Falconer Dan Vitilio, who resides in Kingsville, Maryland, provides hawks for various purposes. Under a potential deal with Baltimore County, this Harris's hawk may be used to scare away unwanted birds from the county landfill after a trial run. Photo by John Lee.

On any given day, hundreds of birds gather at Baltimore County’s landfill in White Marsh, an unincorporated community just west of aptly named Bird River which drains into Gunpowder River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. These massive flocks of birds from a murder of crows to a colony of seagulls are doing what birds do: pooping and eating, then dropping landfill trash in nearby neighborhoods.

And that’s not a fun reality for residents, good for environmental water quality, or the sanity of neighbors. So Baltimore County officials are considering hiring some aerial muscle to frighten away the nuisance birds.

Early last year, Dan Vitilio, who lives in nearby Kingsville, made a trip to the landfill to dump some trash and saw hundreds of birds, gorging and dropping their calling cards.

“A lot of cars go over there,” said Vitilio, who has been a master falconer for more than 40 years. “Homeowners drop their trash off and they have to go to the car wash after because that’s how bad the birds are just messing everywhere.”

While at the landfill, Vitilio made county officials an offer.

“He came out and I think he was dumping one day at the landfill and he was like ‘there are birds everywhere and I know that my hawk could help with this,” said Nick Rodricks, the chief of the county’s solid waste management bureau. “So at the time we’re like, yeah definitely if you want to come show us how it works that would be really neat.”

Rodricks said it’s a mix of birds that belly up to the landfill table, including seagulls, crows, grackles and the occasional protected bird of prey – bald eagle.

“We don’t like to have a ton of birds around because they do poop on stuff and also they will carry materials elsewhere,” Rodricks, the county director said. “So we want to keep all of the trash at the landfill. We don’t want it to fly elsewhere and the birds do a good job of that.”

In March 2022, Vitilio brought his four-year-old Harris’s Hawk for a one day ‘patrol’ of the sky around the landfill. It’s a bird born in Texas, dark brown with yellow legs and beak, as well as chestnut red on its wings. The hawk wasn’t there to kill. It was there to send a message to its brethren up to no good.

Vitilio said the hawk flew from one place at the landfill to another.

“So they might hit a tree then fly to a building then they might fly to a tractor that’s on the property. So we just keep them on the ground basically. But every time they fly, every bird knows what is danger and what’s not.”

Vitilio said when birds see the hawk’s wings flapping they “say, ok, we’ve got to get out of Dodge.”

Read more at WYPR.

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