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The Crows are Coming

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

This past winter an unusually large number of crows have come to the downstream tip of Rock Island each morning to scavenge pieces of leftover fish from the bald eagles’ previous day's hunt. The ice is dotted with crows looking like black lumps of coal.

They come from neighboring towns. Crows are gregarious birds, roosting in flocks ranging from hundreds to more than a thousand. They have taken over most of the tall cottonwoods and oaks in the valley.

Until recently, crows were rural birds, shy and reclusive, wary of humans. The story of how they became city slickers as brash as New Yorkers illustrates what happens when humans decide to tamper with nature.

In the early 1980s, most communities around Rock Island passed ordinances prohibiting the trapping or killing of wild animals. The population of opossums, woodchucks, squirrel, raccoon, and chipmunks mushroomed.

No wonder, then, that the roadkill on neighborhood streets quadrupled. Flattened fauna everywhere. A crow scout must have discovered this free food, far superior to the rural crow diet of insects and grain, and sent word.

Roadkill was food worth putting up with humans for. Crows moved into the neighborhoods, discovered other treasures such as the fast food dumpsters—their version of a crow bar.

Since then they have also learned to fly low over trees in people's yards listening for baby birds in nests: another free meal. A bird-loving friend of mine reports that a crow in his yard mimics the call of a hawk in order to scare competition away from the feeders. No more robins, cardinals, chickadees.

Even we Rock Islanders may not be here much longer. Crows raise four to six young a year and are fiercely territorial. A crow's beak can snap a pencil in half. Will they let us back into our houses?

Or will they force us humans to eat crow? Our eyes have crows’ feet from worry. We may have to move up the Mississippi to Dubuque. It's 90 miles by water, but only about seventy-five—as the crow flies.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.