When someone mentions crows, your first association may be an all-black bird, the “caw caw” sound they’re famous for, a murdered individual coming back for justice (“The Crow”), or the need for a better scarecrow in the garden. But these birds are very complex critters, and what you may know about them might not be true at all.
So if you need to get rid of crows that have invaded your yard or garden, sit back and grab some coffee. Let’s take a closer look at these fascinating creatures. You might just come to appreciate them. (But don’t worry, we’ll tell you how to make them leave as well!)
Getting to Know Crows
Crows are among the most intelligent birds in the world and also among the most misunderstood. Vital to the environment, these crafty critters have a very complex societal structure and language.
A Few Bizarre Crow Facts
#1 – Crows Have Dialects
Crows living in a community will develop an accent unique to that community,
#2 – Crows Can Talk
When Poe’s Raven said ‘Nevermore’, it might not have been creative license. In fact, crows and ravens can learn words, phrases, and sounds much like parrots.
#3 – Crows Can Invent
Crows are avid tool users and will actually “invent” tools to solve problems. A famous example was of Betty, a New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides) fashioning a piece of wire into a hook to retrieve a small bucket of meat despite never seeing a wire or bucket before.
The 2006 study shocked scientists, as chimpanzees also use natural hooks but have never been seen to craft them. Further studies have confirmed the original results. More importantly, other species of crows have also been found to fashion complex tools.
It seems Aesop’s famous fable may have been based on actual observations after all!
#4 – Crows Have a complex Culture
Crow communities have been observed holding “funerals” for dead crows and have a complex language.
Not only did the temporarily captured crows remember the specific masks their captors wore, they described them to all other nearby crows and even passed that knowledge down to the next generation. Five years later, people wearing the “dangerous” mask were still being attacked by any crows in eyeshot up to 3/4 miles from the original location.
Meanwhile, the crows continued to act favorably towards those wearing the “neutral” mask.
A Few Common Crow Myths
#1 – Crows Are Black
While it’s true black is the predominant coloration, different species have iridescent feathers or grey markings on the head or torso, as well as variations in the black itself.
This is perhaps what led to a famous Native American story about how Crow brought fire to the world.
#2 – Crows Are Noisy at Night
Actually, crows are diurnal and spend the night nesting quietly.
#3 – Crows Are Destructive to Agriculture
It turns out, crows aren’t vegetarians and prefer meat. Nine times out of ten, the crow sitting in your garden is eating grubs or other pests and actually helping to keep your crops safe.
#4 – Crows Transmit Disease
While crows can catch West Nile virus, they can’t transmit it to humans. Likewise, crows are erroneously blamed for the spread of Histoplasmosis, which is usually contracted from contaminated poultry products.
#5 – Crows Use Cars as Nutcrackers
There’s no denying crows are smart birds. However, a popular urban myth claims that crows drop walnuts at intersections so passing cars will crack them open. A 1997 study taking place in the town that first reported this behavior discovered this wasn’t the case.
In reality, crows had a habit of dropping and retrieving walnuts regardless of traffic. They not only dropped the walnuts on the road, but also other hard surfaces to crack them. If anything, cars were detrimental, as it crushed the walnut meat, allowing magpies and other competing birds to steal the food.
What Do Crows Eat?
Crows are expert scavengers and will eat almost anything that’s edible.
In 1960s America, crows became more urban, recognizing large human settlements as a primary source of food scraps. They not only began scavenging garbage, but also memorized garbage truck routes and which crews left can lids open.
However, crows are primarily carnivores when the option arises and feed heavily on insects when humans aren’t providing a free meal in the garbage. They also eat seeds and nuts like other birds when meat isn’t readily available.
Crows and Humans
Crows have a very long history with humans. As scavengers, they’re often considered a bane to farmers and gardeners everywhere. In folklore and mythology, Europeans held them as something to fear while the Native Americans believed they should be revered.
Crows were commonly associated with war in Norse/Celtic mythology, with the Norse deeming crows to be the emissary of Valkyrie, while they were representatives of Badb, Macha and the Morrigan to the Irish Celts (who actually share their mythology with the Norse).
In Native American cultures, the crow’s wisdom stands out, and he is seen as both Trickster and guide.
In England, where the folklore isn’t as robust, crows are simply seen as a nuisance, whereas their cousin the raven is seen as a crucial part of British culture to the point a permanent guard of six or more caged ravens are kept in the Tower of London (“If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”)
Why Do Crows Keep Landing on My Roof?
Crows love a good place to perch and may be looking for the perfect nesting spot for their lifelong partner. Your roof is an attractive option, since it’s usually high above potential predators and gives a good vantage point.
When you see the same crows constantly returning to your roof, it’s very likely a mated pair is planning to make your roof their new nesting ground.
However, if you live out in the middle of nowhere and there are few tall trees or other elevated objects, the crows may just be using your roof for lack of a better perching alternative.
Read Also: How to Get Rid of Barn Swallows
Will a Crow Attack You?
Under normal circumstances, crows will consider humans to be a curiosity and simply go about their business. However, they’re very protective of their young and will attack any perceived threat.
Likewise, if you harm a crow, your description will be passed around the murder and to nearby communities. This can result in getting attacked by any crow that spots you. So be nice to the crows.
Crow vs Blackbird
Oddly enough, blackbirds are rarely black. These smaller birds come from two different families: Icteridae (commonly dubbed the New World Blackbirds because they’re found in the Americas) and Turdidae (the thrush family, sometimes referred to as the Old World Blackbirds).
Blackbirds look more like other common birds, such as sparrows and tend to be small to medium-sized. Some common examples of blackbirds are the oriole and grackle.
