Bird Watcher's General Store

Crows Love Birdbaths - 09/23/05


Dear Bird Folks,

This summer there was a crazy crow that visited my birdbath. Not to have a drink or take a bath like the other birds, but to bring his catch from the sea to wash off the sand. He was so big that he scared off all the other more desirable birds. I repeatedly hosed out the birdbath, only to find more of the same the next time I looked. How do you suggest I get rid of this unwanted intruder so the goldfinches and chickadees will return?

-Marian, Truro, MA

I Have to Admit Marian,

I'm surprised that a question like this would come from somebody in Truro. When I think of the outer part of Cape Cod, I think of people who are free thinkers, less traditional and more broad-minded. True blue staters. That is why I am surprised that someone from Truro would label anything as an "unwanted intruder." The Truro people that I know are typically tolerant of just about anything. Well, anything except for maybe a new Stop & Shop.

Crows seem to be a polarizing bird. Half of my customers tell me amusing stories about how interesting and wonderful crows are. While the other half start their crow stories with a word that I can't write in case the children are still up. In case you are wondering, it's a word that begins with "D" and rhymes with "hamn." If you figure it out, don't say it out loud, the FCC might be listening.

Crows have several things going against them. Farmers get upset with them because they damage crops. The slackers of the world hate them because crows tend to be noisy early in the morning, while those bums are still sleeping. Superstitious people fear them because crows have long been associated with evil, bad news or the occasional plague. There is even an illness known as "corvophobia," which is an unnatural fear of corvids (birds that are members of the crow family). Corvophobia should not be confused with the much more common Corvair-phobia, the unnatural fear of small Chevys.

Then there are those who don't like crows because they occasionally prey on baby birds. Heck, just about everything preys on baby birds. They are used to it by now. Like us humans, crows are omnivorous and opportunistic. They will eat just about anything that is available, including grain, insects, birds, seafood and the entire line of Little Debbie Snack Cakes, with the possible exception of those scary "Banana Marshmallow Pies." They are left for the gulls and teenagers.

I know your question is about getting rid of the "unwanted intruders" and getting the more "desirable" birds to return. But before I get to that, check out this story. Not long ago a customer told me a similar story, about how she was being annoyed by crows. In order to help her with the battle she took a class on crows at the Massachusetts Audubon Society. In the class she learned that crows are one of the most adaptable and intelligent birds in the world. When compared to their body size, their brain is larger than just about any other bird. They can count, have been known to use tools, will mimic the sounds of the human voice and twice have made it into Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions, only to loose in the finals.

Also, crows have an extremely strong social order. The same flock will remain together, in the same area, for years. Young crows don't breed until they are several years old. Since they don't have anything else to do, the juvenile birds will stay around for as long as six years and help their parents raise the new baby birds. What many us of us call a nasty mob of crows is really a close family unit.

By simply learning a bit about them, this one lady took the crows off of her list of "unwanted intruders" and has been fascinated by them ever since. And by the way, the above story is not one of those stories that I made up just to make a point, or something I heard on Paul Harvey. It's actually true. The woman's name is Judy. Ask her.

If I were you Marian, instead of stressing out about crows hogging your bird bath, I would simply put out another bath or two. They don't have to be fancy baths, a plastic trash can cover would be fine. The birds won't mind. This way you will have both the desirable birds and the smart birds in your yard at the same time. And wouldn't you be surprised if a crow from your backyard is the one that finally wins Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions. Think about that.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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