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.


Click to access 2013-14_oregon_game_bird_regs.pdf



Filed under crow conflicts, Crows and humans

49 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.

    • john

      I completely agree. When one species over populate due to people not understanding what is a good population that is what is wrong. During spring crows fly through yards flushing up Robins. A positive flush indicates a nest. Then a month later they come around and eat the young. When you have hundreds of crows per 1 square mile that is way too many. If a person cries over a dead crow, well, that is too few tears for what has been killed by too many crows.

      • John, you are welcome to voice your opinions but I must point out that they are simply not supported by science. Crows hammer robins, yes, but it has no effect on their population growth. This has been shown repeatedly.

    • In short, fuck these murdering crows!

      • Annica McCarthy

        I like crows. What about our species? Your interesting logic makes a strong case for thinning the herd of humans. Compared to us the crows are amateurs in over population and bird eradication. Better rethink your diatribe.

    • Kay

      Leaving this comment much later than the initial comment but I just want to point out that house cats are actually responsible for the deaths of thousands of songbirds- and not even for food, just because they enjoy killing things. So it should actually be a “murder” of cats.

  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.

  10. Suizou

    Logic and reality is lost on crazed bleeding-hearts. The mass majority of these types are spoiled, overprivileged white people who are not only thoroughly disconnected from reality, but have the time and resources to pursue such bizarre, useless, and ultimately detrimental pet projects.

    • Suizou, I agree that both historically and contemporarily, outdoor recreation from bird feeding to hiking to botanical gardens have been the activities of the privileged and I think that’s an important conversation to have. I disagree, however, with your overall conclusion-the the goal should be that we forsake these activities. Rather, I think we need to strive to work on the issues (racism, poverty, etc) that prevent all people from being able to pursue these activities. You are welcome to continue that conversation, but if you want to simply vent about how much you despise “bleeding hearts” I’ll will not continue to approve your comments. There’s other corners of the internet more suited for that.

  11. Dave

    I have seen these birds destroy my roof while they peck away at the peanut fed to them by a neighbor. There are few if any song birds left in our community and now that the county has quit going after the proliferous rats with poison, the crow population is horrendous. Often the sky is black and the cars are multi-colored messes of acidic paint removing shit from these protected scavengers.

    I am sorry…kill them! They are a menace to peacefulness and sanity. At least go back to poisoning the rats so that the crows will eat them.

    As for Ms. Corvidresearch, you need a life. People are just as important as a garbage eating, death machine you want to protect. They are the flying rat and there are too many of them.

    Don’t bother responding because your ideas don’t make sense and the science is flawed.

    • Dave, your comment was today’s inspiration to continue my research and science communication efforts.
      Best wishes,

      • I can only commend Kaeli on the turning of a mistaken, offensive reply devoid of any and all substance into another reason to keep on researching, understanding, and explaining that chunk of science that brings us all here.


    • alpha

      Apparently Dave is aware of some mysterious data or meta-analysis that supports his hypothesis that we don’t have access to. If Dave could kindly cite the evidence that supports his claims, we could extrapolate from the data and create constructive solutions that maintain biodiversity.

      You say that her “ideas don’t make sense” to you. So, how do you conclude there is a discrepancy in the data? Simply because you have a comprehension issue does not mean there is an error in the data.

      She needs a life? She is dedicating herself to corvid research, allowing us to comprehend things about them that we never could have imagined had it not been for this research (e.g. memory, cognition, social structure, etc.).

      The absence of anything substantive from you, Dave, (i.e. data, analyses, objectivity, any empirical evidence) is indicative of the state of your life.

      • Dave

        Well Alpha, if you would like to come and see the crap on my car, the hole that was pecked through the roof and the blacked out skies from the daily migration of these flying rats, feel free to extrapolate that.

        Really, does it require data, analysis, objectivity or any of your other pseudoscientific response to realize that the truth is in seeing it first hand?

        Go to UC Davis and see the parking lots around there. They were so full of crow feces that you had to literally wipe your feet before getting in the car. Oh and grab the door latch carefully so you don’t put it in the same matter. It was a sea of crap! Sorry, I don’t like, it isn’t healthy and crows are the cause. It ain’t rocket science!

