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It’s crow dive-bombing season in Seattle

A crow dives on a researcher during a trial. Crows recognize people who have scared them or wronged them for years.
Courtesy Keith Brust
A crow dives on a researcher during a trial. Crows recognize people who have scared them or wronged them for years.

This story is a favorite from our archives.   

Professor John Marzluff’s phone is ringing more than usual, which means it’s crow dive-bombing season in Seattle.

“Every time I go out into my backyard there's a crow out there that's squawking at me and chasing me down,” said a man who called in about his experience to KUOW.

Said another man: “We had crows literally come down and tap me on the head, trying to scare me. Another one pecked me in the eyebrow. I’ve even dropped the mail, believe it or not, and ran.”

A woman from Green Lake said she was near tears and feared leaving her home.

“I walk my dog a couple of times a day, and every time I walk out they first dive-bomb her, then they dive-bomb me,” she said. “I've tried wearing different hats, changing my route. They simply will not leave us alone.”

Marzluff, who teaches in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, isn’t concerned. It’s the season, he told KUOW’s Jeannie Yandel.

“It really peaks about now, when the young crows are just starting to leave the nest on their own, and the parents are watching over them,” he said. “The young aren’t very good at flying and hiding yet, so they come in close contact with people.”

Crow moms and dads get stressed out when the babies get too close to humans.

“It views you as a predator or a potential threat to that young, and so it's diving at you to try to get you to move on and leave that area,” Marzluff said. He's the author of “Gifts of the Crow” and “Welcome to Subirdia.”

“They can occasionally scratch you when they hit you with their feet,” he said. “They don't land on you and peck your eyes out or anything like that. But they will strafe you, and sometimes they do cause a scalp wound.”

Marzluff offered three remedies: Ignore them, take another path (and bring an umbrella to shield yourself) or wear a mask with eyes on the back of your head. Crows attack from behind, he said, and they don’t attack faces.

“Your neighbors might wonder what the heck you're doing, but you'd probably be pretty safe from the birds," he said.  

Crow dive-bombing season is also the time of year the birds caw loudest. Sometimes, it’s crow parents yelling at their kids. Other times, it’s the kids whining for food.

Marzluff demonstrated, making a practiced, high-pitched cawing sound.

“That's a signal to the parents, ‘I'm hungry, I'm over here. Bring me some food,’” he said.

Humans sometimes mistake young crows as being in distress – they’re scrawny, lack plumage and often rest, which makes them look feeble. But don't pick up those babies, Marzluff said.

“Best thing is to let the parents go ahead and care for those young, so that the young grow up with their parents in that society which is very important for crows,” he said.

But a crow in the road or in danger could be moved, although Marzluff said to be careful.

"I'd either use an umbrella or I'd put a big hat on so that the crows don't see you as the person doing this,” he said. “When you pick up that young, it's going to squawk, and the parents are going to identify you as a danger, and they're going to hold that memory for years to come."

Produced for the Web by Isolde Raftery.