Caw-fully close! Understanding crow nesting season | BC SPCA
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Caw-fully close! Understanding crow nesting season

April 2, 2019

Clever and charismatic, crows are a common neighbourhood resident in urban and suburban areas in B.C. While typically spotted hopping along grassy boulevards in search of tasty morsels, or perched high in trees calling to their flock-mates, baby season can bring out an unexpected side to these familiar faces.

Crow standing on car
Photo credit: Colleen Wilson

The sudden onset of crows scolding, swooping, and even dive-bombing unsuspecting people as they make their way to home, work, and school can seem as if someone issued a bird battle-cry. But, this is just anxious bird parents protecting their young. Nesting season is a vulnerable time for babies and parents, with eggs and young chicks at risk of predation. This risk is amplified as fledgling birds begin to leave the nest. For their first few days they can’t fully fly, and rely heavily on their parents to keep them safe as they hop around on the ground and work their flight muscles.

Baby crows spend about a month in the nest after hatching, and once they leave the nest they spend the first few days fluttering from branch to branch within their nest tree as they build up their muscles and flight skills. However, in cities we often remove the lower tree branches for safety and visibility. This means these fliers-in-training end up down on the ground, often in quite exposed areas – which increases the need for vigilant parental protection to ward off danger.

Young crows in care at Wild ARC – notice the blue eyes!

So, when we’re outside enjoying the sunshine, checking our phone messages, or chatting with a friend, and suddenly we’re accosted by a squawking or swooping crow, it means we ventured a little too close to a nest or a baby! Crows have a complex family structure, and first-year birds will often become assistants at the nest site, helping to defend the nesting territory in exchange for some of the food gathered for the babies, and some lessons in successful parenting! However, that means that there are often several sets of eyes on the lookout for risks, and unwary humans sometimes merit a warning dive to encourage us to keep a safe distance.

To minimize dive-bombing, the simplest solution is to temporarily alter our travel routes to keep a little more distance around known nest sites, and to post friendly warning signs in high traffic areas. No way to avoid passing close by a closely-guarded crow nest? Carry an umbrella as a portable visual barrier to add a little extra distance between you and the concerned parents. By July, the babies are well on their way to independence, and the adults become much calmer at this point.

If you do spot a young crow in a vulnerable area, or with no adult birds visible in the area, the best step is to seek advice from a wildlife rehabilitator – often there are measures that can be taken to reunite babies with their parents, but sometimes these young birds need further help. The BC SPCA Provincial Call Centre 1-855-622-7722 can offer advice and assistance.

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Crow up close
Photo credit: Colleen Wilson