        Farmers had always taken care of the problem by aggressively hunting down these creatures and now that they don’t and they’re back and they’re hungry and they do all the above including attack the freshly planted fields.

        Get real folks. Go where the problem lies and own something that gets desecrated by these things and maybe you would change your attitudes a little.

        People first !

    • alpha

      Dave, your statements are entirely anecdotal. Anecdotes are not objective, and yes, objectivity is absolutely necessary. We never, ever deal in anecdotal evidence. Why? Because anecdotes are logically fallacious. If x precedes y, that does not mean that x causes y.

      I understand what you are saying about your personal problems dealing with waste on your property. If you had bothered to read any of our “pseudoscience,” you would know that there are ways to deter crows by encouraging their natural predators, hawks and owls, to forage in your area. Excessive hunting has historically always led to extinction or near-extinction. This is immensely deleterious to the local ecosystem.

      If we, as people, placed subjectivity and anecdotes in place of objectivity and real scientific data, we wouldn’t have the technological luxuries that we have now. So thank “pseudoscience” the next time you drive a car, get on a plane, take an antibiotic, or use your smartphone.

      Good day.

      • Dave

        Big words for stupid science.

        Face it. There are too many crows and you know it. So don’t try to dazzle me with your scientific bs. Its a fact and you can’t change it. People first. Quality of life in the modern age. I had to look up fallacious. It isn’t fallacy when there is a turd in your hair.

        Here is the big truth…they suck and that is all I have to say on the subject.

  12. Mr and Mrs Griffin

    A neighbor Man across the street is feeding hundreds of crows. The crows get on our roof and peck shingles and our plastic Skylight. They also peck on our back 20×24 deck awning it also has plastic skylights 24 ft long. The crows also s*** on Vehicles sidewalks people, and everything. They also leave peanut shells all over our roof and they plug up our downspouts which go underground and into a nearby Creek. We live on a residential street and it’s not just us that are affected by this . I spoke to City Hall and they said there’s no regulations on feeding Birds. We live in Brookings Oregon . Any advice would be greatly appreciated thank you for your time

    • I can’t offer any advice here as a crow expert, but I’ll do my best as just a person. I think your best strategy is to spend some time doing some research and watching crows. Find some things about them you find charismatic and interesting. Then try and connect with your neighbor over his passion for the birds. If you can approach him in a spirit of “hey, we like things about crows, we get why you do this” he’ll be less threatened and more receptive when you express things about his feeding habitats that are frustrating. You don’t need to get him to stop to solve these problems, you just need him to feed fewer birds. Asking him to do this as a fellow enthusiast (or as close to that as you can approximate) will be more successful.

  13. Wayne Davidson

    I really like Crows and I think if we could just get all of them to flock to this writers home and stay away from ours then that would be a win-win. In my neighborhood they are obnoxious. The deaf neighbor lady likes to feed them so a family of crows have take up living here. Now we cannot have our windows open from all the racked the make. My sister bought a new car and they crapped all over it and that crap ate through the clear coat making a permanent stain. Is it the crows that have killed all the Robins? Where have they all gone?

  14. Linda Rahmeyer

    If crows…or any bird…crap on a car, wash it off. All bird crap will damage car paint if left on the car. Altho trees provide nice shade, I rarely park under them for that reason. As for Dave who commented above about the crows in Davis, specifically UC Davis…well I’ve lived there for years and never had a huge problem. So there you go. If a person is going to hate…they are going to hate. No amount of education, from UCDavis, or elsewhere can change that. But i appreciate the info provided here, i can do several things mentioned to make my yard more attractive to hawks. I also work hard to have a good relationship with my neighbors so that if I am doing something annoying…or they are…we can hopefully work it out. Poisoning and killing seldom solves problems.

  15. jim schofield

    I’m with the folks who want to thin the the crows.

  16. Crows are a menace and highly destructive, no matter how you cut it.

    They are very intelligent and have an incredible geographic memory—remembering where nests of young birds sit hundreds of miles away.

