Coexisting with Crows

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The trouble with crows is that they are so smart.
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The trouble with crows is that they are so smart. Captive
crows have proven capable of learning to mimic the human
voice, match symbols with numbers and solve simple puzzles.
As New York clergyman Henry Ward Beecher declared more than
a century ago, “If men had wings and bore black
feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be

Wild crows, on the other hand, sabotage gardens by
collecting seeds, pecking into tomatoes or melons, or
harvesting fruits a day or two ahead of humans. And
crows’ winter roosting behavior is a budget-busting
problem for many towns and cities, where thousands of crows
often roost together to keep one another warm.

American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) are talkative,
territorial and devoted to their families. And although
they can be garden pests, they do have their positive side.
Crows eat lots of insects, help clean up roadside carrion,
and their domestic lives exemplify an enviable level of
cooperation. Males and females work together to build
nests, incubate eggs and feed their young, all the while
participating in crow community life. Extended families
often share summer territory, and when a good food supply
is found, a sentinel crow often watches from a high tree
while its relatives settle in for a feast

What can you do when the site of that feast is your garden?
The old standby, the scarecrow, certainly has merit, but
crows will quickly become accustomed to a scarecrow that
never changes. For best results, construct a scarecrow with
a post up its back so it can easily be moved from one spot
to another. Every week or so, give your scarecrow a flashy
makeover by attaching dangling metal pie tins, compact
disks or other shiny, reflective objects to its arms or
hat. Movement makes sharp-eyed crows nervous, so giving
your scarecrow a helium-filled Mylar party balloon is a
good idea, too

Crows hear well, so the The Fund for Animals Wildlife
Rehabilitation Center suggests adding sound to your
crow-control arsenal in the form of a portable radio. You
don’t need to keep it on at night — crows stay
in their roosts after dark — but during the daytime
be sure to periodically change the station. Crows will
notice a difference between smooth jazz and contemporary
country; although no studies have been done on their
listening preferences, it’s reasonable to expect that
talk radio would put them on edge

Crows also are skittish around owl effigies and balloons
designed to scare them, though again it’s best to
plan a bit of movement into the scene. You can use bird
flash tape made of reflective Mylar as a tail for a bobbing
balloon, or mount an owl effigy atop a post that includes
whirligig blades that spin in the wind. Many bird-scare
devices truly look nightmarish, so you may need to strike a
balance between their deterrence value and how much terror
you can tolerate in your garden

Where crow pressure is modest, you may get good protection
with reflective tape alone, which can be tied to posts,
tomato cages or plant supports. In a small garden, try
tying string or fishing line, spaced several feet apart,
between tall posts installed along your garden’s
edge, so they form a wide overhead grid. Wildlife
biologists are not certain exactly how such strings work,
but they theorize that when crows hit the lines they decide
that the site is unsafe for feeding. If crow damage is
limited to the birds pecking into ripening ears of corn,
placing paper cups or paper bags over the ears after the
silk turns brown often gives good protection. When pilfered
seedlings are the main problem, protecting seedling beds
with any type of barrier — from bird netting to an
old upside-down shopping cart — may do the trick

In dire situations, you may need to use bird netting to
declare large sections of your garden off limits. If they
are hungry enough, crows will feed through netting that is
draped directly over plants, but they can’t penetrate
through to fruits and vegetables secured beneath a tent of
bird netting

An energetic dog also will do the trick. In Barnardstown,
Mass., organic grower Elaine Morley solved a serious crow
problem by training Tasha, her black lab/border collie mix,
to chase any crow that dared to enter her garden

With all of these crow-control measures, remember that
early intervention is key. Once crows find a patch of
watermelons, they will return each morning to peck on the
rind a few times. All too often, the crows will throw an
early morning watermelon party on the day when a melon is
perfectly ripe.

And don’t make the mistake of trusting crows that are
obviously watching your garden, but not actively causing
damage. Proving that patience and wisdom go hand-in-hand,
crows don’t mind waiting for weeks until grapes or
pumpkins are perfect for picking. When you know crows are
watching your garden, the most important thing you can do
is to watch them back and use your intelligence to counter
one of Mother Nature’s smartest animals.


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Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant shares her home in the mountains of western North Carolina with three pairs of crows. Visit her Web site here.