Leave me alone, crows!
May 30, 2015 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Why do I keep getting attacked by crows? Can I do anything to stop it?

I got dive-bombed by crows twice today while just walking down the street. I'd write it off as an anomaly were it not for the fact that I got attacked on 6-7 separate occasions (all in completely different locations) during the same time last year, all while just walking on the sidewalk.

I get that this is nesting season for the crows and they can be aggressive, but I don't know anyone else who has been attacked with the same frequency as I have. I'm wondering if there could be anything about me in particular that pisses off the crows. It's a pretty crappy experience (I got scratched hard enough to draw blood once) so I'd like to know if there's anything I could do to mitigate it.

(I read this piece already (I live in Vancouver) but it wasn't terribly helpful -- I'm not doing anything to bother the crows besides just accidentally walking past their nests and this has happened to me all over the city. There are trees along pretty much every sidewalk so everywhere is pretty much potential crow attack territory.)
posted by noxperpetua to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
I know nothing about crows, except I like early Counting Crows, but I wonder if it could be the scent you are wearing? Perfume, lotion, antiperspirant, and so on? If the locations are different, then the common factor would be you and perhaps something you are wearing.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 2:07 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe you look like some class of individual who bothers crows, like a city worker or something? Does this still happen when you're wearing different colors or notable clothing (hats, maybe?) or when your appearance otherwise varies?
posted by clockzero at 2:16 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

What kind of tempo do you walk at? I didn't realise that crows engage in swooping behaviour, but I have been swooped by Australian magpies before and that has only happened to me while on my bike. I have read that they are more threatened by some speeds than others.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:23 PM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

By any chance are you carrying, or have you carried when attacked, a black flappy thing? Crows have been known to attack people carrying, say, a black flappy folded umbrella or a black folded coat... something that looks like a nestling to the hormone-crazed eye of a broody crow-- and once they mark you as a "bad guy" -- they DO remember, they will recognize you, and they will tell other crows.
posted by The otter lady at 2:51 PM on May 30, 2015 [33 favorites]

Do you happen to often wear a ponytail or something on your clothes that flaps/bounces/shakes? I had a raptor incident a while back that seemed to be specifically targeting the ponytail I'd pulled out of the back of my baseball cap. I assume it looked like a bad animal of some sort, and at the time was a sort of auburny light brown that probably could have presented like bird or dog/fox/squirrel coloring.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:51 PM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine used to run around a local lake every day.

The day she put her slightly longer than shoulder length black hair into pigtails because of the heat, she was attacked by geese twice (it could have been the same goose twice, I guess, but it was on opposite sides of the lake). Bystanders had to come to her aid the second time to get it to go away.

I thought it might be because her flopping pigtails looked like crow's wings to the geese.
posted by jamjam at 2:58 PM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

From Joshua Klein: A thought experiment on the intelligence of crows [TED]:
at University of Washington, they, a few years ago, were doing an experiment where they captured some crows on campus. Some students went out and netted some crows, brought them in, and were -- weighed them, and measured them and whatnot, and then let them back out again. And were entertained to discover that for the rest of the week, these crows, whenever these particular students walked around campus, these crows would caw at them, and run around and make their life kind of miserable.

They were significantly less entertained when this went on for the next week. And the next month. And after summer break. Until they finally graduated and left campus, and -- glad to get away, I'm sure -- came back sometime later, and found the crows still remembered them. So -- the moral being, don't piss off crows. So now, students at the University of Washington that are studying these crows do so with a giant wig and a big mask.
Maybe walking around with an open umbrella would help hide you from crow view? And/or help deflect an incoming crow attack?
posted by Little Dawn at 3:44 PM on May 30, 2015 [72 favorites]

Is this happening in the same spot every time? That is, is it likely to be the same group of crows? If so, make those crows your friend. Every time you pass by their spot, leave them a handful of cat or dog food and just keep walking. Pretty soon they'll start seeing you as the person who leaves them offerings.

I'm not making this up. This is serious answer.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:23 PM on May 30, 2015 [74 favorites]

Crows can actually travel pretty far in their local habitat - I saw this cool study about crows that traveled to the fancy downtown area after lunch to get the leftovers being put out in the trash and then back home to the people-suburbs where the crows found nice nesting places. So what I guess I'm suggesting is that, is there any reason to think that these are different crows? Different locations, doesn't mean different crows. Maybe it's just one crow who doesn't like you. And if that is the case - did you ever accidentally kick a crow?
posted by Toddles at 4:31 PM on May 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think everyone has made pretty good points.
As someone said above, it could possibly be the same crows. They're crazy smart. If you perhaps did something once that upset them, they'd remember you.
And I want you to know this is my favorite metafilter question ever. Crows are the best animals. I'm sorry they're attacking you though.
posted by shesbenevolent at 5:03 PM on May 30, 2015 [16 favorites]

Here's a citation for mudpuppie's answer. (Has Awww factor.)
posted by bricoleur at 5:24 PM on May 30, 2015 [5 favorites]

As an Australian I have similar seasonal experience with Magpies (they are the size of crows in Australia). You are most likely walking by their nest, crows can actually remember people, so if they thought you were scary before & by dive bombing you scared you off, they are going to keep doing it. Crows also tend to nest in groups, so if you have annoyed one set of them, the rest will see & learn too.

