When the crows attack, public officials dither

MIKE ROYKO

June 04, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

The first time the big crow swooped down and clawed at Lisa Eiseman's head, she thought a person was attacking her.

"I screamed and ran and jumped into my car," says Ms. Eiseman, 28, of Chicago.

A week later, it happened again. "I came out of my apartment building, and it came dive-bombing at me out of a tree. It hit me hard and it hurt, but fortunately, it didn't break the skin."

Ms. Eiseman, who knew little about crows, began her own investigation.

By carefully peeking from a safe place, she saw that several of them lived in a tree, about five stories high, behind her building. She could even see the nest.

She talked with some of her neighbors and found that she was not the only crow-attack victim.

Her landlord received a bleeding scalp cut. A jogger was conked so hard that his baseball cap flew off.

"After the third attack on my head," Ms. Eiseman says, "and having personally heard 20 accounts of others, I began wearing a bicycle helmet and carrying an umbrella when I left the house. People gave me curious looks, especially on a sunny day. It was strange. They would attack some people and ignore others." She decided to seek help. Like most Americans with a problem, she turned to the government.

And she made a discovery that she considers remarkable. There is no government agency that has the responsibility of protecting citizens from angry crows.

She called the police. They said they did not handle crow attacks, which should not have been a surprise. On a busy evening in Chicago, they can barely keep up with people who are being thumped on the head by muggers.

So she called her alderman's office. Somebody there said: "Yeah, this happened last year and we couldn't do anything about it, so I guess we can't do anything this year." Which sounds like an alderman's office.

"I then called the Illinois Department of Conservation, the River Trail Nature Center, the United States Department of Agriculture Damage Control Office, the Anti-Cruelty Society, and a couple of others.

"After being switched from one to the other, they unanimously determined that crows are protected by federal migratory-regulation laws. They can't be captured and relocated killed, and their nests must remain undisturbed.

"I tried the alderman again, and they finally gave me the name and phone number at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But they told us nothing could be done.

"After my neighbors and I pressed the issue, they admitted that extreme situations may warrant extreme action against the crows, but only with a special permit.

"Then they thought about that for a few days, and they admitted that we did not need a permit but would be required to hire a private agency that had a permit to capture crows.

"I tried to get a list of private agencies from the Illinois Department of Conservation, but they said there was no such list because no one can obtain a permit.

"But after I made some calls, I finally got someone to issue a special permit from the Springfield office.

"So we hired a guy who does this, and he came out with a pellet gun. And he got two of them. When I saw their bodies up close, / /TC couldn't believe how big they were.

"And it was really bizarre. After he shot them, about 20 more crows swarmed around the top of the tree, getting louder and louder. It was weird."

But even more weird to Ms. Eiseman was the fact that no governmental agency could respond -- at least not immediately -- to the crow attack.

Yet, that is what I find most encouraging about her story. There is no city, state or federal Department of Crow Control.

There should be some problems that Americans handle on their own, which Ms. Eiseman was doing nicely while she wore that bike helmet and carried an umbrella.

As Greg Butcher, executive director of the American Birding Association, a private bird lovers organization, heatedly says:

"All she had to do was have a little patience. They attacked because they had baby birds in the nest. If she had waited a few weeks, the baby birds would have moved from the nest and it would have been over."

I think about those baby crows in Ms. Eiseman's tree, which are now orphans. I can only hope they have kindly aunt and uncle crows. And for Ms. Eiseman's sake, I hope the other crows aren't the sort that never forget a face. Or a bike helmet.

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