Christine Cornell is no bird-hater. In fact, she keeps 11 fine feathered friends as pets. But she isn’t so happy about the fake bird noises that have been heard repeatedly by her and her neighbors over the last seven months, coming from a supermarket on Park Avenue near the Weehawken/Union City border.
It was over the past summer, when she was painting the exterior of her Weehawken home, that she noticed something was not right.
First, the songbirds were no longer coming into her yard. And then she heard it: a repetitive, nonstop, seriously displeased bird cry that “came right through the walls of my house,” Cornell said last week.
“It was something angry; something miserable,” she said, and went looking for it. “It wasn’t a mocking bird – they’re more creative than that.” She noticed it seemed to be coming from the direction of the Pathmark on Park Avenue, and she inquired inside.
Cornell said she was told that the noise was a recording of a couple of fighting raptor birds. The raptor noises played in a loop that lasted 30 seconds, then stopped for around 10, then started again; day in and day out. The purpose was to keep the pigeons from roosting in the supermarket’s roof and hanging out in the parking lot.
“They start out chirpy, then they get angrier, and then they go ballistic.” –Susie Ferber
Louder near the houses
The women live on Hudson Place behind the Tower Plaza shopping center on Park Avenue.
In fact, the bird noises actually seem louder near the houses than they do near the supermarket.
Upon investigation, a reporter found that the “angry birds” could be heard softly in the Pathmark parking lot. But as one ascends Hudson Place, the shrieking becomes louder. In front of Cornell’s house, it sounded as if the raptors were in her front yard.
The tape’s effectiveness seemed to extend only to the roof of the supermarket complex, as the adjacent Pathmark sign and telephone wires were full of pigeons (see photo). The roof also contains rows of wire mesh and fake owls perched every 20 feet or so to further deter the feathered foes.
“I went from annoyance, to fury, to resignation,” Cornell said. “I started to feel like I was going a bit insane. People come to my house, I grab them by the collar and scream, ‘Do you hear the birds?’ Then they tell me, ‘Christine, you need to get out more.’ ”
Her neighbor, Ferber, didn’t realize the raptor call was fake at first. She simply thought, “Jeez, the birds in New Jersey are really pissed off about something.”
When she found out the cause, she said, “They started driving me nuts.” She said that she recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a mayor in Lancaster, Calif. who claims that since they began playing soothing, happy song-bird music over the town, crime is down and peace of mind is up. “So if those California birds calm the brain, then fighting birds outside your door might make you into some cast member on the Jersey Shore on a bender,” Ferber said. “And is that the kind of behavior we want in Weehawken? No, we don’t.”
Calling the mayor
Eventually, Cornell made the executive decision to call Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner in December, who immediately investigated. The next day, the raptors stopped – but only temporarily.
“I went outside one day, and I cried ‘Yay! The birds are gone!’ Ferber reported.
But a week and a half later, they were back.
“Again they were taunting me, driving me crazy, and making my life not-so-happy,” Cornell lamented. One day while particularly on edge, she wrote a poem entitled “Ode to the Raptor Bird-call Recording from Tower Plaza.” It begins, “High in the Tower, in a shape never seen, lurks the dreaded Shriek-Hawk-en, with a screech shrill and keen.”
The poem, much like the looping bird call, grows more and more desperate, and finally ends: “Its calls will surround you. To ignore it is vain. So please, cover your ears! (It will drive you insane.)”
On Tuesday, the Reporter contacted Turner to alert him to the re-initiation of the anti-pigeon call. Around four o’clock that day, Cornell reported, “It just stopped!”
She added, “It’s just been so nifty just to have the normal birds come back. I’m buying a feeder today. And you should see the pigeons over Pathmark. I swear they are doing victory laps!”
Turner said, of Pathmark’s efforts with the tape, “It was a very good intention. The problem was this: The pigeons tend to hang around the entrance by the school bus stop. They put it in so there wouldn't be pigeon mess by the entrance.”
He said that after the first time the device was shut off, different employees would see the pigeons and turn it back on. The computer that runs the device is now permanently disconnected and Pathmark is looking into tactics that fall beneath the scope of human hearing, he said.
Pathmark’s local headquarters referred all inquiries to the corporate headquarters, which said Thursday they were unaware of the issue and will look into it.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org