Dead crows found in Hornell were not poisoned

Rob Montana

Humans weren't responsible for the dead crows found near Upper Glen Avenue.

The initial belief was that the birds may have been poisoned, because DEC Environmental Conservation Officer Tom Flaitz said last week there was no evidence of the crows being shot. He also said West Nile Virus was not believed to be the case.

West Nile may not have been the culprit, but another virus was.

Region 8's Supervising EnCon officer, Lt. Pete Barton, said this morning the crows died as a result of reovirus. The avian virus not only struck birds in Steuben County, but also in Albany, Dutchess, Jefferson, Montgomery and Orange counties. The total die-off wasn't available, but is estimated in the hundreds.

“They're finding it in crows across New York,” Barton said. “It's not a problem for people health-wise, but the department recommends people use gloves or a shovel to pick up dead birds and put them in a bag.”

A dozen dead birds were bagged from two sites on Upper Glen Avenue on Dec. 26 and sent off to the state Department of Environmental Conservation lab in Delmar for testing.

Ward Stone, DEC wildlife pathologist, confirmed the test results in a press release.

“The particular strain of this illness attacks the birds' intestinal system and is spread through bird fecal matter,” he said in a prepared statement. “Winter provides prime conditions for spreading the virus, as crows concentrate in large roosts during the cold weather.”

Hornell has had issues with large groups of crows - technically termed murders - in the city of late. City officials have been using various methods - such as using fireworks and police sirens - to scare the birds from downtown neighborhoods. Mayor Shawn Hogan said the latest area of the city the crows have found to take up residence is on his street, Mays Avenue.

“They've taken up residence in a couple big pine trees near one of my neighbor's homes,” Hogan said this morning. “They were chirping up a storm last night.”

While the city has been doing a good job of shaking the crows from their preferred roosting sites, he said they birds have done a good job of moving around.

“We're just going to continue to harass them,” Hogan said, “and hopefully we'll outlast them.”

The virus is not connected to West Nile, Stone said, adding the strain of reovirus isn't likely to be contracted by humans. The samples, nonetheless, will also be tested by the state health department to determine any human impact.

According to information from the DEC over the last decade, the U.S. National Wildlife Health Center has reported several strains of reovirus in various birds, especially the American woodcock. Officials in Ontario, Canada, also have noted its appearance there. In the last few years, a small number of crows in New York were felled by a strain of the virus. But this winter marks the largest die-off, Stone said in the release.

Residents are advised to report any unusual bird mortalities to DEC Regional offices, and, if disposing dead birds, should use rubber or plastic gloves, or a double plastic bag used as a glove.