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LIVING WITH WILDLIFE

Fight Onslaught of Crows With a Big Bang

May 21, 2000|ANDREA KITAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: Can I do anything to get rid of crows? They're killing the small birds and then eating their babies and eggs. The poor little ones scream and scream. Help! I'm thinking of buying an air rifle. Is it legal to kill them?

B.O.

Ontario

Answer: Here's a quote I found digging around in my library: "Familiarity with man has made the house crow bold and thievish to a degree" (H. Whistler, 1963). There may be a little truth to that.

It must be the season for crows. I'm besieged with letters from readers complaining about the increasing number of crows landing in their yards and terrorizing their songbirds and, yes, their roofs. This is because after spending the winter in great flocks, the big, shiny black birds break up into small groups and spread out to build nests and raise families.

There isn't any evidence that there are more crows now than 20 years ago. What we're actually seeing is a population shift, a movement away from their traditional roosts in the countryside to life in the city.

This isn't all that unusual these days. As the human population grows, the landscape changes. Many animals are adapting, changing their centuries-old patterns to survive in a new environment. Some are thriving, some are not, but almost all are having to adapt.

Crows are loud and aggressive. Unfortunately, they also have a pretty wide menu. Versatile, resourceful and socially cooperative to boot, they'll steal, plunder, kill and beg for food. But they'll also go after it the old-fashioned way, by working hard to find it.

Because it isn't legal to kill crows without a special permit, and because you're not likely to get one, the best you can do is mount an all-out war when they're around.

An old-fashioned pop gun that just makes noise can be good, as long as your neighbors don't mind, or try a sharp bang on a trash can when you see crows nearby. One reader has told me she scared them off by throwing tennis balls at her windows to create a strange booming sound the minute they dropped in her yard.

Unfortunately, there's no way to stop them from bothering other birds. I suppose you could provide diversionary food, but then you risk them returning next year.

Sorry for the bad news.

Slimy Slug and Snail Trail Isn't Harmful

Q: Even though I don't want to, I share my strawberry patch with snails and slugs. Does the slime contaminate or can I just wash thoroughly?

G.W.

Pacific Palisades

A: The silvery slime trail snails and slugs leave in their wake come from the mucus produced by their single "foot," the muscle they use to glide around on.

The silvery trail they leave behind isn't harmful and can be washed off when you clean your strawberries.

You might try to reduce the number of snails and slugs in your patch by using copper strips as a barrier. It's widely believed that the mucus they produce reacts with the copper, causing an electrical charge that repels them. You can buy them at most nurseries.

Carpenter Bees Bore Holes Into Wood Roof

Q: I have noticed about a dozen holes along the edges of our wood roof tiles that jut over the roof. They are smaller than a dime in circumference. A large black bee has been entering and exiting these holes (I assume there are more, but I have not sat outside to watch). What can I do about these holes and bees? There doesn't seem to be any other damage.

R.G.

Pasadena

A: No doubt they're carpenter bees, which are solitary rather than social creatures like honeybees. These bees bore small, perfectly round holes about one-half-inch wide into the underside of wood surfaces, preferably unpainted wood, but they'll also go into painted wood if a hole has been started. Usually they bore into decks, fence posts, soffits, eaves and fascia board.

Although the hole looks like it's pretty short, what you don't see is that the bee has turned to go with the grain of the wood and makes an extremely long tunnel from which small egg chambers are drilled. It's this long unseen tunneling that can cause problems over the years as the wood weakens.

This time of the year, females are busy laying eggs and "provisioning" the tunnel with balls of pollen while the males play guard at the entrance. The male may dart at you, but nature's dealt him a bad hand because he has no stinger and is consequently no threat. The females are busy and rarely sting, and because these insects are solitary, there are no worker bees to worry about.

Bees are the great pollinators, and I prefer to leave them alone when possible (with the exception of Africanized bees, which are a serious threat and must be dealt with by professionals).

But because females are attracted to and will reuse old tunnels, there may be years of damage given the 12 holes you describe. The normal course of action is to spread insecticidal dust or liquid into the tunnel, leaving it open for a few days so the female will drag it back to the larvae. But you might want to have a roofer take a look at how damaged the tiles are. Plug holes up with wooden dowels to prevent future drilling.

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