The big, ugly birds are gone, but probably not for good. After four weeks of shooting noise-making blanks to scare off vultures, Sun City Center residents say they haven't seen the birds in several weeks.
"It's been very effective," resident Earl Dickey said. "But I'm sure they're going to come back a few at a time. They're not going to give up that easy."
Dickey said he expects to see the vultures again when birds start migrating south in the fall.
"The minute one shows up, there will be more firing," resident Ewing Smith said.
Last month, members of the Middle Lake homeowners association bought a second-hand gun and pellets for about $400 and started shooting blanks after vultures began destroying roofs, television antennas and porch furniture and leaving behind thick layers of droppings. A U.S. Department of Agriculture official taught residents how to use the equipment. They still have some ammunition left over.
"We don't want them to think this is a good place to return to," Dickey said.
Smith said about 200 of the 4-pound birds flew away when they fired the first rounds. But some of the vultures returned to their roosts on the island in Moon Lake. The residents kept firing more blanks until all the birds left earlier this month.
Smith said he thinks there are several vultures that scout the island to make sure it's safe for the others to return.
Some residents were concerned that the blanks might scare off other birds as well, but Smith said that hasn't happened. He said he sees the same wood stork and osprey he has always seen in the trees.
"For some reason, the other birds seem to know who's after who and who the bad boys are," he said.
Dickey said newspapers, radio stations and television stations all around the country ran stories about the vulture problem. A friend in Atlanta sent Dickey a copy of the story from a local newspaper and attached a letter saying he had planned to visit the Dickeys but decided not to after reading about the gruesome birds.
"He was joking of course," Dickey said.