Crow hunts “unwise, unwarranted, and cruel,” causing “harm to the morals,” said critics––and that was in 1922!
WILLIAMSTOWN, Vermont––Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel co-owner Mark McCarthy, 52, has reportedly called off the crow-killing contest he had announced would be held on April 7, 2018, with a $40-per-team entry fee, under the auspices of the 100-member Boonie Club in Williamstown, Vermont.
McCarthy emailed to Burlington Free Press staff writer Dan D’Ambrosio that the Boonie Club had published a notice on Facebook calling off the crow shoot on March 21, 2018, but “Then the decision was made to take the entire site down, as the ignorant, obscene comments were getting completely out of control.”
Whatever was posted to the Boonie Club page apparently mirrored what crow-killing proponents posted to Craig Newman, outreach director for the environmental education organization Earth Stewardship, after Newman posted a message protesting against the crow shoot about two weeks earlier.
“Newman said his organization is not opposed to hunting,” D’Ambrosio summarized, “but is opposed to the ‘wanton waste’” that the crow-killing contest was to have encouraged.
The Newman posting within a week had attracted “more than 40,000 views and more than 500 shares,” D’Ambrosio reported.
“Death threats, homophobic slurs, & profanity”
The Vermont Wildlife Coalition and In Defense of Animals, among other organizations, amplified Newman’s original message with language of their own. Advocates of crow-shooting fired back.
“Maybe this was crazy,” Newman told D’Ambrosio, “but I thought there would be civilized discourse. It’s been very taxing on my part. I have to keep reading to filter out the death threats, homophobic slurs and profanity.”
Earth Stewardship “uses non-releasable raptors for education in schools and events at Shelburne Farms,” D’Ambrosio wrote, and is not used to being controversial.
Located just south of Burlington, Shelburne Farms normally gets great respect and deference, as the $10-million-a-year economic engine for Chittenden County.
Developed in 1886 by heirs of railroad builder William Henry Vanderbilt to demonstrate “best practice” farming methods, reincorporated nonprofit in 1972, Shelburne Farms now attracts more than 130,000 visitors per year, reputedly welcoming more school field trips than all other sites in Vermont combined.
But Shelburne Farms might never before have taken on a pursuit as mindlessly destructive as crow-shooting, which was already in disrepute when the expression “eat crow” first appeared in print circa 1850.
Explains The Urban Dictionary, “To eat crow implies, at its mildest, an unpleasant action since the flesh of the crow is believed to be unpalatable.”
Since hardly anyone ever ate crows voluntarily, crows have historically been shot to some extent to teach hunting dogs to retrieve, but mostly just for target practice––and crow-shooting has been regarded, even among many hunters, as exceptionally unsporting, because of the habit of the species for other crows to come to the aid of any who utter a distress cry.
Therefore wounding a single crow may bring dozens within shotgun range, a phenomenon studied in 2015 by University of Washington graduate student Kaeli Swift, using nonlethal methods.
“Shooting crows has a history”
Swift learned that a crow cawing in response to an apparent threat from a human or a bird of prey would attract from five to a dozen other crows about 96% of the time, who would join the first crow in scolding the perceived threat for 10 to 20 minutes, until the threat left and showed no sign of returning.
But crow-shooters have invented pretexts for doing it, rooted more in myth and tradition than in anything crows actually do.
Reported D’Ambrosio of McCarthy’s motives, “The Boonie Club has sponsored the crow shoot for ‘a number of years,’ McCarthy said, and has never gotten any feedback. He said shooting crows has a history in Vermont’s agricultural landscape.
“Dairy farmers grew a lot of corn”
Said McCarthy, “Dairy farmers grew a lot of corn. They had to manage the crows because they would eat the seed as it was planted.”
How true was that?
Few more enthusiastic bird-shooters could have been found in 1922 than the members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, in an era when the high-speed reflex camera had yet to be invented, and sightings and species identifications were confirmed chiefly with the aid of a shotgun.
But Massachusetts Audubon Society secretary-treasurer Winthrop Packard responded most critically to a crow-killing contest hosted in 1922 by the DuPont Corporation, which was both then and now a major ammunition maker.
Packard, a distinguished author of nature-themed novels set in both New England and Alaska, who had in 1916 donated much of his earnings to found the 1,971-acre Moose Hill Bird Sanctuary in Sharon, Massachusetts, was personally acquainted with most of the “highest ornithological authorities” of his time.
“The highest ornithological authorities, including the experts of the United States Biological Survey,” Winthrop advised DuPont, “are agreed that the common crow ordinarily does more good than harm, and should not be killed except where need of special local protection warrants it, as on game farms and similar specialized areas. The Biological Survey says, ‘A careful study of the economic status of the crow demonstrates that over much of its range the bird probably does as much good as harm and under some conditions its usefulness is pronounced.’
“Much result in harm & disturbance”
“Prizes offered to get people into the woods shooting in the spring of the year,” Packard continued, “much result in harm and disturbance, in many cases indiscriminate slaughter, among nesting game and song birds, which need all possible protection at such times.”
Packard went on to denounce the DuPont crow shooting contest as “unwise, unwarranted, and cruel,” causing “harm to the morals consequent upon reckless destruction of wildlife.”
The U.S. Biological Survey, as it existed in 1922, was ancestral to USDA Wildlife Services, the official exterminating agency for the U.S. government and the state and local governments with which it contracts to deal with perceived “nuisance wildlife.”
98% of crows moved by nonlethal methods
USDA Wildlife Services killed 12,349 crows in 2016, the most recent year from which data has been reported, but this was only 2% of the crows whom the agency was called upon to deal with, chiefly on behalf of farmers. More than 98% of the crows––606,344, by official count––were hazed away by nonlethal means from fields, airports, and other places where they were considered problematic.
Crow-shooting is not illegal in at least 46 states, and most states set no bag limit on crows. Vermont has two weekend “crow seasons,” running in 2018 from January 15 to April 11 and from August 19 to December 19.
The Utah Wildlife Board initiated a crow-shooting season as recently as 2014, to try to sell more hunting licenses.
But ANIMALS 24-7, spot-checking other crow-killing contests that have become controversial, found that most quietly fade away within only a few years of starting.
Mosquitoes kill crows
Neither crow-killing contests nor crow-shooting itself are considered to be threats to the North American crow population. Only a decade ago, however, after crows and jays proved to be particularly vulnerable to the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, epidemiologists and ornithologists were concerned about catastrophic drops in the numbers of crows seen during Audubon Society bird counts.
“The Audubon Society judges bird numbers by how many its census parties spot in an hour,” explained Jim Gallagher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “In 1999, when West Nile disease arrived on the east coast, watchers in Illinois were averaging 96 crows an hour. By 2007,” after West Nile spread across the continent, “it was down to 30. But by 2011, it was up to 104.
Crows & jays barely out of the woods
“In Missouri,” Gallagher continued, “where the forested terrain is less hospitable for crows, the hourly count went from eight per hour in 1999 to three in 2008. It hit six per hour in 2010, before falling to five in 2011.”
The fact sheet “Frequently Asked Questions about West Nile Virus & Wildlife,” posted by the U.S. Geological Survey at the National Wildlife Health Center web site, says, “It is not anticipated that the commonly seen species, such as crows and blue jays, will disappear from the United States” as result of West Nile virus.
But crows and jays are barely out of the woods after the West Nile onslaught.