An Albany Eye On Crime
Then I read in the Times-Union, the local rag, that the City of Albany had brought in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency to drive the crows out of town. ‘Crow Dispersal’ by means of pyrotechnics and sound devices: fireworks and shooting off fake guns, I presume. In a Letter to the Editor, a reader, obviously a crow-lover, asked: ‘What is it that the crows are doing? Why is it they need to be killed?’ As if on cue, another reader replied: ‘They poop all over everything, cars, sidewalks, backyard, roofs. When I was a kid my mother and grandmother always warned me about bird droppings being real bad. I think we have the making here of a Public Health Crisis!’
And so began the annual Crow War! I don’t recall seeing many crows in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens where we lived before leaving the City. What I do remember is walking out of my apartment building each morning and being altered, electrified by the swell of music from the legion of small birds living in the trees and on the outcroppings of buildings. Instantly and forever, I became a bird-lover. Curious about the crow, I Googled him.
Crows are large, perching birds with glossy black plumage and a raucous voice. They rise early and make a lot of noise. Crows are very social and live in large extended family groups. A bunch of crows is called a flock or a ‘murder of crows’ A ‘murder’ because the flock will sometimes kill a dying or injured crow, it’s thought. Crows appear to be monogamous and can live 20 years or more. They’ve been congregating in large roosts in the fall and winter for as long as there have been crows. Roosts of tens of thousands of birds are common. But their arrival in cities is relatively recent. Since 1993, upwards of 50,000 crows have taken to roosting in large trees in the center of small Auburn, New York. Like Albany, Auburn declared war on the crows and has had as much success: Nada. Crows are considered to be among the world’s most intelligent animals, capable of both tool use and tool-making. If you have the good fortune to see a crow burying food in your backyard, you might see him cover it over with a leaf or plucked grass, then look at it several times and use different coverings before being satisfied with his efforts.
Why are tens of thousands of crows roosting in the trees on Albany streets? It’s speculated that crows have figured out that you can’t shoot at them in cities where there are ordinances against discharging firearms, unlike in the country. There is a crow-hunting season in New York State. Another hypothesis is that they seek safety in numbers against their nemesis, the Great Horned Owl. Crows don’t see well at night but the Owl does. Therefore, crows roost near sources of bright illumination such as streetlights so they can see the Owl coming.
The most remarkable talent of the crow, according to researchers, is the ability to recognize individuals by facial features, especially if the person has done them wrong in the past. I saw a demonstration of this on TV. A person wearing an outsized Nixon mask approached a roost of crows in a tree that, upon sighting him, sounded a loud alarm and swooped to the attack. A year earlier, the researcher, wearing the mask, had threatened those crows.
The moral here, Albanians: Don’t piss off the crows. They have memories like elephants.