Urban crows the ideal city street sweepers
Even when perched alone atop a utility pole, a crow always appears to be up to no good. When I pass near one, I brace myself. These birds are smart and have been known to attack people on occasion.
According to a survey released recently by the Tokyo metropolitan government, the number of crows in the capital has risen for the first time in six years. At the end of December, there were about 18,200 crows, a 10-percent jump from the previous year.
While that number is still half the peak crow population of 2001, the sudden increase is due to the fact that the number of captured crows decreased. The Tokyo metropolitan government will continue to hunt down and kill the birds, until their population drops to around 7,000, the same level as 1985.
However, other measures to keep them from proliferating, such as covering trash bags containing food scraps with nets when they are put out on the street to be picked up, are not fully working, especially in busy downtown areas, local government officials say. Since Tokyo-bred crows are well-nourished, they lay four to five eggs at a time--more than their counterparts elsewhere produce. So simply capturing them has its limits.
Michio Matsuda, author of "Karasu wa naze Tokyo ga Sukinanoka" (Why do crows like Tokyo?) published by Heibonsha Ltd. Publishers, believes the city's complex structure somehow resembles the forests that crows originated in. Also, in the economic bubble years of the late 1980s to early 1990s, food waste increased. Trash bags, formerly sold only in black, were changed to translucent ones to enable easier checks of whether the trash was properly sorted.
Just as they can spy small animals from a treetop, crows easily see raw garbage from a utility pole.
"When I look at them individually, I find them cute," said an exterminator. Yet, no bird is as much abhorred as the crow, even though they just do what comes naturally. "We have created an image that tanuki (raccoon dogs) are dumb while foxes are smart. But aren't our perceptions of these animals also different from their true natures?" Matsuda asks. His question opened my eyes. Crows are actually playful urban street sweepers.
Experts say city crows depend on human activities for more than half of their food. The rise and fall of their population also reflects the wastefulness of our eating habits. If that is true, we must start with cutting back on the food we throw away. The breeding season for "innocent" crows is starting again this year.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 5(IHT/Asahi: March 6,2008)