COVENTRY TWP.: The island on West Reservoir is home to a growing problem.
About 70 pairs of double-crested cormorants — long-necked, goose-sized, fish-eating birds — are nesting in about 20 trees on the island that sits south of State Mill Road. And those birds, known for their deadly droppings, might be wearing out their welcome at Portage Lakes State Park.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said Monday it intends to begin using harassment methods, including noise makers, in the next few weeks to scare away some of the cormorants.
State personnel will fire nonlethal blanks from a starters’ pistol from 150 feet away from shore three or four times a day “to keep the cormorants moving,” Portage Lakes State Park manager James Seikel said.
The noise-making devices will be used as soon as the birds return from their winter migration, likely in the next week or two, he said. The goal is to reduce, not eliminate, their numbers.
The noise makers will be used for about four weeks until the cormorants lay eggs, he said.
Lasers and other harassment techniques, including pyrotechnics, also might be used to thwart the cormorants, the state said.
Seikel said neighbors might notice the banging sounds, but the plan was designed not to create a major problem for residents.
If the tactics are successful and the cormorants depart the West Reservoir island, the state has virtually no control over where they end up.
“We hope they will decide to stay in the state park, but perhaps in an area where they would have less impact on the human population,” Seikel said.
Neighbors will be glad
Neighbors, like Doug Coutts, said they will be glad to see the birds removed or reduced.
“The problem is that they have been gradually increasing in population and are creating a health hazard in the area,” he said. “They nest in the trees on the island, and their [droppings are] destroying the place.”
The problem: The cormorants’ abundant droppings are highly acidic and kill off other vegetation. It also can foul the lake waters.
Cormorants nest at only five other locations in Ohio: on three Lake Erie islands, at a quarry near Columbus and at a wildlife refuge in Mercer County.
Federal and state wildlife agencies continue to shoot the cormorants on the three Lake Erie islands. That action cannot be taken safely in the Portage Lakes. Other options, including cutting all the trees on the West Reservoir island, have been discussed.
“It is dramatically obvious if you look at the south end of the island where the nesting trees are located and see all the white-stained foliage below the nests,” Coutts said of the damage. “Many of the former nesting trees are dead. Some have fallen and are laying in the water.”
The birds’ droppings appear to be killing off some of the island’s vegetation, he said.
“It’s in bad shape,” Coutts said.
Neighbors generally try to avoid the area because the water around the island is fouled, he said. They also have learned to keep a watchful eye when they are outdoors because they frequently are nailed with droppings as the cormorants fly to and from the nests.
The birds often roost on wooden outdoor decks throughout the Portage Lakes that then are stained with the whitish droppings from the birds.
“There is no easy answer, and it’s a real dilemma for the state,” said Coutts, a retired school administrator. “It’s a strange scenario. No one is to blame, but no one seems to know what to do. It’s a tough one.”
The first 12 cormorants appeared on the West Reservoir island in 2005. Federal and state wildlife staffers have been monitoring the birds’ growing numbers.
The migratory birds typically return to their nests in late March or early April.
Two years ago, the birds also nested briefly at Rex Lake in New Franklin, but those nests disappeared the following year, said Geoff Westerfield of the state’s Division of Wildlife.
Since 2006, the state has used sharpshooters to control and reduce the cormorant population on three Lake Erie islands: Green Island, owned by the state; West Sister Island, part of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge; and Turning Point Island, a man-made island in Sandusky harbor. About 6,500 of the birds were shot last spring, 3,500 in 2011 and 2,200 in 2010.
Green Island still has about 370 pairs of cormorants, West Sister has about 2,400 pairs; and Turning Point about 1,165 pairs.
Inland, there are 30 pairs of cormorants in Mercer County and 43 pairs in Franklin County, the state said.
Younger cormorants tend to roost in large numbers at other lakes, including Mogadore Reservoir in Portage County, Berlin Reservoir at the Portage-Stark-Mahoning county line and other Portage Lakes in southern Summit County, but they don’t nest there.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.