The cars and homes of Leesburg residents appear safe -- for now -- after what residents are calling a successful five-day vulture dispersal effort by the federal government.
The town of about 42,000 had been plagued by 200 or more vultures since September. The birds congregated on rooftops, trees and telephone poles, and their acidic droppings have damaged roofs and cars. All the while, the birds knocked over backyard grills and ripped windshield wipers off cars.
But town officials could do little to get rid of the birds because the vultures are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916. So the town called in federal agents with screeching fireworks, dead vultures on a rope and other tools to do it for them.
Now, nearly two weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services unit concluded its dispersal effort, residents say they aren't seeing many of the vultures.
"They haven't been back," said Jessica Paulin, whose trees had been overtaken by the birds. "But the smell of them is still lingering in the backyard."
Vultures, known for their acidic droppings, were a concern to Paulin because her 1-year-old daughter is at a stage where she "puts everything in her mouth," she said. The family rarely played outside during the birds' four-month stay.
"We've started going back out into the backyard now," Paulin said. "I'm just wondering when they're going to come back."
Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Dage Blixt, who helped rid Leesburg of its vultures, said the birds typically don't return in significant numbers once a dispersal effort is complete.
And just in case the birds do try to come back, agents left a few dead vultures hanging by rope from trees and telephone poles in the area to scare them off, Blixt said. The agency typically uses the hanging dead birds, along with fireworks, to disperse the vultures.
"Our goal was to push them to an area where they wouldn't cause a problem," Blixt said. "So far, it's been successful."
The vultures are attracted to Leesburg because it's a quiet, low-population town away from the city, agency spokeswoman Carol Bannerman said. The town's tall trees are one of the primary reasons the vultures return every year, but even if there were no trees, the birds would likely head for a water tower or telephone pole in the area, she said.
"The vultures seem to be gone," said Leesburg resident Shelley Wilson, who has only seen the birds return once, but in large numbers, since the dispersal effort. "But it wouldn't surprise me if they returned next winter."