Friday, February 26, 2010

Crows & Plovers: Is Cohabitation Mission Impossible?

We found these tracks at Duck Harbor this weekend. I love tracks of birds on beaches. Whatever shorebird made the marks walked with swagger, don’t you think? Sharp claws, attitude. We also saw cage-like enclosures, like those that will contain the poisoned eggs in fake piping plover nests to kill crows if the National Seashore has its way. Duck Harbor is one of two Wellfleet beaches chosen for a pilot program to help plovers reproduce.

Now, crows are intelligent birds. Perhaps you have seen the film of crows in Brazil leaving hard nuts on highways where cars will run them over? Will their Wellfleet cousins be fooled and gobble up poisoned eggs? Superintendent George Price sure hopes so.

It turns out we are not talking flocks of crows but merely 10 to 12 targeted individuals. I learned this detail at the information meeting held yesterday at the Salt Pond Visitor Center. Despite the pouring rain, the auditorium filled up so fast Sven and I had to scramble for seats. A back room received the overflow crowd. Superintendent Price’s introduction was followed by a slide show narrated by Mary Hake who explained the “flexible management approach” that may help the threatened species reproduce in peace. Both Mary and Superintendent Price pointed out that human impact on Cape Cod has been advantageous for crows but not plovers, whose habitat has been drastically reduced.

In one corner, fuzzy plover chicks, hiding under Mom at the first sign of danger. In the other, the predator crow, sneaky and smart. Certain crows like plover eggs so much they’ve discovered how to enter the enclosures that protect the plover nests.

The plan is to inject hard-boiled chicken eggs with an avicide, DRC-1339, which will kill the egg thieves/chick killers. The hope is that any remaining members of the local crow population will learn to avoid plover nests. Mary’s statement that “the crows generally die quietly within one to three days, away from humans” drew a growl of disapproval from the audience, including the crow-supporter to my right, Nancy Kunik, of Wellfleet. Emotion filled the room.

Over a dozen people quickly lined up for the Q&A session.

Some of the more interesting tidbits: We were not at a public hearing, as many of us thought, but rather a simple information-sharing meeting. Had the Seashore brass already made up its mind? Not clear.

Helen Wilson disagreed with certain claims about the avicide, stating she had found a fact sheet online advising the poison should not be used within 50 feet of water.

Dave Schropfer, Eastham Selectman, spoke against adding more toxins to the environment and assured the audience he has found the Seashore receptive to arguments in the past, for instance, with regard to NStar.

Lee Roscoe of Brewster said, “This is one toxin too many. What other methods are there?”

The crowd came up with lots of ideas for reducing the crow population: shooting the birds, birth control, decoys, products to make them vomit, snares. The Seashore brass listened carefully but seemed to have already rejected alternative solutions.

A young woman from Harwich described her horror at watching a poisoned seagull die in the marsh. Sharon Young read a statement from the Humane Society. A sixth-grade science student worried about what would happen to the baby crows if Momma Crow were murdered. Ryan Curley pointed out recent storms could also explain this year’s loss of plover habitat.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The message was crows are God’s creatures and do not deserve to be singled out and eliminated. The problem is, plovers are awfully cute, and they may not survive if nothing is done.