Crows. They are often cited, deservedly so, as being the smartest of birds. The traits that make them such fascinating subjects of study, though, may also cast these birds as unbeatable adversaries. In Sunnyvale, California, this is precisely the role that crows are playing.
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A Murder Downtown
It’s evening in Sunnyvale, a major hub of Silicon Valley, the Central California region famous for its bustling tech industry. Downtown, restaurants prepare for the dinner rush as patrons begin shuffling in. Then a black shadow passes overhead. A cacophony of caws and screeches fills the air. To the people of Sunnyvale, this is a familiar occurrence, if not a fond one. Thousands of crows gather each evening in the area of Sunnyvale’s downtown. Drawn, perhaps, by the light and warmth of the city, what began as a manageable crow population has grown into a disruptive nuisance.
The disruption caused by these crows is obvious and costly. Restaurants driven to rely on outdoor dining by the Covid-19 pandemic must now contend with the droppings that blanket downtown Sunnyvale’s outdoor spaces. Crow droppings, in fact, are one of the main issues presented by Sunnyvale’s corvid residents. The city of Sunnyvale has had to spend hundreds of dollars each week spraying off streets and sidewalks due to these crows.
In addition to the mess, Sunnyvale’s crows produce an awful lot of noise, have been reported to allegedly “dive bomb” people, and have a habit of scavenging through dumpsters and trash cans for human leftovers.
This Means War
Facing the nuisance crows, Sunnyvale is arming itself. But how does one combat thousands of the smartest animals around? The city of Sunnyvale has a few ideas. Firstly, Sunnyvale city employees, residents, and business owners have been armed with green lasers. The idea is that these lasers will harass the crows until they give up and find a new place to roost.
Additionally, as part of this “crow abatement program,” boomboxes will be employed that play crow distress calls. The goal of this tactic is to convince the unwelcome crows that they are not safe downtown.
The Cost of Victory
All of these strategies sound fine on paper, but the fact of the matter is that nobody can be certain that they will work. Past strategies by Sunnyvale have failed to relieve the city of its crow problem, including the employment of falcons and reflectors as crow deterrents. A question also remains regarding where the crows will disperse to if the abatement program does succeed.
Other cities attempts to rid themselves of crows have been met with mixed results. Cities in New York and Minnesota failed to oust the crows with lasers and sounds, whilst one city in Indiana succeeded, only to have the crows set up shop in a poorer area of town. If Sunnyvale does send the crows packing, could this mean that nearby residential neighborhoods must then contend with the crow problem on their own?
Finally, there is one more issue to consider when discussing the crow problem. As human beings we act as self-appointed masters of nature, for better and for worse. In some scenarios this involves conservation and stewardship, in others this relationship is one of dominance and submission. It cannot be argued that the crows have taken up residence or disrupted the peace of Sunnyvale out of malice.
Some, including members of Sunnyvale’s local Audubon society, wonder if perhaps the crow abatement program might result in harm brought upon animals that are ultimately blameless. Concerns have been raised over the potential that lasers could blind the crows. Some worry, in fact, that the crow problem is the result of dangerous overpopulation which may be driving these birds to starvation. It is an unfortunate fact that every war has its casualties. In this case, though, one has to wonder how much right we humans have to decide what our outdoor spaces look like and which of nature’s creatures are permitted to enjoy them.
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