Harnett County, North Carolina
 
Cooperative Extension 
 
How can I keep the crows out of my garden?

ASK THE HORT AGENT

Question How can I keep the crows out of my garden?

Answer Crows have proven themselves to be a most formidable opponent. They live in a group appropriately called a “murder.” They have a chain of command (aka pecking order) and their own language. As animal intelligence goes, they are one of the smartest. Crows will patiently outwait and outsmart most people.

Crows have been a scourge to gardeners throughout history. They dig up seeds, and peck holes in fruit like cantaloupe, watermelons and tomatoes. They even steal pecans right off the trees. The perennial bout between crows and farmers has made the scarecrow one of the most recognizable symbols of a farm. The irony is that scarecrows don’t even work.

Animals don’t like them either. Crows raid the nests of smaller birds eating the eggs and/or babies. The common raven will even kill weak lambs. A murder of crows will aggravate a hawk for hours at a time. It is unclear whether hawks kill crows for food or just to make them shut up.

Crows have gotten to be a problem in urban scenarios as well. In 2008 at a technology conference, a vending machine was proposed as a means of coexisting with crows. The wild birds could be trained to pick up trash and the vending machine would feed the crows in exchange for trash. Again the crows’ intelligence kicked in, and they elected to stick with the welfare system of free birdfeed given by homeowners over the work-related vending machine. Actually, the crows didn’t have to use much of their vast intellect to make this decision.

The Caledonian crow can make and use specialized tools to perform specific tasks. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8631486.stm Even the American crow will drop pecans in the road to get passing cars to crack them. The average person doesn’t know how to use common tools like a shovel or hoe. Outsmarting this animal with tools will probably be too difficult.

Some crows can even imitate human voice like a parrot. Speaking crows are considered valuable in parts of East Asia. It is possible you may have even talked to one when calling for computer assistance.

While they all look alike to us, crows can visually recognize individual humans. They identify “bad” folks by squawking. So they make tools, speak, watch and hang out in groups. If you live in town, you’re out of luck. If you live in the boondocks, then try to slip the shotgun barrel out the window real easy like. Maybe you will get one and buy yourself a little time while the crows hang out nearby and plot their next move.

The best form of crow control is the West Nile Virus which some scientists think reduced the American crow population as much as 45% since 1999. For more info about crow control, visit http://icwdm.org/wildlife/crow.asp If you don’t have internet access, call the Extension Office at 893-7533 or email me at gpierce@harnett.org

University sites often recommend playing a cassette or digital recording of real crow distress calls. The funniest one is a 911 call made by a crow which starts out like this, “This is the emergency dispatcher, what is your emergency?“

Then the crow says, “Yes ma’am. One of my buddies was just shot out of a pecan tree. I don’t know how he’s doing. The rest of us took off and left him. We didn’t see the shooter. I think he was in the house.”

Gary L. Pierce

Horticulture Extension Agent

Harnett County