When Crows Come to Town

To be effective, crow hazing campaigns must be conducted several days in a row in early evening or just before dawn, the times when crows are naturally mobile
By Barbara Pleasant
April/May 2005
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Getting roosting crows to disperse is far from simple.
Photo courtesy Barbara Pleasant

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When Crows Come to Town

Cities and towns from Kansas to New York share a serious problem every winter. Murders (the name for a group of crows) — ranging from 1,000 to 75,000 individual crows — establish winter roosts in street-side trees, making a great ruckus and drenching cars and sidewalks with their droppings. Beyond being messy and odoriferous, the massive amount of droppings may pose a public health hazard.

But getting roosting crows to disperse is far from simple. Trained wildlife-control professionals typically use a combination of harassment techniques including pyrotechnics (exploding shells and firecrackers) and playing tapes of crow death cries and hawk screams at ear-splitting levels. To be effective, crow hazing campaigns must be conducted several days in a row in early evening or just before dawn, the times when crows are naturally mobile. But the plans can backfire when crows forced to abandon a roost next to the county courthouse find a new roost in trees around a church or school.
To avoid such failures, some towns spend thousands of dollars on crow-control specialists. One such firm, Bird Control International, uses a combination of trained hawks and falcons, broadcast distress calls, high-powered spotlights and pyrotechnics to move roosting crows to places where they can better wait out the winter

Eat No Crow

As the saying goes, “eating crow” means enduring a humiliating experience. The story behind the phrase dates back to the War of 1812, when an American hunter shot a crow behind British lines. To disgrace the hunter, a British officer made the hunter eat some of the crow. Later, the tables turned when the hunter regained his musket and forced the Brit to finish off the bird. Crow tastes terrible, largely due to the birds’ eclectic diets. Crows eat more than 600 different foods, and one-third of their diet consists of animal matter. To carnivorous crows, rotting possum carcasses are as delectable as grasshoppers, spiders, frogs or the corn seed you plant in your garden

Is it a Raven or a Crow?

Compared to the clear “caw caw” of a crow, ravens have croakier voices, and they tend to be larger birds, with bodies up to 26 inches long compared to crows’ average length of 17 to 21 inches. All three species of raven native to North America can be distinguished from crows by their broad, wedge-shaped tails (as opposed to fan-shaped) and their flight patterns. Crows may glide from one nearby tree to another, but while in open flight, they always flap their wings. Ravens, in comparison, soar and glide like hawks. Ravens also live twice as long as crows, often surviving for up to 15 years in the wild.

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