Crows, meanwhile, have a much more distinctive look and are primarily black (some species have markings), with a medium to large sized body.
Crow vs Raven
There has been a lot of confusion when it comes to separating crows and ravens, and with good reason. Just like mice and rats, the only true distinguishing feature between the two is size – and even that is sometimes debated.
Ravens are generally considered the larger of the two and are also part of the Corvus genus, with nine official species.
Crows, meanwhile, tend to be smaller and make up 34 to 36 species in the genus. The two “questionable” crows are the rook (Corvus frugilegus) and the Northwestern crow subspecies (Corvus brachyrhynchos caurinus)
How to Get Rid of Crows
So now that we’ve cleared up some fun facts regarding the humble crow, it’s time to decide if you should get rid of them – and if so, how?
Should They Stay or Should They Go?
As mentioned, crows can actually be of great benefit to gardeners suffering a pest problem. They’ll help you get rid of grasshoppers, grubs, and other common bug pests. However, these larger birds will also swipe food from bird and squirrel feeders and sometimes chase smaller birds away.
In the end, whether you let them stay for the potential benefits or evict them due to the potential problems comes down to personal choice. Just remember, crows have a very long memory, so your decision may end up being a lasting one.
Is It Illegal to Kill Crows?
This is where things get really tricky, and we strongly suggest you err on the side of caution and simply don’t kill any crows.
Crows are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as well as separate laws in many states. This means it may be legal to kill a crow if you have a valid hunting license, but you need to justify the “take” (a catch-all for intentional or accidental killing of a protected critter).
Additionally, even in states where a license is not required, the take must be reported to the local wildlife commission. Kill methods may also be strictly regulated in your region.
Getting Rid of Crows in the Garden
Crows can be very beneficial to your garden, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep these allies around if you don’t want them.
Scarecrows are an old staple and sometimes work simply because the crows know it’s a “not welcome” sign. Other times they’ll chum up to the scarecrow and use it as a perch.
Still, scarecrows can work on other birds, so having one or two never hurts, but don’t rely on them as an effective crow deterrent.
Bird netting is a much better option and readily available. A lot of gardeners recommend going with a 3″ or 4” mesh netting, as this will allow small birds into the garden space while keeping crows and other large birds out.
While not bullies like blue jays, crows do sometimes eat the chicks of other bird species, so this size of netting can help protect the nests of small birds as well. You can also use chicken wire to enclose the garden if you have some on hand.
Invest in bird feeders that have a small entryway or tight access points so smaller birds can get to the seed but crows can’t get their heads in far enough to reach the goods. The More Birds Tube Feeder is a good option.
Covering seedlings or placing a bag over grains that are reaching maturity (such as wheat or maize) can deter the rare instance of snacking.
Try adding shiny objects like reflective scare tape that glints when the sun hits. Crows aren’t a fan of bird tape, as potential predators may move quick enough to produce a similar flash.
Finally, you can consider inviting a natural predator in to help. Crows don’t get along with owls or hawks, both of which can also help keep your garden free of rodents and other small pests.
The only downside is that they may also attack other birds. Also, as owls are nocturnal, meaning they’ll do a better job at deterring crows from nesting than they will be actively defending your garden.
Getting Rid of Crows on the Roof
As mentioned before, crows will either hang out on your roof due to lack of good perching alternatives or because they intended to nest there. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to get them to stay off the roof with a little effort.
By far, one of the simplest methods is to use bird spikes. Most commonly used to keep pigeons away, these are a network of metal spikes that stick up in different directions. While bird spikes won’t actually harm birds, it makes landing impossible.
Another fun option is the bird slide. Imagine trying to sit on your couch only to slide off every time. This is what bird slides do. They attach to your roof or other sloped surfaces and create a slippery slope that birds can’t land on.
Pair it with some harmless but sticky bird repellent gel and your roof will soon be free of birds and other critters.
Getting Rid of Crows in the Yard
The single most important thing you can do is to simply keep your yard clean. Crows can see debris as potential food sources, since bugs love to hide under leaves and similar garbage.
This means making sure any garbage cans are tightly closed, compost piles are covered, and grass is kept short. Also, remove any uneaten pet food and clean up food waste. If you have fruit trees, be sure to dispose of any fallen fruit immediately.
You may also find it necessary to remove the bird feeder or bird bath, as crows recognize these as easy sources of food and water.
Next, you can add shiny objects to the backyard. Contrary to popular belief, crows aren’t attracted to anything shiny and usually associate the glints of light as a potential threat source. Try hanging old CDs or metallic tape around the yard. It’s cheap and more effective than decoys.
A motion-activated sprinkler can also be effective for the same reason giving your 4 year old a Super Soaker was a bad idea.
A final ploy is to use sounds, either of natural predators or ultrasonic repellent systems. These can have some decent effect, although predator sounds will eventually fail if they’re too regular. Ultrasonic sounds can annoy crows and send them flying. Just be warned, can also drive your cat or dog bonkers, so use them with caution.
The Final Take
Crows are extremely intelligent, social birds that get a bad rap. They’re actually one of nature’s vital waste disposal units and can even help protect your garden from pests. However, they can also be a nuisance and harass smaller birds.
Don’t bother with methods that a child can figure out, as these birds are self-aware and very adept at problem solving. Likewise, don’t harm a crow, as word spreads and you could end up with a price on your head (in crow currency, that is).
Instead, give them some respect and use gentle deterrents and good housekeeping to let them know they can do better elsewhere. At worst, you can call in a bird control expert to assess the situation.