Spring is in the air, as is the frantic cawing of worried momma and poppa crows.
It’s the time of year when British Columbians frequently find themselves the targets of dive-bombing corvids.
But what many people perceive as attacks is actually a defensive act by parents desperate to protect their fledgling young who are learning to fly, according to crow expert University of Washington wildlife scientist John Marzluff.
“As people walk by that area, the parents are very defensive, protective, trying to keep danger away from their kids,” he explained.
Marzluff knows what he’s talking about. He’s spent decades studying crows and ravens, and produced research along with several books documenting their high level of intelligence.
B.C.’s springtime corvid conflicts are frequent enough that a pair of instructors at Langara College have even created a website called CrowTrax, which documents the location of aggressive crow encounters in Vancouver and Victoria.
The now five-year old site is user-populated, meaning if you’ve had a run in with an angry mother crow, you can add to the map.
Vancouver resident Naomi Hildebrand recently found herself the target of a defensive mother crow, when the volleyball she was playing with landed near a tree with a nest in it.
“I got too close to their nest which I didn’t know was there, and both the parent crows get very defensive and they start dive bombing you,” she said.
“There were a couple of baby bird heads poking up and I was like, ah, I got too close … I saw (the mother), she was glaring as I left, making sure I wasn’t coming back.”
That was the right move, according to Marzluff, who said crows are extremely intelligent and can remember people they deem to be threats.
For that reason, Marzluff advises against doing anything aggressive, retaliating, or trying to touch a baby bird when crows are acting defensively.
“In all of those situations the crows will see you as a real threat,” he said.
“They will learn your face or where you’re at in that situation, considering it dangerous, and they may continue to harass you for a long time after that event.”
What’s more, if they start cawing aggressively, they can also attract other crows who will also identify the person as a threat, Marzluff said.
Marzluff’s research has demonstrated that even 15 years after a crow was captured, its offspring and peers have retained the ability to identify the person deemed dangerous.
So what should someone do if they find themselves in what feels like a recreation from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds?
Play it cool and get out of the area, according to Marzluff.
“If people are interested in preventing this, always face the bird, they typically want to come from behind. You can use an umbrella or a hat” he said.
“They really aren’t dangerous — they might at the worst case scrape you, but for the most part they startle you. So being aware of that, and avoiding areas if you can is always a good strategy.”