Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Friction between humans, crows declines amid pandemic in Japan

This combined photo shows a garbage pickup point in June 2018, top, and in June 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic, in Sapporo's Chuo Ward. It seems the number of crows decreased in 2021 because restaurants were asked to close, resulting in less garbage. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)

SAPPORO -- The relationship between crows and humans in Japan's cities has long been a contentious one. For one, it is not uncommon to see the contents of garbage bags strewn across sidewalks on pickup days after the big black birds have had at them, looking for food. But crow-human friction has decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, possibly because people are paying less attention to the birds, one expert says.

    One early morning in June, when restaurants were temporarily closed and serving alcohol was banned as countermeasures against viral spread, I took photos in the Susukino downtown area of Sapporo, Hokkaido's prefectural capital.

    I then compared these to photos I had taken at the same time of day on the same day of the week, and at the same locations in June three years earlier, and there seemed to be far fewer crows in the newer snaps. Three years ago, crows would swoop down onto garbage pickup spots even before the bags could be covered with the nets there to keep the animals at bay. But this year, there were scant few of the birds.

    However, "The crow population has not decreased," said Makiko Nakamura, 56, head of the nonprofit organization Sapporo Crow Research Group, which has been conducting research on crows mainly in Sapporo. She added, "Garbage is no more than a snack for crows. They get their staple foods from natural fields."

    So, has nothing changed during the pandemic? Nakamura said that there has been one change: the number of inquiries the group gets during crows' breeding season, from around April to July. Because crows are very wary during this period, Nakamura said the research group typically gets more inquiries about how to deal with the birds' aggression as well as about chicks falling out of nests. But consultations decreased drastically this year.

    But surveys at annual problem spots revealed no changes, such as in breeding numbers.

    "Humans may have become less conscious of crows, while their awareness of the coronavirus rose," Nakamura said. "The best countermeasure against crows during breeding season is to ignore them. The friction between people and crows may have declined because people are naturally ignoring them."

    Will conflict rise again when the infection situation settles down? We will have to see.

    (Japanese original by Taichi Kaizuka, Hokkaido Photo Group)

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media