Raptors Prey on Neighbors' Nerves

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 20, 2006

Ted Hart isn't too fond of the flesh-eating vultures that live on his roof. Their droppings are everywhere, they destroy chimneys with their hulking frames, and they frighten his 14-year-old daughter so much that she doesn't like to walk outside anymore.

The solution in some places would be to grab a shotgun and call it a day.

But in Columbia, the planned community that prides itself as the definition of progressive living, anything that would harm the birds is off the table. Hart said the vultures might be "encouraged" to leave, but not by any show of violence.

"We are a community that is going to respect the fact that the birds have a right to be here," said Hart, president of the homeowners association of the Gables at Columbia. "We're not going to jump to the most mean-spirited, hateful option, even though it might be expedient."

In the few weeks since hundreds of turkey and black vultures swarmed the subdivision -- which is actually one cul-de-sac, Carriage House Lane, lined with 56 townhouses -- residents have consulted ornithological experts, researched the intricacies of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act and discussed the impact of suburbanization on the species.

They have decided only that any real decision must be carried out the Columbia way, which is to say slowly, deliberatively and with extreme sensitivity to the environment.

"We're the intruders here," said Alan Lee, 56, vice president of the board. "Yes, the vultures eat dead animals. But so do most of the homeowners here, and we don't hold it against them."

But all of this touchy-feely talk about comity with animals doesn't mean that most residents here actually like the vultures.

Lee Budar-Danoff, 39, has had to wash her silver Honda four times in the past week because the voluminous vulture excrement deposited on the windshield made it difficult to see. Nearby roofs are stained with green-and-white splotches of feces. And the birds terrify some youngsters.

"I want them to fly away right now!" said her 3-year-old daughter, Noelani. "They're not my friends."

Budar-Danoff, who is also a board member, said she knows vultures mostly scavenge for carrion along nearby Route 175, but a part of her still worries that the birds might somehow end up hunting live prey.

"If their food supply goes away, what are they going to turn to?" she said, glancing down at Bear, her excitable Lhasa apso. "Small dogs and cats could be at risk." Wildlife experts, though, said vultures almost never eat live animals.

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