The crows are back in downtown Rochester but will be gone soon, for a awhile at least. The 20,000 plus crows that have come again this winter to roost have doubled in population since last year’s abatement and now out number downtown residents 4 to 1.
They kawk all night and darken the skies. Their nesting can cause damage to phone lines and roof tops. They, in general, add to the spooky feel of a lifeless city after dark. This has caused uproar among downtown residents, but mostly, crows poop on cars. Their defecation on the sidewalks will cake if not sprayed off, and, Washington Square, along with any other “wooded” area of downtown, is now a literal shit storm.
The city is taking action, again.
Starting today, in a four day $21,000 venture with the USDA, workers will begin shooting fireworks at four key areas of roosting. While blowing whistles, flashing lights and blaring recordings of crows in distress, it’s basically a week of live scarecrows. Very expensive scarecrows.
This has upset a small population of the city that sees their presence encouraging.
Forming prior to last year’s attempts, Rochesterians for Crows, a Facebook group huddling at just under a 1000 members has, most recently, emailed and phoned city council to stop the bird’s expulsion. Meanwhile, they discuss the intelligence, beauty and poetic value of the crow that has been ingrained in culture and religion for centuries.
It can be understood why we might want these birds around.
To many Native American tribes, the crow is one of the most divine gods, giving life to people, the sun and the wind. In Scandinavian cultures, it is linked with memory and spirit as two crows representing these sit on the shoulders of Odin. In some Japanese cultures they’re linked with love and gratitude after ten crows brought the world.
All these link the crow with creation, however, they can also be seen as trouble.
The Greeks deemed them untrustworthy after a crow wouldn’t bring water to Apollo, and the Catholic Church personified the crow as death after Saint Golowin said that they eat carrion, (in bible speak they neglect their young and disown god’s purities.) They’ve also been closely associated with witchcraft and the occult, which, could also be a reason for some supporters to want the crow to stay.
To some, this city’s knee-jerk reaction to a natural spectacle is another example of Rochester’s failure to accept new ideas for downtown. It is seen as beautiful, that such numbers of one bird, so influential to art and religion, would call Rochester home.
Unfortunately, the crows aren’t anything new, and neither are these numbers.
Prior to laws passed to protect birds in the 70s, shooting large numbers of roosting crows was common practice by police officers in the 50’s. Additionally, this new gathering is not centric to Rochester. Cities across the globe are reporting record number of crows over the past few years, including our doppleganger, Rochester Minnesota currently.
As a a highly adaptable social scavenger, the crow thrives in urban environments, eating trash and taking up home in abandoned structures. In short, they’re a pest.
Crows have become such a problem in some Japanese cities that they have turned to trained hunting parties to track and kill them. The crows numbers have become so large, estimated up to 150,00in 2009, that their behavior has completely changed.
They’re bigger, louder and more aggressive. Aside from viciously attacking trash bags, they’ve been said to take food out of peoples hands and even abducted prairie dog pups and ducklings from area zoos, though such occurrences are uncommon. However, they have become so advanced that the crows have learned to create decoy nests to lure the “Crow Patrol” away from their actual roosting areas.
It’s only through years of “co-existing” that crows become so adapt.
As one of the smartest animals on the planet, observations of crows using tools are frequent, and studies have shown that not only can they use a tool, but that they can select the correct tool for a job.
It’s also been proven that not only can crows recognize a face, but they can communicate the person’s actions to other crows. In one study, a group of scientists captured and aggravated 15 crows while wearing masks. Later, after approaching crows they had not yet studied, the mob would kaw and provoke the scientist wearing the mask done in previous sessions.
It’s not hard to understand how the crow could be valued or feared so vehemently. What isn’t understood is that right now they are our problem.
Their population has increased due to the availability of food from dumpsters and litter, and the now desolate areas of downtowns leads to an abundance of housing. They can get shot at, killed, netted and dispersed around the country, but our current living will continue to attract animals like them to the centers of our cities.
To the glee of their local supporters, the crows will return. The proven answer to crow infestations is only by introducing predators or adding birth control to their diets.
When they come back, and they will, the city may turn to more aggressive measures, though, there may new methods to dealing with crows which we may have to face.
More than the basic trash locks used to deter bears, it has been seen that crows can be trained for our mutual benefit.
One study created a “crow vending machine,” where the birds learned how to pick up bottles and deposit them into bins that would reward with food. Another follows their knack for recognizing faces, suggesting that an enforced scarecrow symbol could be used as “No Crow” sign.
These ideas are in their baby stages, which is somewhat ironic. It’s believed that crows train so well because of the small survival rate of their chicks. Crows that reach adulthood become set in their ways to continue survival.
This too means they will most likely return, on average holding memories to up to five years.
This is only our second year. We either have three more years to continue our scare tactics, or perhaps prepare a new idea for when they return in slightly smaller numbers later in the winter.