Portland crow poisoning: When it is legal to kill crows and how do we build empathy?

Officer cleaning up one of the many dead crows found in Portland's Waterfront Park.  Photo c/o KOIN 6 News

Officer cleaning up one of the many dead crows found in Portland’s Waterfront Park. Photo c/o KOIN 6 News

Normally when I talk about a murder of crows I’m using it as a noun to describe a large group, but in this case I’m talking about the likely deliberate killing of at least 30 birds in downtown Portland, OR.  The Wednesday before thanksgiving, people started to notice dead and seizing crows in the sidewalks and parks and, quickly, the bodies started to pile up at an alarming rate.  Several specimens were sent to a lab for autopsies and, while more definitive answers are yet to come, all signs point to poisoned corn.   Since corn isn’t generally found in urban areas unless put there by people, the Portland Audubon Society fears that these crows may have been deliberately baited and killed.

This has prompted both warranted outrage and…confusion. Why is Fish and Wildlife treating this like a crime, but hunting crows is ok? Crows, like basically all non-invasive birds, are federally protected under both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and various state laws which means you cannot “take (gov speak for kill, intentionally or otherwise), possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale…the bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations” (MBTA, 16 U.S.C. 703–712).  It’s that last bit that’s key here.  It means that, just like other game birds, you can shoot crows with a hunting license, though you need a different “validation” than you need for waterfowl or upland game birds and it varies from state to state. Now here’s the rub that some people will say if they get caught killing crows without a license. In many states, including Oregon, you can kill crows without a hunting license and outside of the hunting season if they are “found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance” (ODFW 2013 Bird Regulations).  BUT and this is a big one, you must report these “takes” and there’s all kinds of federal laws that limit how you can kill the animals in these cases. The person who did this both did not report it and used illegal lethal means (poison is basically never ok because it’s too hard to limit it to your target species) hence the pending investigation. Whether or not that investigation actually happens is another matter. You can share your voice and enthusiasm for more legal action here.

My friend, Simone, and one of her crows, Jekyll.  Through both educational outreach and social media storytelling people like Simone are reshaping the attitudes we have about crows and other corvids.

My friend, Simone, and one of her crows, Jekyll. Through both educational outreach and storytelling on social media, people like Simone are reshaping our attitudes towards crows and other corvids.

Hopefully the person(s) responsible for this are found and made accountable for their actions because they broke the law plain and simple.  Though, honestly, I don’t think our best chances of precluding another incident like this are through punishing one or two individuals.  Rather, I think we should continue striving for a more compassionate culture through both science and story telling.   These are two of our greatest tools whenever we’re trying to change hearts and minds (forgive the cliche).  Information on how to non-lethally get rid of crows, and what isn’t effective (like randomly killing 30 birds!), gives us tools to have informed discussions on how to manage crows without useless killings. Data on how smart they are, what their family groups are like, their emotional intelligence etc., challenge the thinking that they’re mindless automatons and makes it harder to treat them as such.  Stories from crow watchers and lovers, set the cultural tone that these are animals we value and make the lives of individual crows more meaningful through personal connections.  These are the tools that will ultimately help us reshape the way people think of, and treat crows.

Citations:

http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/upland_bird/docs/2013-14_oregon_game_bird_regs.pdf

http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/RegulationsPolicies/mbta/mbtintro.html

21 Comments

Filed under crow conflicts, Crows and humans

21 responses to “Portland crow poisoning: When it is legal to kill crows and how do we build empathy?

  1. Dana McDonald

    I loved your post, and even more so when I scrolled down and saw the picture of SImone 🙂 She’s a friend of mine as well. A great person, and great advocate of birds of all kinds.