The trick we were taught as kids in South Australia where the Magpie problem is very wide spread is you want to wear a hat with eyes on the back of it, as they like to dive bomb you from an angle you can't see them. Get a hat, stick or draw some large eyes on the back of it (as kids we used ice cream containers as they were plastic & head sized in Australia) and walk in safety.
posted by wwax at 6:35 PM on May 30, 2015 [11 favorites]

Also, and this is relevant to the University of Washington story, it's not just that the original crow is remembering the person who for whatever reason got on his or her bad side. Crows have a robust enough communication system that they can point out "troublemakers" to each other; piss off one crow, and you've pretty much got every crow in the neighborhood to deal with.
posted by RonHogan at 7:19 PM on May 30, 2015 [34 favorites]

I don't remember what kind of bird it was, but I once had my head repeatedly attacked here by a lake. I am pretty sure it's the way I had my hair up, in a messy bun. I had never been in this city before so it couldn't have been a grudge.
posted by mermaidcafe at 9:02 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is this happening in the same spot every time? That is, is it likely to be the same group of crows? If so, make those crows your friend. Every time you pass by their spot, leave them a handful of cat or dog food and just keep walking. Pretty soon they'll start seeing you as the person who leaves them offerings.

Also whistle when you feed them. That way they will know when you are feeding them rather than just by chance finding food you have left and not necessarily associating it with you.
posted by srboisvert at 6:27 AM on May 31, 2015

I think mudpuppie's suggestion is great! The crow episode of Nature is fascinating, and it goes into some of the research that little dawn mentioned. The episode also shows an experiment using masks that shows that crows can communicate information about the appearance of a threatening person to as-yet-unhatched generations. If you resemble someone who has bothered them at some point, mudpuppie's method might just get you off the hook for their offense against them.
posted by gimli at 7:22 AM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is this happening in the same spot every time?

Guys, read the question. OP says all in completely different locations. The only commonality seems to be season and Asker (pending hair style, etc).
posted by maryr at 7:33 AM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

Googly eyes on the back of your hat will look ridiculous but may repel crows.
posted by ostranenie at 4:40 PM on May 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Really interesting information here.

I don't think it's a particular crow that hates me, since I've been bothered both in the city and out in the suburbs, though they may be spreading the hate around. I've never intentionally bothered a crow, but I quite likely may have been spotted carrying a black coat like The otter lady suggested.

I feel like I've been attacked in a range of clothing and hairstyles, but I think my red hair makes me noticeable. I'm going to try wearing a big hat and sunglasses everywhere for a while and see if that helps.
posted by noxperpetua at 6:27 PM on May 31, 2015 [6 favorites]

I went to school at UW, it was hilarious to watch them walk around with one of the research masks on and see (and hear) the crows lose their shit.

The thing is, they took the show to Alki Beach in West Seattle to the same results, leading the researchers facing that crows have a way of communicating specific information over long distances.

I was attacked all last summer by a pair nesting a block south of where I live, because I spotted them picking up sticks for their nearby nest. As soon as they figured out they were being watched, that was it.

Until one day when I talked softly to the alpha and threw him or her a piece of string cheese. I was paced for a block the next day a by a silent crow and so on and so on.

Well, this was on my way to work, which was then in West Seattle. A few times with the crows on the block to the bus stop and the crows on the other end started silently following me around.

What complicates matters is I don't allow crows on the property and recently waved a broom at crows watching the habits of nesting robins in our courtyard. I waved a broom at an unrelated crow. Or so I thought. So, once again I am paced by angry crows, only this time cheese eating crows demanding surrender for that one block alone. Now, it's complicated.

They are smart birds with long memories. Good luck.
posted by y2karl at 7:59 AM on June 1, 2015 [20 favorites]

Crows are amazing and smart.

A friend across the street rescued a baby crow that couldn't be put back in the nest. They took it inside and for a couple of months the parents would attack anyone that came out of house. Going onto their deck in the back yard was impossible. Eventually Petey the crow learned to fly, was released and reunited with his family.

The attacks stopped.

