NAT_130520 CROWS 20 MAY 2013 NEWS Crows at Fish Market in Dubai PHOTOATIQ-UR-REHMAN

Dubai: A little bird being attacked in its nest while you are out enjoying the evening sun can be distressing to say the least but this is just one of several reports across Dubai of crows playing the villain. The incident mentioned here played out at the Walk in Jumeirah Beach Residence. The small bird was tucking into its nest in a tree just before sunset on Tuesday when, out of nowhere, a crow swooped down. Within seconds, the crow flew away with an egg in its beak.

Sightings of crows raiding nests and feeding on eggs and fledglings have become increasingly common in Dubai. In Jumeirah Village Triangle, there have been reports of crows dropping dead fledglings in gardens, and even scaring children in the neighbourhood.

“Crows are a real menace in Dubai. They are aggressive in nature. They kill indigenous bird species like warblers, resident bulbuls and laughing doves, which, if unstopped, can become endangered,” Dr Reza Khan, specialist, wildlife and zoo management, Public Parks and Horticulture Department of Dubai Municipality, told Gulf News.

Crows are originally from the subcontinent. They began invading other countries about 150 years ago by hitching rides on ships. Crows are now a common species in all continents, except Antarctica.

Dr Khan said he first spotted a pair of crows roosting at Maktoum Bridge in Dubai in 1991. The birds could have come from Fujairah, where he first spotted crows in the late 1980s.

Dr Khan estimates that there are now around 3,000 to 5,000 crows in Dubai and about 10,000 across the UAE. While crows don’t multiply quickly as they only breed once a year, from the end of March to July, their numbers have steadily increased because of the absence of predators that target them in the UAE, unlike in the subcontinent.

Crows are not picky eaters. They thrive in places where rubbish is abundant, scavenging uncovered garbage bins which are their preferred choice in their search for food. They eat absolutely anything and in extreme cases, feed on dead animals.

“Crows move along with the movement of people. Where there is human habitation in urban areas, especially where there is lots of waste, crows love it,” Dr Khan says.

Crows are also known for their intelligence and resourcefulness. They have been reported to be brazen when it comes to snatching people’s food on some of Dubai’s golf courses, beaches, and parks.

“When my team-mates leave their food in the golf cart, when it’s their turn to play, the crows immediately dive in and grab the sandwiches. Sometimes, they stay there and eat the food as if we weren’t there,” Romy Del Prado, 59, an avid golfer in Dubai, told Gulf News, adding he had experienced the same thing while on Jumeirah beach.

Some pest control firms say they have been receiving up to four crow control enquiries a month since the beginning of the year.

“Most of the calls come from resorts and hotels that are worried about losing their guests as crows invade their outdoor dining areas,” Dinesh Ramachandran, technical manager at National Pest Control, told Gulf News.

In the absence of clear legal guidelines that allow control measures for crows, unlike for pigeons, Ramachandran said they find it hard to deal with the menace.

Shamim Ahmad from Al Mobidoon Pest Control Services, told Gulf News: “Crows are a major problem in town. But there is no clear solution for this yet. The government is not allowing the import of equipment to distract the birds. Shooting the crows here is also not allowed. In India, we have permission to kill them if they cause serious problems.”

Crows have always wreaked havoc in places they invade. In Japan, it took just 20 years for the crow problem to get out of control, mainly due to the population explosion in the country. Reports of crows stealing food from children, attacking people, and causing power outages have become commonplace.

While no crow attacks on people have yet been reported in the UAE, Dr Khan said the crow menace should not be dismissed lightly. He said legislation on wildlife conservation is needed to protect indigenous species from invasive birds such as crows. But he stressed the legislation on bird control should be crafted based on a UAE-based study to determine the extent and complexity of the menace crows bring.

During a three-day capacity-building workshop by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Dubai in February this year attended by experts from Arab countries and supported by the government of Japan, the convention adopted strategic plans on ways to achieve a global target of identifying, controlling or eradicating prioritised invasive species, including crows, by 2020.