The birds: ‘WQYK has kept them away’

As vultures circled my house overhead. And a flock of orioles foraged in the back yard later in the day. I wondered if they also read my story about the turkey vultures in downtown Tampa.

By Jared Leone

DOWNTOWN — Lisa Shasteen is toasting success.

For years, turkey vultures lined the ledges of the Floridan Hotel, but with some creativity and perseverance, they are gone.

For now.

Meanwhile, Betty Croft, just a few blocks away, isn’t so happy.

She first thought the evidence came from pigeons. White droppings dotted the sidewalk, sign and brick facade at the top of the Verizon building were she works.

Then while walking from the parking lot into the office a couple of months ago, she looked up and realized the “pigeons” were turkey vultures, believed to be the same ones that used to live at the Floridan.

While smoking a cigarette under a pavilion this week, Croft said: “It’s a mess.”

Turkey vultures have found roosts along high-rises downtown for years, leaving their nasty business behind and forcing building owners to battle the aviary assault. When one owner would get rid of them, they simply would find a home atop another building.

From the Floridan to the county courthouse back to the Floridan to Verizon.

In 2005, Tony Markopoulos purchased the aging Floridan for $6 million with plans to bring the 19-story building back to its Roaring Twenties luster.

But first, the vultures.

“The birds were a problem when we walked in,” said Shasteen, a real estate lawyer working with the developer. “When we first acquired the building, the stench on the sidewalk was really noticeable. And something had to be done.”

Their strategy?

Shasteen, a self-described animal lover, wanted to approach the situation as humanely as possible.

First, workers ran around the roof trying to scare the birds away, and installed inflatable snowmen. Next came the needlelike, metal spike strips as deterrents to landing, and a boom box blaring country music.

They haven’t been back this season. “WQYK has kept them away,” Shasteen said.

• • •

Eric Tillman, a wildlife biologist with the USDA National Wildlife Research Center in Gainesville, gets thousands of calls this time of year from homeowners and building tenants trying to cope with turkey vultures.

They like to soar high without having to flap their wings. The strong, warm winds that stream by the skyscrapers are perfect to help with takeoff and flight.

The birds are smart, too. Products like fake owls and balloons are like dud grenades.

They can’t be shot like giant skeet targets. The birds are protected by federal law. They can be shot only with permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tillman recommends metal spike strips. Other weapons are electrified tracks that send shocks to the birds, motion-activated sprinklers, and a “coyote roller,” a device that makes it difficult for animals to grab a foothold on fences.

But getting rid of vultures takes time.

“These birds are very habitual and once they find a comfortable roosting site they want to return there,” Tillman said. “It can take a week or two weeks before they find a new location.”

For the most part, turkey vultures are migratory and spend October through March here, coming down from as far north as Canada. Many, though, take up residence in Florida year-round.

Loud music can work, Tillman said, but the birds will likely come back within a couple of days.

• • •

Roy Stokes has worked security detail at the Sam M. Gibbons Federal Courthouse for 12 years. He is no stranger to these winged beasts. When the courthouse opened in 1998, the raptors started roosting on its concrete ledges.

Judges said the birds would land outside their windows, sometimes crash into the glass and often leave half-eaten carcasses of small animals on the ledges.

Officials tried to get rid of them by broadcasting the simulated cry of dying turkey vultures. Success came when they used electric wires that mildly shocked the landing birds.

Now, many of the birds perch on the Verizon logo and on ledges of the company’s adjacent 17- and 10-story buildings at Zack and Morgan streets. Droppings paint the sidewalks and the logo sign.

Bob Elek, Verizon spokesman, said this is the first time the birds have roosted here.

But Elek, who has worked downtown for 11 years, is familiar with the flock. “They’re legend.”

The company is fighting back. Officials have installed spike strips across some ledges and signs on the buildings. They put up dummy vultures, too.

The tactics are helping. The sidewalk doesn’t need to be pressure cleaned week in and week out, as it had. But many birds remain, sitting mostly with their backs facing their old hotel home.

Shasteen knows they could return: “We are actually in detente. It is a friendly standoff. We are hopeful yet vigilant.”

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or

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