  2. Mark Christensen

    I love birds too, all of the beautiful song birds that your Crows have killed. They eat the eggs of all other birds. They hear the sounds of new born baby birds and swoop in to eat them. They kill the parent birds who try to protect their young. They do it in numbers, never one on one, always three or four Crows on one defenseless dove. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. Go to where your Crows congregate and you will hear “no” singing or chirping, only caw, caw, caw. When the Crows fly away the silence is the silence of death. All birds are part of our ecosystem just as bees and lady bugs. You let your Crows kill all of our ecosystem “We all die” Your compassion is misguided. I do not suggest we kill “all” Crows but we need to thin them out by any means necessary to get our song birds back, “if it isn’t too late”. I have seen the sky completely black with a murder of Crows, yes I said murder, not flock. It is called a murder of Crows because they murder.

    • Mark, I understand your frustration. Crows do eat other birds and it can be hard to stomach especially when they’re eating young. I encourage you to visit another posting of mine, however, which describes the numerous studies that show that crows do not actually reduce songbird populations at large. https://corvidresearch.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/do-crows-reduce-other-songbirds/ While they can certainly silence a nest, they’re damage is not as vast as many people think. Part of their bad reputation, I think, is because they’re conspicuous and hunt during the day we notice when they depredate nests more than many of the other prevalent hunters like cats, squirrels and raccoons. Even if the data can’t change your tune about crows, I urge you to at least reconsider your stance of “any means necessary” since often times that’s the attitude that causes collateral damage in other predators and scavengers.
      Cheers,

  3. Janie

    I tend to agree with Mark Christensen. Crows are reproducing in record numbers (CROWS HAVE NO PREDATORS) and they are destroying the song bird populations. How do we confront the issue of over population of these birds and their negative impact on other birds, beneficial snakes, etc.?

    • Janie, I’m afraid my response to you won’t be much different from what I shared with Mark. It’s simply untrue that crows are destroying the songbird populations. ( https://corvidresearch.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/do-crows-reduce-other-songbirds/ ) This is backed up not only by the numerous individual studies on crow predation effects, but also by the studies that show what are really destroying the songbird populations (habitat loss, cats, window strikes, etc.). It’s also untrue that crows have no predators, but this is great news for you because I’m hoping this will offer a solution that feels a little more proactive. Most crow kids (around 50%) die before they hit sexual maturity. During this time one of their primary natural predators are owls and hawks (and raccoons, squirrels, and opossums). I recommend reading a few books on how you can landscape your yard to be better suited for birds, which in turn will attract bird eating hawks and owls. If you can create a situation in which a coopers hawk or great horned owl may be likely to settle down and nest in your yard, you won’t be seeing many crows there! I recommend reading Subirdia, or checking out the Audubon Society’s various resources for doing just this.

  4. Pingback: Corvid trivia quiz! | Corvid Research

  5. RJ

    Where I live it is now rare to see anything but crows. They have wiped out almost all the other birds in my area. I have personally witnessed them killing young song birds, taking them from their nests before they are old enough to fly away. Now instead of the beautiful songs in the morning all I hear every morning is caw caw caw in the early AM waking me up. It isn’t uncommon to see 20+ crows on your lawn in the morning and no other birds in sight. I have a couple of neighbours that foolishly feed the crows and their population has boomed. I live in a rural area and we can no longer plant any food crops outside because the crows will eat everything that isn’t securely netted (a very expensive and labor intensive option). I know that they have their place as scavengers to keep things cleaned up but the population is out of control. They don’t seem to have any predators and the population keeps growing. I have tried everything I can think of to scare these pests away and nothing seems to work. I wish there was some way to get rid of these miserable pests from my area for good. Anyone who defends crows obviously hasn’t been plagued by them.

