Coal miners used canaries in the mine shafts to give them an early warning if poisonous gases were accumulating. A flock of crows that began roosting in a South Side neighborhood on the line between Youngstown and Boardman this winter could well be sending out a warning of another kind.
Crows are becoming a growing problem in America's cities. If they wintered over in the Euclid Boulevard neighborhood this year, they could be in another next year. Area cities and urban township should be prepared.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services has been at work this winter in downtown Albany, N.Y., in a pilot project aimed at developing a strategy for keeping crows out of cities. An estimated 20,000 crows have been wintering over in the capital city of New York in recent years.
The wildlife agents are using recordings of crows in distress, flare guns, bullhorns and laser lights to make the crows feel unwelcome, with varying degrees of success.
Reacting quickly to the local problem, the Boardman Road Department got some advice and an anti-crow kit from the U.S. wildlife service, but didn't have to use it -- this time.
Light up the night: Crows don't like light, and a few spotlights put up by neighbors were apparently enough to drive Youngstown's crows into a wooded area, where they're still annoying, but no longer the health risk they had been.
It's not difficult to imagine what thousands of crows can do to a neighborhood. Suffice it to say that some neighbors took to carrying umbrellas when the flock was in flight, and cleaning siding, widows and walkways was an unpleasant chore.
Crows generally leave their winter roosts in March for rural nesting territories, so Youngstown and Boardman could be out of the woods, so to speak, in a couple of weeks.
But health departments should take the opportunity to discuss the potential problem, tap into the expertise of the wildlife service and be ready to respond quickly if the crows return to city or suburban neighborhoods next year.
Meanwhile, the wildlife service should begin to determine whether crows, like deer, are growing in such numbers as to require more than programs designed to move flocks from one roosting place to another.
Under federal law, crows can be hunted in season, but cannot be killed more efficiently through the use of explosives, poisons or traps.