    I used to have a large murder invade my neighborhood and all the beautiful songbirds would suddenly vanish, leaving us with a huge amount of ugly caws all day long.

    At first I tried a supersoaker squirt gun. It was OK for birds nearby our balcony, but they simply moved out of its range.

    Next I bought a spring-powered pistol that shoots plastic pellets that are harmless. All this did was cause them to once again roost a few feet out of it’s weak range. Smart birds? You bet.

    Now, I have a slingshot and launch a handful of Beebees at a time, and, once you wing a few they remain frightened and seem to remember not to come back. I do not shoot to kill, but only to stun and frighten. This seems to work well.

    One thing this article fails to mention is how large murders of crow spread disease:

    “Prions—the infectious proteins that cause illnesses such as mad cow disease, scrapie, chronic wasting disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—can pass through the digestive systems of crows, new research published in PLoS One finds.”

    To wit—Humans and other creatures deserve to live in peace too. Sometimes we have to fight for it.

    • Couple quick corrections for other readers. No, they don’t remember nests hundreds of miles away. Yes, crows carry harmful bacteria and other materials in their feces. Don’t touch crow poop and then lick your hands. Otherwise there’s no records I know of, of crows spreading diseased to humans . There’s a big difference between *can spread disease* and *do spread disease*. Outdoor cats on the other hand are actually right now killing sea otters and other marine life by spreading toxo to wastewater. So while we should be cognizant and continue to study the relationship between crows and disease spread, for every point made in this article you would have a more immediate and positive impact on birds and wildlife by addressing outdoor cats.

  17. I have a great relationship with the crows in my neighborhood, spend lots of my free time just watching and observing them as they do with me lol.. I feed this one crow family that added and additional four to the family this past year. One of the four has avian pox I think it has a growth on its leg right at the top before the hair. If the little guy is able to stay healthy as he does seem to be will he be able to fight this pox thing it is very contagious I have read. I am very concerned and would like to know if there is anything I am able to do to help crow friends.

  18. Linda

    My yard has so many different birds, song birds, Jays, Doves, Robbins, Quail, Mallard family here every year, small hawks etc. The only thing that kills any of these birds are the cats from neighbors who think that their cats should be allowed to kill just to kill and to go into yards to spray and defecate, when in heat, fighting, howling. Not all cat owners spay or neuter, so talk about over population. Feral cats are very dangerous they carry diseases that harm humans, cat scratch fever and toxoplasmosis, rabies and many more. All of the birds in my yard dine together…. They sing all day long. Let nature care for itself and when you want a cat or dog be responsible and considerate. Life is beautiful, sit in the sun and enjoy its music.

  19. H

    unfortunately here in japan, in most large cities, the environmental protection agency culls crows. they put out huge cages and every week or so, men kill the caught ones and collect the bodies. i may or may not have damaged those cages on occasion and freed them… it’s so sad to watch. i have appealed to the city government but most people here think like those in the comments section–they think they are dangerous disease-carrying flying rats. I’m grateful for the work you’re doing. i hope one day people start to open up to crows! they’re my friends!

  20. Kevin

    My Name Is Kevin Smith. I Live In Oregon State.

    The Only Science This Nasty Person Even Cares About Is The Science That I Work Nights And Sleep During The Day. The Other Things That Kill Uncontrollably Don’t Wake Me Up All Day. I Don’t Get Disturbed By Stray Cats, Coyotes, Owls, Or Hawks. And Too That End A Thinning Of The Loud Cars, Trucks, And People For That Matter Wouldn’t Hurt My Feelings Either – Even If It Were Me That Had To Go. I Keep Reading That The Extinction Of Some Species Would Tear Apart The Very Fabric Of The Space – Time Continuum And The Universe Would Explode. Lets Try It And See. I Vote The Crows Get To Go. All Of Them!

    Let The Liberal Name Calling Begin.

    –Kevin Smith

    • Hi Kevin, I think once someone starts talking about “a thinning of people…even if it were me” it’s time to step away from the computer and spend some time with a loved one, or something else that brings you peace. Take care of yourself.

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