    • I’m sorry you feel so burdened by these animals RJ. What are the tactics you’ve tried so far? What kind of habitat have you created on your property? These are the best two areas to look at when exploring new options for both crow control and creating safer places for smaller birds and crow predators. Crows certainly eat nestlings but in most places this is a normal part of the predatory challenges that face a young bird and doesn’t impact the overall population (see this post). On another note, if you’re one of the many people who found this article by searching for ways to poison crows you hopefully now know that it’s very illegal but perhaps more compelling to you would be that I can assure you it won’t work. It will simply create an unoccupied space that will quickly be taken up by a younger pair. I also think it’s worth considering that you say that anyone who defends crows obviously hasn’t been plagued by them. Presumably your crow-friendly neighbors experience the same numbers of crows that you do, and yet they continue to feed them. So I think it’s worth keeping in mind that “pest” “plagued” etc., are all very subjective. What to you feels like a plague, to your neighbor is a wonderful and intimate relationship she’s built with a wild animal. Which is just to point out that pests are only pests because we consider them as such and I think your comment really illustrated that.

    • Dana McDonald

      One of the biggest threats to songbirds is outdoor domestic cats, not crows. And here’s an interesting fact, squirrels eat more songbird babies and eggs than crows do. So you are blaming the wrong party.

      The combination of habitat destruction, domestic cats, toxins, etc. is too much for most birds. Crows just happen to be better at avoiding more of it. And they do have predators, like Cooper’s hawks, that people also seem to dislike.

      I personally love my local crows, and yes, I feed them. I keep chickens, and the crows do their best to chase of raptors to protect their babies. Which also means the raptors aren’t sneaking up on my chickens. They are intelligent and amazing animals, and I love watching their close knit families raise babies.

      • Dana, thanks for the reminder about cats. It’s without question they are an immensely destructive force when it comes to birds. I would, however, be curious to see where your squirrel fact came from. Squirrels certainly eat eggs and nestling but I’ve never seen any data that suggests that they do so more than crows except maybe in a very unique situation. Let me know where that comes from. Thanks!

      • Dana McDonald

        It came from an online lecture that Kevin McGowan did a little over a year ago. Snakes were big predators too, but we don’t really have them in the PNW. Deer even ate nestlings, and I’ve since seen a video of that!

      • A reputable source indeed! Thanks for teaching me something new

  6. dexter

    If you wish to have song birds in your yard, you need to encourage your local coyote. We have both in my part of Washington because coyotes control the meso-predators such as feral cats and raccoons. Yes, corvids kill some of our favorite song birds, but it’s the feral cats that are the real, huge, and devastating issue. I love my crows because they are smart enough to be like humans; a complex amalgam of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  7. Dexter and Dana both bring up an obvious (and often contentious) point. In most areas, but especially rural areas where barn cats are prolific, efforts to protect smaller birds really needs to be directed at dealing first and foremost with cats. The combo of cat deterrents and adequate cover/nesting areas can make all the difference in the world.

  8. Jackie

    Is it encouraged to feed crows in Portland parks? There are so many prototypical old ladys who are constantly feeding the crows in the designated off leash dog areas, causing large hoards of birds to congregate near dogs. Doesn’t seem safe, legal, or smart. Who is responsible for controlling this?

    • That would fall under the umbrella of your city government/parks department. Generally speaking, if there’s no signage then it’s not illegal (or at the very least not enforced). If you’re worried about it I’d start with putting in some face time with them. Another tactic might be contacting Portland Audubon to set up an educational kiosk in the park for a weekend. Whether it’s kids feeding ducks bread or women feeding crows near off leash dogs, none of it is very good for the birds and perhaps the Audubon would be well suited to deliver this information in a way that would make folks willing to change their ways.

  9. Tisa D Roland

    The only good crow is a dead crow. I have watched as they came in and drove out or killed all the other native birds. Thank you for letting me know I can get a permit to kill them.

    • Dana McDonald

      Crows ARE native birds, nasty person.

      • Unfortunately Dana, this kind of anti-predator “the only good ____ is a dead ____” attitude is all too common and rarely supported by rigorous science. Some people fill the blanks in with wolves or big cats or rattlesnakes or raptors or you name it. The best we can do is keep up the research showing predators are a vital part of our ecosystem and reminding people to look towards their own species if they want to place blame on biodiversity loss.

      • Dana

        I agree. Unfortunately, some of the ignorant don’t want to be enlightened. It’s sad that we are supposed to be able to reason and think, but some choose not to.

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