Great news! Wacky balloons keep vultures from pooping on water towers in Rochester

This balloon man is the hero we need right now.

This balloon man is the hero we need right now. WCCO

These are serious times. The Midterms are mere hours away. Every candidate is either drowning in money from third parties or lingering allegations of past misdeeds or both. Every friend and their grandmother has screamed at you to vote. By now, you may have voted already.

It is incredibly, inescapably, disastrously important.

But for a moment, tear your eyes away from all that and behold the simple elegance that is the Rochester public works department’s latest solution to a messy problem.

The Apache Mall water tower, visible from Highway 52, unassuming with its onion-shaped top and its sky-high view of a parking lot, was a thorn in the city’s side. Through no fault of its own, it and its fellow water towers had become popular spots for the city’s robust turkey vulture population to, well, relieve themselves.

Turkey vultures are beefy, bald-headed, gloomy-looking scavenger birds that feed almost exclusively on dead animals and trash. Their eyesight is also very keen, which makes water towers ideal places to scout out freshly departed prey. Or, you know, a pile of garbage. Whatever’s on hand.

That in and of itself isn’t a problem. But all the vulture poop is. It costs several thousand dollars in taxpayer money to clean the thing.

Rochester Public Works (which didn’t respond to interview requests) tried everything to stop the vultures from taking a dump on government property. For a while, they tried putting boomboxes blasting loud music atop the water tower in an attempt to scare them off. When that didn’t work, they tried some of those inflatable Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, the vultures just did what most disgruntled neighbors fantasize about doing: They popped them.

That’s when one public works employee had an idea. The inflatables were all well and good, but what really scares a bird is motion.

So it came to pass that the city’s water towers were topped with floppy arm-flailing balloon men -- the kind you’d find in a used car lot. These immediately scared the bejesus out of the vultures and have kept the towers safe since.

The balloon men cost only about $100 apiece and a little bit of electricity to run, which pales in comparison to the $3,000 or $4,000 it takes to clean the water tower, according to WCCO’s report. If you squint, you can see them bobbing and flapping in the wind, goofy smiles plastered on their faces.

In a week, the balloon men will come down for the winter. They will return to their posts once the snow melts, and continue heroically flapping away.