Do you know what to do if you’re attacked from above? Crow expert and professor John Marzluff has tips to help you avoid an unwanted encounter
You don’t typically think of Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown as a hot spot for wildlife encounters, or the scene of an attack straight out of a Hitchcock film, for that matter. But that’s what a recent outing turned into for local resident Shaun Verreault.
“I was walking along Richards Street when I heard a couple of flutters and then experienced what felt like someone hitting me in the head with a set of keys.”
Who was Verreault’s attacker? One of Vancouver’s resident crows. The urban birds are a regular sight in Vancouver, and it’s nearly impossible to venture outside without spotting one. Crows are known for being intelligent to an almost unsettling degree (studies have shown that crows can remember individuals for at least eight years following interactions—both positive and negative), and this has aided them in adapting to a changing environment. Unlike most creatures, crows actually thrive in city settings. According to the Vancouver Avian Research Centre, there has been a huge increase in the crow population in recent years. And a growing population means a greater chance of being attacked.
“It was pretty much a sneak attack, so the result was mostly confusion with a side of moderate pain,” says Verreault. “It also felt like my spot atop the food chain was being rudely disrespected.”
These kinds of attacks are more common than one would expect. Vancouver foodie Erin Ireland took to Twitter with her own crow encounter, and received a number of replies with similar stories.
According to John Marzluff, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in researching corvids (the family of birds that crows belong to along with ravens, jays, and magpies, to name a few), it’s likely that Verreault and Ireland unknowingly got a little too close to a young bird.
“A person walks by the youngsters and the parents perceive it as a threat and come in to defend the young. This can also happen when a person passes by a nest, especially a low nest or one that has been harassed in the past. Parent crows are very devoted to protecting their family and territory.”
So why do crow attacks seem to escalate in the spring?
“Definitely it is seasonal and it is associated with nesting season. Here that means from April to July, especially May and June when most young are just coming out of the nest and are vulnerable and vigorously protected by their parents.”
See this map of where you're most likely to get attacked by a crow in Vancouver.
As with any time humans and wildlife have to coexist, Vancouver’s crows demand a little understanding and compromise from their featherless neighbours. And, well, even the most disgruntled Vancouverite would find it hard to disagree that at least these intelligent birds have pretty good taste in neighbourhoods when it comes to nesting.
Tips for Surviving Nesting Season
- Never initiate conflict with a crow or else they will associate you with danger.
- Don’t touch a young or dead crow when other crows are watching.
- Use an umbrella if you have to walk past a place where attacks occur regularly.
- It may seem counterintuitive, but face the bird. They will not attack from the front as often as they do from behind.
- If all else fails, you might try offering the attacking crows a handful of peanuts in the shell as you pass by.
- And remember: Most attacks stop in late summer, so this may be a temporary inconvenience.
*Tips provided by John Marzluff, crow expert at the U of W