By Joe Beck
The bird cannon is gone, and the black vultures have returned to the Jamestown Road and Cavalier Drive neighborhood in Front Royal.
The police department's experiment with using a booming cannon to prod the unwanted birds into finding a different perch came to an end when neighbors complained about the noise.
Chief Norman Shiflett is taking some consolation that fewer vultures are being seen in the neighborhood than a few months ago.
"I don't believe there are as many vultures as there were before we put the cannon in place," Shiflett said.
The vultures arrive dependably every evening around dusk and roost in a stand of pine trees next to a long vacant house. They take to the sky in the morning in search of animal carcasses to feed on and return again in the evening.
Police rolled out the bird cannon a little over a month ago after years of complaints by neighbors upset over vulture droppings as well as the birds' smell and unsightly appearance.
Kelly Walker, a neighborhood resident, said last week she noticed about a dozen vultures back in the trees after the bird cannon disappeared.
Walker said the booming of the cannon every few minutes in the early evening seemed to be working, and she appreciated the police effort.
"We heard it pretty loud where I am," Walker said of the cannon. " It is annoying, but it was worth going through that if it got rid of all those birds because they are more annoying."
Walker said she lost sight in one eye during childhood as a result of a disease that her doctors believed was carried by a bird. She worries that her three dogs may be making contact with vulture droppings that could produce illness for them or her.
"They leave droppings out in the corner of my yard," Walker said of the vultures. "Who knows if it's something that would carry to the dogs or not, but it's just a mess."
Shiflett sees a couple of glimmers of hope for the besieged neighborhood.
The vultures have a history of leaving every year in March for parts unknown and returning months later, he said.
But the best remaining option is for the new owner of the vacant house to cut down the pine tree roosts, Shiflett said, although the vultures have also been roosting in trees on adjoining property.
Melissa McWhinney said the wind blows feathers into her yard from the roosting area across the street. She doubts the vultures will ever leave.
"Unfortunately, I'm resigned they're going to be there," McWhinney said. "I do hope somebody does something about it, but I'm not sure what the answer is."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org