Church frustrated with this particular ‘flock’

The tower that mirrors the steeple at First Baptist Church has become a roost for dozens of vultures.
Staff Writer

Most ministers want to see their “flock” grow.

But Rev. Dale Funderburg, the pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown West Point, has a flock he’d just soon would go away.

For more than six weeks now, the church has been dealing with a growing number of turkey vultures, commonly known as buzzards, who have decided to call the transmission tower located just west of the church as a roost.

At any given time of day or night, from five or six to dozens of the scavengers can be seen sitting on the tower rails, flying or flittering in and out in various stages of landing or taking off or circling nearby.

While momentarily appealing, the birds quickly have mad a mess — literally and figuratively — of things, leaving their droppings on cars, walkways, the church’s day school playground and anything else under their seating or flying patterns.

“They’ve grown exponentially in recent weeks. As a church and pastor, we normally invite everyone to come…we didn’t mean buzzards,” Funderburg said of the birds.
“You can’t even go outside, we can’t use our playground, it’s a hazard to cars, people, anything,” the pastor added. “I hate to say it, but it’s not the kind of congregation we want.”

“A woman came in here the other day and made me come look at her car. It was really a mess,” said West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson, who is a member of the church and has been consulting on various solutions. You just wouldn’t believe what it’s done to people and cars. It sounds funny but it's not, not at all."

The tower is owned by Crown Castle which leases space on it to AT&T and other communications companies.

The tower is an old-style design and is much wider than newer ones. That is more inviting to the birds because of the wide rails and ample roosting areas.

At first church members thought the birds might just be migrating through. Time has proven that wish wrong.
 So many have come that they’ve also started roosting in nearby trees and some buildings across South Division and other perches in the area.

“I noticed Sunday afternoon that tree along South Division was just black with them,” Funderburg described.

“The people at the tower company say they deal with this all the time, especially with these older towers,” he added.

The solution is not a simple one. Buzzards are a protected species in the United States under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918.

That means dealing with them must meet certain standards.

Funderburg and the tower owners have been in constant consultations with the wildlife management arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

The first solution is to hang effigies of buzzards upside down on the tower. Apparently buzzards don’t like the sight of dead buzzards and are scared away.

But the effigies have to be ordered and they take four to six weeks to make and have delivered.

That means more waiting.

And even then there’s no guarantee the plan will work.
Plan two would be to put spikes all along the rails so they can’t land. That would be an extensive and expensive process.
A trained marksman isn’t allowed under federal guidelines, much less city ordinances.

“It’s a nightmare,” Funderburg sighed.

The church has not had a problem like this with the tower in the past. A few pigeons called it home once but they eventually dispersed. Three owls roosted there once but moved on.

“I’d take the owls back at this point. I’m told the buzzards wouldn’t stay if there owls were there,” the minister said.

Funderburg isn’t quite ready to turn over the Christmas sermon to a prayer to excommunicate the intruders. But he hasn’t ruled out including it in some New Year’s wishes.
“I hate to wish this on anyone, but I wish they’d go in smaller numbers to someplace else,” he lamented.