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Sunday, December 26, 2010

A crow attacted me - not

by Jamie Lutton

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  Whenever I talk about watching crows, I always here this remark "a crow attacked me, once". Often people are filled with fear of crows, as if any rational creature that small would take on a human being.  What is going on is, I believe, is that a crow will dive bomb a human, usually hit the top of a human's head, then fly off, when the clumsy feet of a human are near a baby crow. Usually, the human as no idea that the baby crow is anywhere nearby, but the mama crow (who has done the attack) is hyper- aware of the baby, and wants to distract the human from the baby underfoot. This is my theory, anyway.

  To improve my knowledge of crows, I went and bought two crow books the day after Christmas:. CROW PLANET and CORVUS.  I will be able to pepper this blog with facts about crows, now, instead of conjecture.

        This morning, I missed my bus, so the crows and I kept close company while I waited for the second one, in the light December rain. I was working today across town, so I needed a bus. Two very aggressive crows ran along the top of a brick wall, cawing at me, while I walked to the bus stop.  They were only a foot or two feet from me, at hip level, on this wall. They got very nervous, when I turned to look at them. For a few heartbeats, I was very close to them, and I could see every feathered muscle, the curve of the leg, all gleaming black and their curious eyes on me, asthey examined me with the same curiosity I examined them.  Then, they edged away sideways, the way these birds do; but not too far, still staring at me, still standing on the wall.. I placed a few crow treats at the top of the wall, which disappeared quickly. They ate and grabbed treats quickly, then flew away, with beaks loaded with treats. .


         I put down another pile of treats, on the top of the wall by the bus stop, farther north.  This caused consternation with the crows, as getting a treat meant that they would have to get close to me.  There was great hoarse cawing and vocalization, back and forth, as more crows appeared, that roosted in the tree and on the telephone lines overhead.  A crow would land on the wall, eye the pile of treats, then fly away, as I was too close to the goodies.  There was a good bit of standing and staring at the treats, and at me, looking for a trap or a trick or a fast movement from me. Eventually, one would edge up sideways, grab one, and fly away.  This happened till the pile was down to four or five treats, and then I would add ten or so. This would make the crows in the tree squawk more, as they knew that a bolder crow might get the goodies. I did the several times, with bold crows getting a treat or two or three - often grabbing a treat with one jammed down their throats, as they grabbed another, while their more timid relatives commented on their rash actions, from the trees.  When I boarded my bus, most of the group descended on the pile, and jostled each other over what I had left for them.

  Once in a while, some human would  walk in front of this scene, and would ignore what was happening, as they were in their own worlds; either on a cell phone, or talking to their friends, or listening to music. But a few people, women, noticed what I was doing, and nodded at the birds and me, who would get spooked by them and fly up for a while.   I told them I was watching the birds for my blog, and one said that they had fed the birds,  but not recently; we both agreed that they were beautiful.

        The bus driver remarked that he had 'been attacked' when I told him I watched crows; I said in passing to him that is was probably a crow defending 'his' nest, but it is hard to explain what probably happened in a few sentences. Crows get a bad rap because their children are so hard to raise in an urban environment, with so few trees and ground cover for them.

  I had watched a PBS special that said that crows take a while to learn how to fly; and that they flop about on the ground a bit till they get their proper use of their wings down.  I can visualize a mama crow being nearby, ready to attack the head of any human who got too near a baby crow, even though they might not see the baby.

           This did happen to me once years ago. I had a crow attack my head for no particular reason, one June morning. I was more curious than concerned; I went to a pet store to get a treat for the crow, but she or he was long gone.  I figured out what happened only when I saw the PBS special, which I have to recommend to my readers here.  I will try to find out the name of the program; and post it here; it was broadcast in the last 6 months; and it was a study on the intelligence of crows, conducted by the University of Washington scientists. They banded baby crows, and watched them over a few years, for their ability to identify faces.

            I will do a separate blog on the way that study has entered the local  folklore - next  time.

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