Something to Crow About in Tokyo

photo: GFDL File / David Monniaux

They feast on garbage, cut off electricity, and frighten runners, but the villains in this story aren’t from a fictional Hitchcock film, they’re flesh and feather crows that plague Japan’s capital.

“Many Tokyo dwellers have been dive-bombed by the big black birds — the species known as jungle crows — that flap around the city. Almost everyone knows someone who has been pecked or pooped upon,” an NPR story reported today. The crows “nest in utility poles and cause blackouts; they even steal fiber-optic cables to build nests, sometimes disabling parts of the broadband network.”

For eight years Tokyo officials have been fighting the big black birds that are most likely drawn to the city’s plentiful garbage, but last year the population grew by 16 percent to 21,000 birds, the city’s Bureau of Environment estimates.

To keep populations low, government officials trap and gas the birds caught in huge wire cages. Crows and their brethren (magpies, ravens, and jays) are known for their smarts, however, so most of the birds trapped are young and inexperienced, Koji Takagi, a manager of a park where cages sit, told NPR. And according to a story that ran in The New York Times, the crows will remember when a person has wronged him.

“In the Seattle area, where rapid suburban growth has attracted a thriving crow population, researchers have found that the birds can recognize individual human faces,” Michelle Nijhuis reported in the article.

A more effective—and popular—tactic to fending off the crows may be to employ the help of honeybees. “The bees become very aggressive when they see shiny black objects, because it reminds them of bears or hornets who might attack them. So whenever they see crows, a whole swarm of bees will chase them," said Atsuo Tanaka, a co-founder of a hive-managing project in Tokyo called The Ginza Honeybee Project. The 300,000 bees Tanaka keeps on rooftops near a tony shopping district have another benefit: honey. The method may not be widely applicable just yet, but it could eventually prove to be one bird-friendly solution to a sticky situation.

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