Some of Leesburg's most unruly visitors returned this winter, creating in their wake a trail of knocked-over grills, stolen windshield wipers and stripped trees.
Vultures, sometimes congregating in packs of 200 or so, have once again taken over the town of about 42,000 people. As in past years, they arrived in September. But this time, they're refusing to leave.
There is little Leesburg officials can do about the birds because the turkey vulture and American black vulture are among 800 species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916. So the town has called in federal agents, who will arrive Monday with lasers, screeching fireworks and other tools to disperse the birds of prey.
Some of the tools federal officials will use to run off the vultures:
"I wouldn't say I see them in large packs, but where there's one, there's usually at least three more," said Leesburg resident Erin Lee. "They're usually hanging out in groups of three to six in the trees outside my apartment window or flying around in circles."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services is dispatching vulture dispersers to Leesburg for the second time in seven years to deal with the problem.
In addition to pyrotechnics, the federal agents will hang dead vultures -- and some fake vultures -- from trees and telephone poles as a warning to the others, agency spokeswoman Carol Bannerman said. Vultures don't typically prey on their own, she said, so the hanging birds are one of the more effective means of ridding a town of its unwanted guests.
"We see them every year," said Leesburg Police Lt. Jeffrey A. Dube. "They're a health hazard and a nuisance for property owners."
The feds will focus their dispersal efforts between Mayfair Drive and Plaza Street, the birds' new home, starting Monday about 4 p.m. and continuing throughout much of the week.
The birds have highly acidic droppings, an agency handout says, and they regurgitate a "reeking and corrosive vomit as a natural defense." This, coupled with the vultures' sharp beaks, often creates conflict between them and their human neighbors. The acidic fluids can peel paint off homes and cars, emit unpleasant odors and can even cause power outages if done on electrical units, the handout says.
Lee said the birds aren't a nuisance to all residents, however.
"I don't have a problem with them," Lee said. "They are not supposed to be pretty, they are supposed to eat dead things. People hit enough deer and raccoons on [Route] 15 that you'd think the free cleanup crew would be welcome."