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Living with crows
Crows are highly intelligent birds that adapt quickly to new situations by watching, learning and communicating with each other. They have large forebrains — an adaptation to life in a challenging environment where food can be difficult to find. A scavenger needs to be smart enough to capitalise on patchy food sources (crows have even learnt to eat cane toads by flipping them over to avoid their poison glands).
People have always lived with crows. Crows have always lived with people. Historically, crows were seen as providing a ‘hygiene service’ by recycling rubbish and removing dead animals (and even human corpses during times of war or plague). Too many crows were seen as a sign that there was a dead animal somewhere nearby or a mess that needed cleaning up. This rule still applies: if there’s too much edible rubbish around then crows will naturally move in, and breed up if the supply persists. Then, too many crows can mean noise from calls (day or night), rubbish bins and dog bowls being raided for food, and even having the windscreen wipers pulled off your car!
The essence of living in balance with crows is to better manage the things that attract them in the first place.
The actions that need to be taken to discourage crows are simple, but complex: simple because anyone can do them but complex because everyone needs to do them together.
Below are six ways that the community can work together to keep the crow population in balance.
1. Don't feed crows
Feeding wild animals is a way of getting close to them and befriending them. However, regular feeding may encourage crows to congregate in the area surrounding a new food source. This is when they become a problem.
Crows don’t need extra food and shouldn’t be fed. Some people will continue to feed them regardless of the consequences. In these situations, it is best to limit the amount of food so that only one or two crows are being fed. Even this should only happen every few days so that it becomes one of a number of food sources that the crows rely on.
2. Keep a lid on your rubbish
An overfull wheelie bin or a garbage bag with food scraps in it is too much for a crow to resist. A crow will peck out anything edible but they will also scatter rubbish around in the process. The solution is to keep the lids on rubbish containers tightly closed at all times.
If your wheelie bin is overflowing, ask your neighbour if they have space in their bin. Or if you have space in your bin, offer it to your neighbour. (People are much easier to train than crows!)
3. Crows aren't pets
Pet food should be covered or removed after your pet has finished feeding in case it becomes a food source for crows (and rats and toads).
4. Picnic ground etiquette
Whenever food is brought into open areas it attracts opportunists like crows. While the initial temptation is to feed these animals, it can soon create a problem when animals learn to beg for or steal food. This can also become a health and safety problem when an animal moves from a rubbish bin to your picnic table.
Some picnic areas have rubbish bins without lids making it easy for you to put rubbish in, and for crows to take it back out. If there are crows around, there is little point putting rubbish into an open bin. Take responsibility for your rubbish and take it with you.
Crow-proof rubbish bins are the best options for public parks and eating areas. Approach your local council if you are aware of an area that needs better waste management.
5. No more fast food or takeaways (for crows)
Part of the appeal of fast food is that there is no cleaning up. But there is still a responsibility to dispose of any scraps properly. Use crow-proof bins wherever possible. Owners of fast food and takeaway businesses should ensure rubbish bins have lids and educate their patrons about crows and their impacts.
6. Keeping a lid on school ground rubbish
Once again, food scraps in rubbish bins without secure lids can create a food source for crows, and a lot of mess for cleaning staff. Rubbish bins must have secure lids and food on display at tuckshops may need to be covered.
Students need to be educated about crows and schools can build ‘crow education’ activities into the curriculum to actively encourage students to be responsible about disposing of food scraps.
Is a scarecrow the answer?
People have been trying to scare crows since the beginnings of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Scarecrows seem to have been better at frightening people than crows and may have only kept crows away long enough for farmers to get their crops established before the crows lost their fear and returned. Today the job of frightening noisy or destructive crows is even harder as they are completely familiar with people and, to a crow, a traditional scarecrow is now little more than a decorated perch.
And if you get rid of all the crows
This is never going to happen; nor is it a good idea. A world without crows will be one where rubbish and dead animals will become food for rats, flies and other decomposers to slowly break down. Similarly old and sick animals that are no longer able to fend for themselves in the wild will be more likely to endure ongoing pain and hunger before they die. And the suburbs and bush will lose one of their most characteristic Australian sounds: the call of the crow. Be careful what you wish for.