‘They exploit us supremely’: How to stay safe during peak of Seattle crow season
As summer gets closer, Seattle residents have experienced an apparent uptick in crow attacks. So, why is this happening, and what can be done to mitigate against this seasonal occurrence?
Seattle resident Christina Twidale described her own recent experience to KIRO Radio’s Nicole Jennings, after a crow flew at her while walking through downtown.
“I was just on my lunch, running an errand, downtown walking back from the office,” she recounted. “All of the sudden I feel this big whack on my head — I was kind of in shock.”
“It got me coming up from behind, and dive-bombed me right in the back of the head,” she continued. “I was totally fine, but I definitely felt it.”
Similar attacks have been reported across Seattle in recent weeks, driven by the tail-end of a so-called “crow season” that spans April to June. During those months, crows tend to be at their most aggressive.
“What’s going on is that the young are starting to come out of the nest, and when they do, they’re pretty vulnerable,” University of Washington Environmental and Forest Sciences Professor John Marzluff told MyNorthwest. “They might be in the bushes or the ground, and the parents are really defensive and dedicated to preserving those kids. They attack, and try and move us along like any other predator they suspect might hurt that offspring.”
After young crows leave their nests, they then begin to disperse in the fall, leading into winter, where other crows from northern latitudes will migrate south into the Seattle area. It’s during those months where the local crow population is at its largest, with as many as 10,000 birds gathering in a single communal roost on any given night.
Those crows disperse in the spring, followed by a nesting period in March and April, and then the whole process repeats itself starting in May and June.
Over the last several decades, the crow population in the Western United States has also increased “seven to 20-fold,” Marzluff estimates, thanks in large part to humans.
“Where there were too many trees on the West Coast — including Seattle — there were not crows in forests we had,” he detailed. “But once humans got there, that fragmentation of the forest and the increase in our presence made ideal habitat for crows because we provided food and opened up the forest.”
Through all that, crows have managed to “exploit us supremely” for food, shelter, and other resources.
“We’ve re-engineered the Western U.S. to be extremely hospitable to crows,” Marzluff said.
Crow attacks on the rise
For those currently coping with crow attacks in their neighborhoods, Marzluff advises caution for a few reasons.
First and foremost, when crows do fly at someone, “it’s mainly a bluff attack.”
“It’s going to startle you and it might seem terrifying because you’re all thinking of the Birds movie, but it’s not like that,” he noted. “They’re not going to gang up on you like on Tippi Hedren and kill you. They might scratch you at worst.”
Crows also prefer to attack from behind, and are unlikely to engage with someone directly facing them.
“They won’t want to come straight after you because that’s a more risky behavior for them,” Marzluff said.
“The thing I’d like to see more people try — and let me know if it really works — is put a Halloween mask on the back of your head, so you basically look like you’ve got a face either way,” he joked. “I bet they won’t come as close — they won’t touch you.”
He advises not reacting aggressively if a crow does attack, not to throw anything at them, and to avoid going near their young. Should you manage to get on the bad side of a crow, there could be long-term consequences.
“Realize that whatever we do to them, they remember it for life, and they will make you pay,” Marzluff warned.
He points to an ongoing study at the University of Washington that began 15 years ago, where researchers caught crows while wearing a distinct mask. Even today, the crows on the UW’s campus still react when they see someone in that mask.
“It would be a learned behavior — it’s a culture that has developed to recognize and hate this face we use,” he described.
That’s also behavior they can pass on to other crows, as well as their own offspring. When they see a face they recognize as an enemy, they “scold” it, alerting other crows in the area. Those other crows will then make note of the face and remember it themselves, essentially spreading that recognition of a potential enemy across generations.
Knowing all that, Marzluff says the best recourse for anyone dealing with crow attacks is to avoid antagonizing them, wear a hat for added protection, and stay calm if they do fly at you.
“The bird’s probably not going to hurt you,” he reiterated.