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Migratory ravens plague Suwon

Streets, cars are covered in feces as city solicits help of the public

Jan 30,2018
Hundreds of ravens, right, sit on electric wires in downtown Suwon, where the volume of their feces has become a serious problem. A passenger car, left, is covered with feces. [SUWON CITY GOVERNMENT]
White feces covers the Dongsuwon crossroad in Suwon, Gyeonggi - left by hundreds of ravens that sit on electric wires, creating such a mess that the street cleaners can no longer keep up.

“Once, I was hit by feces when I was walking under those electric wires,” said Hyun Jung-won, a resident in the area.

Suwon is currently experiencing an unkindness of ravens, which spend winters in Korea, migrating south from Siberia and Mongolia in November and returning in March. These ravens are smaller than indigenous Korean species and characteristically live in groups. Normally, they spend December around Suwon, then fly south to Ulsan and Gimje, North Jeolla.

But since 2016, these ravens have started spending all winter around Suwon. At first, there were about 300 of them, but that number soon increased to around 2,500. They spend their days feeding at nearby farmland around Hwaseong or Pyeongtaek, and their nights sitting on electric wires in downtown Suwon.

“Those migratory birds travel for food and to find areas to rest,” said Park Jin-young, a researcher at the Animal Resource Division of the National Institute of Biological Resources. “Suwon fully meets both those factors.”

According to historical records, these birds have in the past preferred places with plenty of food, such as the Taehwa River, Ulsan, and Juksan Plain, Gimje, as well as Suwon, Hwaseong and Pyeontaek. They sleep in forests or reed fields in order to protect themselves from predators like hawks and owls.

One theory is that due to industrialization around Suwon, which wiped out local forests and reed fields, the ravens may have moved into the downtown area to survive. “We don’t have research on this,” said Yu Jung-su, director of Urban Environment Committee of Suwon City Government, “but it is possible that these birds came into the downtown area to hide from predators and avoid cold winds.”

This wasn’t initially a problem, as they eat insects and are therefore a benefit to farmers. But they became a pest themselves when they grew in number, creating noise pollution with their incessant caws as well as waste pollution with their feces.

Complaints to the city government are now regular. “Lots of customers are having complaints because the feces cannot be easily cleaned from cars,” said an employee at a car washing center near the Dongsuwon crossroad.

Once, the birds even caused a power blackout. Last February, the blackout occurred around buildings in Ingye-dong, Suwon, and lasted for 15 minutes. “We suspect that a raven sat between a switch and an electric wire, causing a short circuit,” said a spokesman from the Korea Electric Power Corporation.

Due to continuous complaints from citizens, Suwon City Government issued a warning for 20 spots where the birds often appear. The city also formed an urgent cleaning team for damaged vehicles in and around those areas. “We go around starting at 5 a.m. for four hours, cleaning vehicles and shooing birds away,” said Kim Sung-duk, the captain of the team, which is known as the Migratory Bird Mobile Team. Suwon City Government is now encouraging citizens to help analyze the migratory path of the birds. If someone uploads a picture of migratory birds or areas where they appear on Suwon City’s Facebook account, (http://www.facebook.com/suwonloves), the Suwon City Government will reward them. “We can gather some information on those migratory birds with photos and citizen participation,” said Park Du-hyun, manager of the city’s Urban Environment Committee, “and find a solution for damages incurred by these birds.”

BY CHOI MO-RAN [choi.sooyoung@joongang.co.kr]


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