Fledging crow season has arrived in Vancouver and that means widespread accounts of crow-on-human violence. While these stories make the territorial birds seem like the city’s most deadly predator, it’s worth remembering that they’re just protective parents.
Adult crows begin building nests as early as late February and start laying eggs from early to mid-April. Incubation time spans 18 days before the babies are born. They stay safe in the nest as they develop for about 30 days, which is when mom and dad become especially guarded.
“Their tails are not fully grown so the young are not very capable of flying. They’re quite inept," says Dr. Robert Butler, an ornithologist and retired research scientist who studied crow social behavior for his master's degree.
This vulnerability puts crow parents on high alert to passersby, prompting divebombs, swooping, cawing, and the occasional wing slap to the back of the head. The CrowTrax map created by Langara Continuing Studies instructors Rick Davidson and Jim O'Leary documents these incidents every season.
While such a crow encounter is undoubtedly shocking, Dr. Butler urges you to remember that they’re just watching out for their babies. He notes this behavior only lasts for about a week to ten days. But, because crows tend to build a second nest later in the season, they may become territorial again in June or July.
As for protecting yourself, Dr. Butler has some advice. “Wear a hat, carry an umbrella, or just cross the street,” he says. “It’s short lived but people should understand why they’re doing it.”
So, this season have a little crow-passion for Vancouver’s unofficial mascot. And lest you forget — they’re incredibly smart animals and fast learners, to boot. They can remember faces, they use tools, and they’ve even been observed conducting “funerals” for their dead — that’s not an ominous combination at all!