What’s Up With All The Crows?

If you live in the White Oaks neighborhood, on some days, it’s easy to think you’ve wandered into a scene straight out of Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds.

Last week, on trash collection day when there was the usual detritus left on the street, the LSS counted about 30 crows hanging around.

Mayor Andy Klein – who usually receives complaints about stuff like sewers and not about animals – said he received an email from a White Oaks resident (not the LSS) who expressed her concern about the number of crows she’s seen. The mayor said the City is looking into the problem.

Incumbent City Council member Randy Royce, during a candidate’s forum, remarked he missed the turkey buzzards that used to frequent San Carlos, which were replaced by crows, which Royce made clear he does NOT like.

So are there more crows now than, say, ten or twenty years ago? Yes!

While there isn’t data specifically on San Carlos (if you know otherwise, contact the LSS!), The National Audubon Society’s National Christmas Bird Count – entering its 112th year – covers this part of the Peninsula in its Crystal Springs “Count Circle.”

In 1992, volunteers counted just seven American Crows in a 24-hour period in the Crystal Springs Count Circle. Compare that to 2009-2010: 648 American Crows counted in the same area.

Bob Power, Executive Director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, says the number of crows in Palo Alto has “increased dramatically” by 13% a year since 1975.

“Of all the bird questions we get in this office, 90 out of 100 are ‘why are there so many crows,’” Power said.

Powers has his answer down pat: The first reason is crows are not hunted here like they are in the Midwest and other parts of the country.

Crows quickly figured out the significance of people carrying long, noisy sticks. “Crows learned to avoid human habitation” in those regions, he said.

Second, there’s the food factor. Mike Lynes, Conservation Director of The Golden Gate Audubon Society, says crows are extremely smart and adapt to human environments. “They thrive in areas where food and trash is left out; with a ready supply of food, their population explodes,” he said.

Lynes also noted that large numbers of crows have a negative effect on other bird species because they’re opportunistic feeders and notorious nest robbers.

American crows are part of the Corvid family. They’re smart and social, tending to congregate in large groups called flocks or “a murder of crows.” Ravens are bigger and considered even smarter than crows. They’re usually seen alone or in pairs.

 

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  1. Rex says:

    I’ve noticed them, too. Last year, they robbed a scrub jay nest next to my house of her young.

    • debramonroe says:

      Rex, I know that’s just what crows do, but that just adds to their unlikeability. Poor scrub jay & family…

      • Roy Carlson says:

        In turn, Scrub-Jays will eat the eggs and young of smaller birds (they are in the same Family – Corvids- as crows. It’s a “bird eat bird” world out there.

  2. Linda says:

    Great article!

    • debramonroe says:

      Thanks, Linda! I’m actually thinking of volunteering for The Christmas Bird Count specifically to count crows. Not being a “birder” I had no idea such an event has been going on for more than century!

  3. Randy Royce says:

    One other reason for the increase in crows is that their sole predator in the owl. The owl hunts best at night without the urban lights in the sky. So the crows will continue to increase in this safe San Carlos environment.

    Maybe Council should consider some policies on crows and pigeon feeding?

    Randy Royce
    City Council

    • debramonroe says:

      Randy…Perhaps the Council can solicit the expert opinion from an ornithologist? Hopefully, residents aren’t actually feeding crows…although you just gave me an idea…back later

    • Roy Carlson says:

      The larger Hawks (eg, Red-tailed) will dine happily on fledgling crows in the nest.

  4. Bob Winters says:

    I’ve noticed the increase as well. I used to work in the South Bay about 20 years ago and recall crows were very common there, but not in San Carlos. That certainly has changed. Perhaps some hay and an old pair of jeans and a flannel shirt are in order.

    • debramonroe says:

      Well Bob, just heard a story from someone else about an old method to scare off crows…scarecrows much nicer! Working on Crows Part II now…

  5. Suzanne says:

    I used to see ravens at Highlands Park when it was still a park. They were extremely large and came in pairs. Will have to check out the crows in White Oaks. I wonder if Halloween decor scared any of them off.

    • debramonroe says:

      Suzanne, maybe! In some places, the Halloween decorations were pretty scary this year. More than a couple times, I thought I’d accidentally wandered onto the set of Saw or Hostel.

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