SCHENECTADY — The colors shimmered on a crisp, golden morning — a picture-perfect image of an urban autumn.
But along with the Halloween decorations — cobwebs, pumpkins and lawn ornaments emitting an occasional automated cackle — a more dreary reminder of the season’s ominous hue loomed over the neighborhood.
Birds, dozens of them, perched on a three-story home, solemn guardians of Sumner Avenue.
“There’s a ton of birds,” said Rima Cerrone.
They’ve not only taken up residence on the building, but also dart in and out of the exposed roofing.
“I can hear them squirm once in a while,” Cerrone said. “Some of them keep getting stuck and pieces of the house fall down.”
Residents have taken to calling the building “the bird house.”
“This is a continuous problem over there,” Cerrone said. “It’s not healthy at all.”
The peculiar situation is unfolding as the city is taking an aggressive approach to combat blight, demolishing disintegrating buildings across the city and working with developers to erect affordable housing.
But city departments often continue to struggle to get their arms around rundown homes and code violations.
Reactions from nearby homeowners, most of whom didn’t want to be identified in order to preserve neighborhood harmony, ran the gamut from irritation to eye-rolling amusement.
“There’s no question about it: There’s a hell of a lot of pigeons living in that house,” said a neighbor who has lived on the street for decades. “Yes, it’s a problem.”
Another said he hasn’t noticed anything unusual.
“We’ve never had an issue,” said the man, citing long summertime stretches spent on his front porch.
But after a reporter pointed out the line of pigeons flapping and cooing in the sunlight, he acknowledged that perhaps the sight was slightly unusual.
Cerrone, who serves as president of the 12309 Neighborhood Association and is a candidate for City Council, said their presence has adverse effects.
The house is deteriorating and the winged creatures are attracting larger birds of prey.
The longtime resident agreed, and described watching hawks swoop through that are “big enough to pick up a dog.”
“It’s a problem, but we live with it,” he said.
Another homeowner said he didn’t find the avian invaders troublesome.
“I’m a nature lover,” he said as chickadees darted in and out of the exposed roof soffits just feet away. “It can be overwhelming, I understand, but it doesn’t bother me.”
Property records paired with an obituary reveal the homeowner died last summer.
While the weather-beaten home appeared to be occupied Friday — a light in the front room was on and a car was in the driveway — no one answered the door, nor did they return a phone call seeking comment after a reporter left a business card on the porch beneath the din of birds rumbling in the walls.
There were no open violations on the property as of Friday morning, nor was there documentation of people calling to complain, according to the city Corporation Counsel’s Office.
But after a call from a reporter, the city Codes Department posted several violations Friday afternoon.
The department previously received a complaint in May 2018, citing “exterior walls,” but no additional information was available in the file.
The home was also cited in 2014 for peeling paint, falling shingles and roof issues, according to records.
The two-family house isn’t the only dwelling in the neighborhood contending with an influx of birds.
Residents are also complaining about a vacant city-owned property at 1726 Rugby Road.
“One day, I counted 15 [pigeons] in my lawn,” said Aurelia Caban, who lives next door. “It bothers me. … I keep chasing them, but they come back again.”
Years of inactivity have allowed the birds to gain access from an unknown entry point.
A reporter went into the house earlier this summer while shadowing a city code inspector, who visited the site as part of a regular round of checks on city-owned properties.
Inside, the floor was dotted with excrement and a dead bird lay on the stove. Upstairs, birds cooed from the attic.
Jerran Brown, professor emeritus at the University at Albany, said birds are attracted to taking shelter in vertical and cave-like surfaces. But he appeared to be in disbelief over the situation in Schenectady.
“I’ve been studying birds for decades and have never heard of pigeons nesting in houses,” Brown said. “It personally sounds like the house is beyond repair.”
Aside from the nuisance, cleaning up pigeon guano from long-vacant buildings can be costly, said David Hogankamp, executive director of the Capital Region Land Bank, citing ongoing renovations at the St. Mary’s church complex on Eastern Avenue.
Years of bird and raccoon activity created an environmental hazard that cost $10,000 to mitigate, he said.
“It’s important to not let it get out of control,” Hogankamp said. “You could be creating a larger bill in the long run by not addressing it immediately.”
Despite the two problem parcels located within a block of each other, city officials said birds taking up residence in city-owned properties isn’t a widespread concern.
“It really is not a big issue in the city,” said city Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn. “We don’t have a large issue with birds, but we take all complaints seriously.”
Caban, the Rugby Road resident, said she has complained numerous times to the city about the property.
“They need to sell it or do something about it,” she said, encouraging a reporter to take some of the birds with him as he left. “This is getting ridiculous.”
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Categories: News, Schenectady County