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Jury's out on the crow issue

SWOOP AND PECK: A passer-by is attacked by a crow outside Great World City in 2007. Despite a fall in the amount of feedback involving crows in Singapore, the number of reports on crow attacks looks set to increase this year


    Sep 18, 2014

    Jury's out on the crow issue

    FEW things could be this ironic: While there are fewer reports on Singapore's crow nuisance now, the number of reports on attacks by the feathered fiends has risen.

    The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) has revealed that feedback involving crows - such as the birds posing a threat to public hygiene and being a nuisance - has declined in recent years.

    From January to June this year, the number of reports was about 360.

    For the whole of last year, it was 1,480 - a drop from 1,710 in 2012 and 1,920 in 2011.

    In areas where a crow problem is known to exist, such as Bedok and Yishun, the number of reports has also fallen.

    But on the other hand, the number of reports on crow attacks looks set to go up - it is about 370 in the first six months of this year. Such attacks would include crows swooping down to peck people.

    This is already more than half of the 500 for the whole of last year. In 2012 and 2011, the number stood at 490 and 470 respectively.

    In managing bird-related nuisance issues, an AVA spokesman said that the authority works with relevant agencies on measures to "mitigate the nuisance" birds can cause.

    These include pruning trees to deter birds from roosting, disposing of food waste properly so birds cannot feed on leftovers, and controlling bird populations which could include using poisoned baits.

    An AVA spokesman said that when it is alerted to crow attacks or nuisance cases, it will carry out checks and conduct crow control management operations in the area to "safeguard public safety".

    Asked why the number of reports on crows has risen despite a fall in other types of feedback, Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum said more data is needed.

    "It is very difficult to say why this is the case. We really won't know until detailed research is done in this area," Dr Lum told My Paper.

    It is similar to the situation with monkeys. Their numbers have not really gone up, said Dr Lum, but more people are complaining about being attacked by the animals.

    It could be that more people are reporting crow attacks too, instead of shrugging them off like they used to, he said.

    "Or maybe the crows' nesting places are still where people are, so they get overprotective. It could also be a little bit of both," he added.

    Biodiversity expert Frank Rheindt from the National University of Singapore added: "Some people attribute it (the decline in crow numbers) to management-control measures taken by AVA.

    "Others are saying that it may be related to the fast increase of other even more competitive introduced species that have deprived the house crow of its resources," he said.

    A more competitive introduced species could be the Javan mynah, but Assistant Professor Rheindt said that while the bird's numbers have risen greatly here, there is no evidence yet that the population trends for crows and Javan mynahs are related.

    For those worried about the ecological impact of a possible fall in crow numbers, nature experts said that a decrease is not necessarily bad news.

    Dr Lum said crows are not native to Singapore. So even if their numbers dwindle, it will not upset the ecosystem.

    He said that "their impact on the native ecosystem is either neutral, or in fact slightly negative" as they compete with native species for food, and "some of these crows can be aggressive creatures".

    Prof Rheindt noted that the bulk of the environmental community would view a house crow decline "with happiness" for the same reasons.

    Regardless of the numbers, Dr Lum said that crows, in general, do not pose a risk to people and will not "hurt you, even if they can be a little bit intimidating".