How The Hen House Turns: Trouble With Crows

Crow in Pistachio Tree. Courtesy/Cary Neeper
Formerly of Los Alamos
I suspect that crows have developed–over a very long time–a cultural aversion to human beings. Only rarely do they get welcoming treatment from us bipeds, unlike the local turkeys and deer in Los Alamos and here in California, where they often pass close by with no more than a curious glance.
In our 46 years on Walnut Street we saw crows take over the backyard Ponderosas from a number of ravens. I’ll never forget the last raven I saw. When he left our feeding stump, a “murder” of crows flew at him. He suffered a gang attack in the air, but I think he finally escaped into the canyon.
Some years ago, we took a six month mentoring position in Chicago, so we asked some young women to stay in the house and take care of the chickens and Turkey Two. During the third month, the fowl-sitters called to say that they needed to buy more cracked corn. Puzzled, because I had bought plenty for their six-month stay, I agreed to their buying more corn.
Soon after our return home, it became clear why so much corn had disappeared. I realized that 40 or more crows were mobbing the chicken pen. The hen-sitting young women both had been working full time, so the local gang of crows had moved in every day to devour all the domestic birds’ corn.
While the dogs and I rousted the 40 crows out of the Hen House pen, turkey caught one crow flying too low. The other crows hollered in protest from the surrounding Ponderosas as turkey pounded the captive crow with her beak. I quickly grabbed the crow away from turkey and got pecked for my efforts as I tossed the crow over the six-foot-high chicken-wire fence.
“And don’t come back,” I shouted as the beaten-up crow joined his noisy gang in the tree tops. The crows flew off and never came back to the Hen House, though they would scold me from a distance if I was seen in the back yard..
Some years ago PBS aired a study that demonstrated that certain crows hated a bad-acting human wearing a certain face mask. After a difficult search, some time later, the investigators found one of the crow’s offspring, one that had experienced the test encounter with the same mask. The offspring reacted with the same startled, noisy objections that its parents had made.
Crows are not stupid. Even here in California they are noticeably averse and wary of human contact.