The Avian War

Brandon Lueken has been attacked by crows several times. This is his story.

The Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) is a slightly smaller variant of the common American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). Besides its proportionately smaller beak and claws, the American Crow’s mating season occurs later than most of the Corvus family, whose courtship takes place in late May, while nesting follows through early to mid-June. During this time, the Corvus becomes aggressive towards humans and other animals. I have been the victim of multiple crow attacks.

My first, and arguably worst, experience with the crows occurred in June of 2006. I was working for my college as a parking lot painter, and had noticed the variations in the crow’s calls. I also noticed they weren’t flying away from nearby humans, as they usually did. Unwittingly, I passed by a tree that had been deemed crow territory. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark shape hurtling towards my head. Instinctively I ducked. The dark shape changed direction and once again came straight for my head. I dive-rolled down a grass slope to another section of sidewalk. Looking behind me, a crow skimmed along the grass where I had been moments prior, issuing several threatening caws. I ran, and the crow gave chase for a block, until I had reached our office.

I spoke with my boss, Ed, who told me all he knew about crows. They are protective during their mating season, he said. They can remember individual humans who wrong them (several employees had been marked men for years), and they mourn the death of a chick by attacking anything that comes near them or their nest. Ed himself has rescued a few baby chicks, but the crows often would not touch the saved birds. He found the crows interesting, but to me, they were only a threat.

The next few years passed uneventfully until this past May and June, when I have been plagued by crows. I live within a mile of my work, so I walk to my office every morning. Usually, I have the freedom to wander through the many blocks and neighborhoods that lie between me and my job. During my walks this spring I began noting the crow’s behavior, not wishing to reprise my first attack. In late May I began to hear the deeper calls of the crow, so I avoided certain streets. In the first days of June, I thought that their nesting had finished and I thought the crows had cordoned themselves off to four square blocks. But then, a block away from my work, two crows followed me down the street, then swooped and cawed, threatening me away from their trees. I began avoiding that section of street.

Block by block, I altered my path to work. I was chased for a block by crows who had staked out the tallest tree in the neighborhood as their own. Other families of crows would hear the calls a block over so that one particular morning I walked through a swooping gauntlet of black wings and hateful crow calls. Finally, only one route lay open to me. For a week, I was restricted to that one certain path, unable to deviate for fear of crows.

Being inside did little to assuage my fears. I could feel the crow’s beaks and claws on my shoulders, in my scalp. I imagined their claws searching, stuck, as I fled down the street. For hours afterwards, I was prisoner of imagined injuries. I hated that these simple creatures had awakened a primal fear of flying predators in me. Even in our modern age, I could fall victim of wild animals.

Without a car, I had no refuge from the crows outside. I feared walking to the store or for pleasure. I didn’t know where the crows nested in all the different neighborhoods. I didn’t know any safe zones. My diet suffered because I couldn’t go to the store as often.

But time spent with friends gave me valuable knowledge. I learned that they rarely attack two people, and that I could use clapping as a weapon. The crows are cowards, so they attack from behind whenever possible. I have traversed several blocks walking backwards, clapping at the crows, spinning around as the crows hop from power line to power line, trying to out-flank me.

The crows found other victims. One morning I saw three dead birds — each mutilated by crows, the holes in their body a testament to the violence of the black beaks. The crows also suffered. I saw their frayed shapes against the sky — feathers torn by countless battles as they attacked every passing threat. Paranoid and drunk with exhaustion, even their calls were ragged as they tried to summon the effort to dive at me. I saw crows turn on crows, battling for survival, trying to stake out the best territory.

In my yard, there is a large pine tree that litters the lawn with useless pine cones. It also harbors a family of crows. Because I have done no harm to this particular family, they have stayed silent, content to let me enjoy sunny afternoons on my balcony in peace. Not long ago, during a dinner with friends, these crows cawed all evening. Frustrated, I stormed out to the balcony, intending to frighten them off. My presence was enough to startle them, but they didn’t flee far. They were concerned for their nest in the tree. It was then that I saw the face of a raccoon peeking out at me, his back a red pelt of scratches. He did not seem deterred from his dinner, and I left nature to do as it would.

It is only as summer has approached that the crows have settled down. Their chicks have hatched, and the birds are busy feeding and nursing them. The streets have grown silent, so I can go to the library and buy groceries in peace. There are still a few aggressive bastions, but I know the signs and can avoid them. I have my weapons and my wits. I am a veteran of this avian war.

Brandon Lueken is a graduate from the University of Puget Sound with a Bachelor's Degree in English. He has done many things, including editing his college newspaper, writing and directing a short play, angering large groups of people en masse, and acting as both the good and the bad shoulder angel. One day, Brandon hopes to give people their dreams, but whether this is literal or figurative, no one knows.