VANCOUVER – People with ornithophobia have a new tool to fight their fear of birds — a map that tracks crow attacks.
Instructors at Langara College in Vancouver used open-source software to create the online map, which allows anyone with an Internet connection to pinpoint where they were attacked and add details, such as how aggressive the bird was.
Jim O’Leary teaches Geographic Information Systems at the college and says he and his colleague Rick Davidson wanted to show how the course content could be put to use.
O’Leary says he was inspired to start tracking crow attacks after witnessing several in downtown Vancouver last year and thinking that recording them could help better understand the problem.
The birds are particularly aggressive during the spring, when they are protecting their nests.
Hundreds of attacks have been documented on the map since it launched in April, including reports from Victoria and Antigonish, N.S.
O’Leary says he and his colleague didn’t know how popular the map would become.
“I originally envisioned it as being the greater Vancouver area, but crow attacks seem to touch a nerve with people. It seems like many people have a crow story that they want to tell,” he says. “I guess crows are aggressive everywhere.”
Mapping the attacks helps establish where the most aggressive crows are and gives an idea of whether there are any patterns, O’Leary says.
“With all our technology skills, we shouldn’t be run off the street by the crows. So this is our response,” he says. “The first part of a solution is to find out what a problem is.”
So far, there have been dozens of attacks reported in downtown Vancouver, and O’Leary says he believes there are more crows in the area because of the concentration of garbage cans and tall trees.
O’Leary says he isn’t sure whether governments would be interested in the information, but notes that it’s all public and at least it gives people an idea of where the crows are located.
“At the very least, people can vent their frustrations and they can see where the concentrations are,” he says.
It has also taught O’Leary that the birds are more aggressive than he ever imagined. He’s heard reports of crows banding together to dive-bomb a passerby, and of birds targeting dogs and cats.
The map has also sparked interest in Langara’s Geographic Information Systems certificate program, which teaches students how to manage and use geographic data.
O’Leary says seven people signed up for his course within a week of the map gaining notoriety.