A California City Overrun With Crows Turns to Lasers and a Boombox to Scare Them Away

City employees will spend an hour every night shining green lasers and playing corvid distress calls to humanely harass the birds into leaving

Crows fly over a building in California
A murder of crows flies around an apartment building in downtown Sunnyvale, California. Anda Chu / MediaNews Group / The Mercury News via Getty Images

Every evening at dusk, a murder of crows swoops down on the California city of Sunnyvale, cawing loudly and flying over the heads of locals.

"They're very intimidating," resident Katelin Parkos tells NBC Bay Area’s Damian Trujillo. "Very reminiscent of 'The Birds.’”

Sunnyvale residents complain that the city’s 1,000 crows are a nuisance, defecating all over the town, squawking, dive-bombing people outside and scavenging through trash, reports Grace Hase for the Mercury News.

“The streets are basically riddled with crow poo,” Larry Klein, the mayor of Sunnyvale, tells the New York Times’ Alyssa Lukpat.

Later this month, Sunnyvale will begin its crow abatement pilot program, per the Mercury News. Employees will spend an hour every night using green lasers and a boombox playing corvid distress calls to scare them off, per the Times. Lasers will also be handed out to residents and business owners, writes Kiet Do for CBS News.

The city has received some pushback for this plan. Matthew Dodder from the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society tells NBC Bay Area that lasers have the potential to "blind the birds," which he calls a “death sentence.” However, lasers are a humane way to shoo away crows, according to the Humane Society of America.

The city has already tried several other dispersal methods, including reflectors, which were only successful in the daytime, and falconry, which didn’t work either.

A man holds a green laser
Sunnyvale resident Ken Ibbs has used lasers to scare away the crows in his backyard. Anda Chu / MediaNews Group / The Mercury News via Getty Images

Crows are very smart—some can make and use tools, solve puzzles and even recognize human faces. Their intelligence may make scaring them away difficult, so the Humane Society recommends using a combination of methods to disperse large roosts: pyrotechnics, lasers, recorded crow distress calls and even displaying effigies of dead crows, such as fake Halloween decorations. These techniques reinforce the idea that it is unsafe to roost in that area.

Crow numbers grow larger in winter in some areas because crows from colder regions migrate south. The birds will return to their breeding territories in the early spring. 

Despite their potentially annoying behavior, the Times reports the crows pose little health risk to residents.

“You’d have to lick all the crow droppings on a park bench to come even remotely close to catching something from a crow roost,” Kevin J. McGowan, an ornithologist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York, tells the Times. 

Sunnyvale isn’t the only city plagued by crows. Rochester, New York’s winter roost had 20,000 to 30,000 crows in 2021. The city annually uses flashy lights and bird sounds to deter the birds from flocking together, reports James Brown for WXXI News. Similar tactics have been used against crows in Rochester, Minnesota. 

If their efforts fail, however, Sunnyvale’s vice mayor polled Twitter to ask whether a crow-themed celebration would be well-received. Of 452 respondents to the poll, 87 percent responded they would attend.