Charles Village’s Plague of Crows

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Photo by Bruce Willen

For eighty percent of the year, Charles Village is a wonderful place to live. Those painted ladies! That civic spirit! The street fair! But for at least two months every year, the charming neighborhood morphs into a disgusting place caked with — forgive me! — bird shit. Yes, it’s crow season in Charles Village once again — and we may as well admit that the birds are winning.

Woe to the unsuspecting driver who parks her car under the wrong tree, and woe to the innocent new homeowner who didn’t realize that the lovely tree outside his window would soon be colonized by a bunch of late-night, hard-partying birds. Maybe the crows heard that Baltimore tends to be a pro-bird city. Maybe they got confused when they heard about our high murder rate. Whatever the reason, they flock here — literally — in increasing numbers each winter, it seems.
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“There’s much to admire about these birds, starting with their apparent intelligence and, some would say, their culture–local behavior patterns, such as the annual roosts, that seem to be learned and remembered,” Tom Chalkley wrote in the City Paper a number of years ago. Which is all well and good, until things go the way of Hagerstown. That community was plagued by hundreds of thousands of crows around 2000; local officials have resorted to spraying trees to discourage the birds from roosting.
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“They are gregarious and they do like to get together with their own kind,” Robert Beyer of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources told North Baltimore Patch last year. “And it’s not unusual for them, once a site is started [to gather in increasingly large numbers]. This is why we always recommend to people, if you start seeing birds start to congregate in the area, get on them right away, simply because, if you don’t, there’s going to be more birds and more birds and more birds.” That’s no exaggeration — roosts can grow to as many as 2 million birds.
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One traditional method of dispersal — shooting in their general direction with a firearm — is illegal in Baltimore City, so residents have resorted to other means (banging pots and pans; praying for rainstorms) to get them to shoo. But urban crows don’t seem likely to go away any time soon. Cities provide them with abundant food sources (ie., trash), and their rural habitats are increasingly encroached on by development. We recommend parking your car in a non-infested neighborhood, hunkering down, and waiting for spring.

Bird poop pictures by Bruce Willen.

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