move forward and help them move along to another area that they may find comfortable as well,” he said.