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Birds and Me

Birds and Me published on No Comments on Birds and Me

For the greater majority of my life, I have really liked birds. I liked watching them swim, hearing them sing, seeing their little babies, etc. Unfortunately, just as one student acting out can disrupt a whole class, so the crow has disrupted my love for birds.

Allow me to explain. Three years ago, I had a job that I walked to using the same and the shortest path. On one such work day, I came to a part in my commute where I walked close to evergreens that were planted in front of townhouses. I heard some cawing. I didn’t pay any attention. The cawing kept getting closer and closer. I kept ignoring it. The cawing got really close and I felt some claws on my pony tail.

That’s when I darted. I went from a leisurely stroll to a full sprint in one second flat. After several meters, I slowed down again, thinking I had lost it. Again, the crow came at me with ferocity. This time, I didn’t let it touch me, but started running sooner. This continued at several reprises. I would sprint, slow down, and then sprint some more. By the end, the crow didn’t have to get close for me to sprint, if I just heard a caw, I was gone. While this ghastly classical conditioning was happening, a man drove past me pointing and laughing. For some reason, at that time, I failed to appreciate the humor in the situation.

My adrenaline was at full capacity by the time I got to the office and recounted my adventure to my co-workers. That evening, I played Ultimate Frisbee and explained my newly developed paranoia of crows to my team. Everyone, without exception, laughed.

The following day, I walked on the opposite side of the road from where the crow attack had happened in hopes of avoiding detection. After a couple days, I saw a crow sitting atop a light post on my side of the road. It started to caw. I tried to appear relaxed in case crows are like dogs and can sense fear. My relaxed composure didn’t help. He came in for a head dive.

The attacks continued in subsequent days. It got to the point that I considered taking a longer way to work, but figured that would add too much extra time and besides, I wasn’t about to let a crow bully me, so I stuck to my route.

After recounting my crow story to multiple people, one of my listeners told me that crows are rather intelligent. They can remember and recognize people. This person recommended a Tedtalk all about crows. The Tedtalk talks about university researchers who used crows for their research. When they were done their research, they set the crows free, and moved away to other cities. The researchers came back ten years (or something like that) later and the crows recognized them and started attacking them.

This Tedtalk gave me the idea to put on a disguise. Since the crow could recognize me, I’d have to change my appearance enough that it no longer knew it was me. It attacked me when I had a pony tail, so I started putting my hair down. I put on a jacket and even used the hood despite it being 30 °C outside. The best part was my disguise worked! The crow no longer attacked me.

Despite no longer being attacked, the crow had managed to successfully condition me to jump at any cawing. A few months after the attacks, I moved to France and although I was never attacked by French crows, I still jumped at the cawing and watched them carefully should I have to walk near them.

Since I couldn’t escape from crows by moving to Europe, I decided to see if Asia also has a large crow population and moved to Japan. I was disappointed to find that crows live everywhere.

When I arrived in Japan, a couple years had passed since the crow attacks and I was starting to conquer my fears. That being said, if I was out for a run and a crow was on the path and didn’t fly away immediately, I would change my running route and return the way I had come. Still, I was making small improvements to break the conditioning the other crow had put me through. Unfortunately, my slow progress was abruptly halted.

WP_20150418_011On a beautiful sunny Saturday in April, my husband and I took a trip to Kyoto. We visited the Imperial Palace and afterwards, decided to have a picnic on the grounds. We chose a bench in the sun and began to eat our falafel in pita bread- very Japanese, I know. My husband was sitting on my right side and I was holding my pita in my left hand. I was turned towards my husband saying something when a rush of wind came past me and I felt feathers on my hand. I turned just in time to see a hawk and a crow speed past me.

My fight and flight response kicked in and I chose the flight option. (You can’t choose the fight option with birds since they have the advantage of being able to fly.) I ran for shelter under some trees, leaving my husband to clean up our lunch things and carry our bags over to cover.

As my knees were shaking, my husband tried to comfort me saying, “The crow probably saved you from the hawk, you’re just lucky you didn’t get its claws in your hand” and “The crow was just following the hawk hoping the hawk would drop your food after he had picked it up.”

The hawk that tried to steal my pita.
The hawk that tried to steal my pita.

My husband’s comforting failed to produce the desired effects of calming me. I was convinced that the crow was out to get me.

Once I had calmed down, we left for the next place we were visiting without finishing our lunch.

As a result of this recent episode, not only am I terrified of crows and will cross the street to avoid the trees on which they are perched. I have also developed a fear of hawks which has been generalized into a phobia of all birds of prey. However, I have hope that if no more attacks take place, my fear will start to diminish within the next five to ten years.


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