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'They Will Strafe You,' Bird Expert Says Of Seattle's Dive-Bombing Crows

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

It has become an annual process: Crows swoop down on unsuspecting Seattleites, who then call wildlife professor John Marzluff, who explains that it's simply the season for crows to dive-bomb people — and that they're mostly harmless.

The behavior, Marzluff tells member station KUOW, is tied to something many parents can understand: the empty nest.

"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 tells KUOW's Jeannie Yandel. "The young aren't very good at flying and hiding yet, so they come in close contact with people."

One Seattle resident tells KUOW, "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."

Another resident said she and her dog were constantly being harassed during their walks.

As the young crows figure things out, their parents do their best to ward off potential threats, and that includes humans, says Marzluff, who teaches at the University of Washington's School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

"They don't land on you and peck your eyes out or anything like that," he says. "But they will strafe you, and sometimes they do cause a scalp wound."

Marzluff has spoken to NPR before. In 2009, Robert Krulwich discussed his research confirming that crows remembered the faces of people. And earlier this year, a story came out about a girl who befriended crows by feeding them — and was rewarded with gifts from the corvids.

When it comes to dive-bombing crows, Marzluff offers three solutions — and we'll tell you, the third choice is fascinating:

  • Ignore the crows.
  • Avoid areas where you draw their attention.
  • "Wear a mask with eyes on the back of your head," KUOW's Yandel writes. "Crows attack from behind, he said, and they don't attack faces."
  • Here's the NPR video that goes along with Krulwich's story about what he called The Crow Paradox:

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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