For many years Petey and et al would greet and hang out for a bit in the tree by the deck when someone came outside.
posted by Jalliah at 8:13 AM on June 1, 2015 [19 favorites]

A friend across the street rescued a baby crow that couldn't be put back in the nest.

Oft times doing nothing is doing no harm and, next to that, putting a baby bird on branches above where most cats would bother to climb is all it takes. The parents will do the rest. I have seen robins, chickadees and starlings feeding babies that fell from a nest to nearby branches. In fact, a large fraction of all baby birds that survive to fledge have spent a few weeks before then out of the nest. Which is one reason crows attack people trying or who tried to rescue crow chicks.
posted by y2karl at 1:30 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

my red hair makes me noticeable

Now that's interesting. Perhaps someone has a specific perspective on this. Fox color?

Because a few years back, the crows in our yard surgically took out the canines of our Halloween pumpkin. What was left was an otherwise totally intact pumpkin with a toothless smile....
posted by Namlit at 9:46 AM on June 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Crows have a range of up to ~40 miles from their night roost so if all these different places are within an ~80 miles diameter they could indeed be the same crows.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:03 PM on June 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Carry bread with you.

When the swooping starts stop, face the crow(s), slowly get a small piece of bread and hold it out, put the bread on the ground, look at the crow, and walk away.

They'll remember.
posted by Tevin at 3:09 PM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

They remember cheese even better.

I just grabbed a couple of pizza sticks for lunch today and got followed by a murder of nine for two blocks.
Threw one piece at one crow which was intercepted by another in flight.

And when I stopped, the pace crows walked up well within lunging distance and just sat waiting.

Not at all like the old days when I was a gardener on the UW campus.

There every critter begged except crows. They had to fly in over your shoulder from behind and pretend they were stealing food you dropped.
posted by y2karl at 3:00 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had a raptor incident a while back that seemed to be specifically targeting the ponytail I'd pulled out of the back of my baseball cap.

Yeah, we need that whole story please.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:40 PM on June 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't know if it's super-exciting. I used to live near Penasquitos Canyon in San Diego, and one of the streets of my neighborhood dipped down into and back out of the canyon, so there was a lot of wildlife and also a lot of walkers/runners because it was uphill both ways.

I had my big curly-frizzy faded (fox-coyoteish) red hair in the ponytail, pulled out back of ballcap with a big bill to shade my face, so I didn't have a ton of overhead/peripheral vision. I was on my way down the hill when I passed a car coming up, and a beat later something hit me hard on the back of the head.

My first assumption was that someone had thrown something at me out the passenger window of the car. It hurt enough that I thought maybe it was one of those glass Starbucks coffee drink bottles. I spun around, and the car had just stopped at the sign at the top of the street, and I was about to rip a strip off some asshole, but two things registered very quickly: there was no bottle - on the ground, no clinking of a bouncing bottle - and the GIANT WING that suddenly unfurled in my face as my assailant came back for a second shot at my ponytail, except my ponytailspace had been replaced by my face.

It was a big wing, one wing was nearly shoulder-width (I'm 5'10", I'm a big lady). I screamed and started waving my arms around and ran back up the way I came. It also made a noise, and it wasn't [SCREECHING EAGLE SOUND EFFECT] or anything, but it was a very angry shout.

(I also just remembered that I once had something that either was a vulture or at least the size of one decide at the last minute that my 45lb dober-mix was maybe not the little chihuahua snack it originally thought. I've never seen a dog flatten itself on the ground like that before or since. All of us were badly startled, and the bird had to pull up so fast it clipped an ornamental topiary.)
posted by Lyn Never at 5:16 PM on June 6, 2015 [8 favorites]

Huh. I'm in Vancouver and have been hassled in previous years, but not at all this year. My appearance has been roughly steady, although I've obviously had pieces of clothing move in and out of rotation.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:44 PM on June 13, 2015

Last summer, I had this problem. Wound up having to walk part of the way to work functionally backwards to keep the fucker from swooping at me. Started taking alternate routes to work and sometimes that helped but not always. Heard all about their long memories before but never experienced it til last summer.

When crows started showing up again this year, I had a simple plan. Every time I had any food on me and I saw a crow, I shared some food with that crow. Nuts while I'm walking? Enjoy, crows. Sandwich on the pier? Have some, crows. I'd throw it where the seagulls couldn't get at it first. Fuck seagulls, team crow! They started getting pretty close to me at my favorite lunch perch. Some times I'd talk to them gentle and friendly.

This time last year I was three weeks into ducking and diving. Never figured out if it was one crow or multiple crows but man it was quite a radius I had to avoid. This year I walk clean through it with no problems. Might not last but so far? Completely worth the crow tax.
posted by EatTheWeek at 7:40 PM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

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