Revenge of the Birds: Crow-Attack Season Has Berlin On Edge

By Eric Kelsey

Living in a big city can be dangerous. Particularly in the springtime, Berlin residents have learned the hard way. That's when the crows go on the attack.

Be careful if you see one of these in May. Zoom
DPA

Be careful if you see one of these in May.

It is an odd rite of spring. Every year, as the weather turns warmer and the daylight hours extend deep into the evening, Berlin residents turn a wary eye to the treetops. For a few weeks in May, the German capital is in the thick of crow-attack season -- and this year, the police have taken action.

Concerned about airborne assaults from Berlin's population of gray and black hooded crows, officials have put up red and white tape around the entrance and exit to a central-Berlin parking lot at the archives of the former East German Secret Police, the Stasi, in central Berlin. The area has the look of a crime scene.

A sign at a nearby crosswalk gives notice to pedestrians: "Warning: Aggressive Crows."

Attacks from feathered friends have become particularly bothersome in recent years as both the local populations of people and hooded crows, Corvus cornix, have grown. It has become easier to accidentally get too close to a nest occupied by a hungry chick.

"Attacks happen during breeding season, and crows have a natural instinct to protect their nests and young and to keep people at distance," Anja Sorges, the head of the Berlin office of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

More Dramatic Than They Are

The strikes vary in scope from threatening dive-bombs to full-on pecking blitzes. But Sorges says that often, too much are made of the attacks. "The attacks are more of a terror and shock for people than they are dangerous," Sorges says. "If a crow does make contact, the injuries are minimal, but nasty scrapes and blood make the attacks look more dramatic than they really are."

Although neither NABU nor the city keeps statistics on the number of annual bird attacks, Sorges says the number reported has been relatively constant in recent years. The only time reports increase dramatically, she says, are when reports on the crow attacks appear in local media, as has been the case this week.

"We've had 10 calls so far today," Sorges said around noontime Thursday.

'Like a Horror Film'

The tabloid Berliner Kurier on Wednesday reported that a cyclist near the Stasi archives was bloodied and needed medical attention after a crow attack. "It was like a Hitchcock horror film," one bystander told the paper. "They simply pecked away! And their beaks aren't so small either."

Other recent reports include a crow pecking at the back of man's head in the West Berlin district of Schöneberg. A number of attacks have also been reported in a park just north of the German parliament building.

According to NABU, the explanation for all the attacks is clear: At the end of March, hooded crows begin nesting around the city, laying up to six eggs. About a month after the chicks hatch, around the middle of May, they begin to leave the nest and spend time on the ground. In large urban areas, with lots of foot traffic in parks, a mother crow perceives that her chicks are threatened and attacks.

Luckily for Berliners, the chicks quickly mature and the attacks only last for a couple weeks. Only to resume again next year.

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