Caution: angry crows with long memories

Crow-rich Pacific Northwest can breathe a sigh of relief

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With attack-of-the-crows season finally over, city dwellers in the crow-rich Pacific Northwest can breathe a sigh of relief. Yes, spring in these parts has come to mean more than just cherry blossoms; it’s also fledge season, when the abundant regional crow population teaches its young to fly. With baby crows—surely some of the ugliest young Mother Nature has ever produced—tottering about on city sidewalks and lawns, their anxious, protective parents turn, for a spell, into winged maniacs, dive-bombing any human or dog who unwittingly steps too close.

For two weeks in June, a 75-m stretch of sidewalk outside Maclean’s Vancouver bureau was closed to human traffic: “Watch for attacking crows,” read the vaguely terrifying warning.

With reports of dive-bombings and other crow-human interactions on the rise in Seattle and Vancouver, some have begun wondering why. For starters, say experts, there are simply a lot more of them. Crow populations are up thirtyfold since the 1970s in some cities—what University of Washington zoologist John Marzluff has termed an “urban invasion.” In Victoria, North America’s crow capital, the population is up more than 500 per cent: 10,000 now call the B.C. capital home.

Marzluff, however, says urban crow encounters have little to do with population increases. In rural areas, crows have grown wary of humans—and their guns. But their brassy city cousins think nothing of stealing food or chasing humans, who are more than 150 times their weight. “Keep moving” when being attacked, Marzluff counsels, and “don’t let them get a good fix on you.” Crows remember faces, he explains. And, says Candace Savage, author of Crows: Encounters With the Wise Guys, “they learn from one another—so the next generation also recognize you as a potential threat.”