The crow nesting season goes through various phases, some quiet, others much louder.
Right now we’re in a seemingly tranquil phase
All is secretive and low key as the parents try to keep the nest locations hidden from predators. Sometimes the game is given away when the female, sitting on the eggs, makes begging sounds to remind their mate to hurry up with the food delivery, but generally it’s as if the whole neighbourhood is made up entirely of of very quiet bachelor crows.
The mother crow will remain on the nest, incubating 2-6 eggs, for between two and three weeks. Once the eggs hatch, both parents will leave and return to the nest frequently to bring food. Another parental duty is carrying away the babies’ fecal sacs to keep the nest clean. A sure sign of hatched babies is seeing a poop-splattered adult crow — evidence of one of those sacs having failed in the disposal process. The love of a parent truly knows no bounds …
This is, of course, the calm before the storm. Soon things will start to get more exciting as dive bombing season begins.
This is such an issue in Vancouver that, a few years back, a Langara College professor created an open-source Geographic Information System called Crowtrax, allowing people to report where they were attacked by crows and thus contribute to a map of the most “crow-terrrorized” parts of the city.
I’m happy to report that there’s been a positive change in the way this part of the crow nesting season in covered by the local media over the past few years. It used to be all Hitchockian horror, with eyeball grabbing headlines about “savage” crows swooping from the sky and randomly mauling innocent pedestrians. In recent times there has been more curiosity about what’s really happening here, and much more thoughtful pieces have been written.
Last year, Georgia Strait reporter, Martin Dunphy, wrote such an article and one of my images was on the front cover.
The article included comments from Vancouver crow scientist, Rob Butler, and myself and was a refreshingly pro-crow look what can be a slightly hysterical time of year.
I have some tips on avoiding getting dive-bombed this year, but first of all it’s helpful understand what’s going on from the crows’ perspective.
The crow parents have been working on this nest since late February, carefully building it, sitting on eggs in secret, carrying bags of baby poop hither and yon, fighting off hawks, raccoons, cats and eagles. They are tired, stressed to the max, and very, very committed to the success of their little families. Now the precious babies are about the leave the relative security of the nest.
These “babies” are almost the same size as the parents at this point, so some people don’t even notice that they’re not adult crows. Sometimes they’re difficult to spot at all as they rest on the ground, camouflaged with dust and leaf litter. They’re often earthbound because, in what seems to be a bit of a design flaw, they come out of the nest before they can fly.
The young crows are curious and eager to explore, but have no idea what might be fun as opposed to fatal. The only things standing between the helpless fledglings and getting stepped on, run over or attacked by animals or birds of prey are good old mom and dad. These exhausted and very tense parents and are the “savage” dive bombers — and it’s really nothing personal, they just want you to STAY AWAY from their precious offspring until they can fly.
In my experience, sometimes the raucous cawing isn’t even directed at us humans. Often they seem to be screaming instructions at their fledging and/or making a lot of racket just to drown out the baby crow noises that might attract real predators.
So try to remember, you’re not in a Hitchcock movie — just a small domestic drama.
TIPS FOR KEEPING YOURSELF AND THE CROWS SAFE
- Avoiding the nest area if possible.
- If you can’t stay clear, wear a hat or use an umbrella when you walk by.
- Try pinning fake eyes (paper drawings, or make some with felt) on the back of your hat or hood. Crows only attack from the rear and if they see a pair of eyes “looking” at them they won’t swoop — according to Seattle crow scientist John Marzluff.
- Earn some trust with a small offering of unsalted peanuts. Not a big pile — just 3 or 4 peanuts as a gesture of friendliness.
- This might just be me, but I always speak softly to the parents and tell them what a great job they’re doing.
- If you see a crow fledgling alone on the ground, don’t assume it needs rescuing. There will be a parent crow nearby watching over things and, unless the baby is obviously injured, it’s always best to leave it alone.
This following little diagram is something I put together years ago as an easy guide to telling fledgling crows apart from adults …
Once the baby crows are able to fly the parents will become a lot more relaxed and spend a lot of time feeding, grooming and showing the young ones the ropes of being a successful city crow.
Spending time watching this process will reward you with many laughs as you see yourself reflected in the behaviour of the parents, kids, or both.
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