G. Corvus & G. Sturnus

by Bill Monson

I'm glad the Galesburg City Council didn't waste any money on ''trained birds of prey'' in the battle with the crows and starlings downtown. Hawks and falcons can kill sparrows and harass pigeons, but there isn't a raptor alive that can best a flock of crows. (Besides, don't you need a permit to kill crows--a state-protected bird?)

Crows are simply too aggressive and agile in the air. The size doesn't matter. I once watched four crows drive a huge California golden eagle from tree to tree, dive-bombing it when it tried to rest and pecking its tail feathers in flight, until the eagle fled as fast as it could back to the Sierra from whence it came.

Even one on one, a crow would fly circles around a hawk, which gets its power from a dive--its stoop, as the falconers say. To suggest that one or even a dozen hawks could fly into a colony of crows in Standish Park and drive them away is to suggest the incredible. I'd like to be there to see the battle--but I think your falconer would go back to the Quad Cities with no raptors in his cages and a lawsuit against Galesburg in his heart.

I've never seen hawks against starlings, but I suspect they'd do better with that breed. However, if the starlings nest near crows, the corvus colony would go on the attack even if the starlings fled.

One on one, the only bird I've seen which could beat a crow is a mockingbird. The mocker is perhaps the most agile and aggressive bird in the air. I've seen them successfully attack crows, ravens, dogs, cats, seagulls and even turkey buzzards. They also attack people when they're so inclined. Old mimus polyglottos is one pugnacious customer. But they don't usually come as far north as Galesburg.

Jays are also aggressive if not so acrobatic, and they will go one on one to drive a crow away but seem to fear flickers. I used to watch a battle for supremacy every summer in my Fresno back yard. The jay was usually boss-- he hectored the resident flicker but would not fight it--and eventually, he learned to drive a challenging mockingbird under our eaves and into our big picture window. While the stunned mocker was trying to unscramble his brain on the patio concrete, the Boss Jay would swoop in and peck him to death.

But these are all one-on-one encounters. A dozen crows could take on Godzilla, and I'd bet on the corbies.

Loud noises, concussion shells, and bird shot will trouble the birds--especially the starlings- but it won't eradicate the problem. When I was growing up on Blaine Avenue, we were plagued with starlings. One of my household chores every summer was to take a piece of scrap 1 x 6 and bang it loudly on the concrete sidewalk to scare them away. I made a lot of kindling but the starlings just moved to Duffield Avenue till the next day. I also tried a slingshot with pebbles, marbles or ball bearings, a BB gun, and a softball--but the starlings always outlasted me. They stayed until they wanted to leave. With all the cornfields handy along South Seminary Road and the open trucks rumbling over the Thirwell Road bridge spilling shelled corn during the October harvest, the crows will come back to Standish Park every autumn--and so will the starlings who benefit from their protection.

Standish Park and its environs are full of trees with all kinds of seeds, and there are cat bowls, bird feeders, discarded garbage, and road kill all around downtown to keep the flocks alive during a mild winter like the past one. What's needed is an old-fashioned Illinois marrow freezer with sleet and ice storms and deep snow to cover their food sources. (Maybe a visit from the Galesburg Fire Department and some high-pressured hosing at sundown might also prove helpful. But remember what happened to Suzanne Pleshette and the school kids in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds!)

This year, until spring plowing disperses the flocks to forage for grubs, Galesburg will just have to continue its half-hearted noise campaign, keep its head down, and remember what the poet said:

I think that I shall never know

A foe so pesky as the crow.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website April 10, 2002

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