News Local

New tool tracks crow attacks in Vancouver

By Eric MacKenzie

Two Langara College instructors have launched a map to document crow attacks. 
Postmedia Network

Two Langara College instructors have launched a map to document crow attacks. Postmedia Network

“Taking a walk and had several crows swoop down at my head.”

“Attacked me from behind.”

“Gang attack. Brought reinforcement.”

Just hours after two Langara College instructors launched an interactive map to document incidents of crows acting aggressively, these were just a few of the reports posted on a new crow attack tracking tool.

And with the black birds’ nesting season set to last several more weeks, Jim O’Leary and Rick Davidson are hopeful more Metro Vancouver residents will use online tool CrowTrax to share details of their run-ins this spring with attacking crows.

“We can at least alert people where the attacks are taking place, because they do actually draw blood sometimes,” said O’Leary, who’s had a number of close encounters with crows himself over the years during the spring nesting season.

“I carry an umbrella now during that particular period of time.”

O’Leary and Davidson teach in the school’s Geographic Information Systems certificate program and are using GIS software to collect data on the crows. Anybody can access CrowTrax online, where they’ll find a map marked with every crow attack reported, and can report their own experience.

Users click on the map where their incident occurred, give a brief description of what happened and rate the bird’s aggressiveness on a scale of one to five.

“Once we get enough data, we can make heat maps and show where the concentrations are,” said O’Leary.

That’s a method that has been used by other agencies to identify problem areas in a specific region. The Vancouver Police Department releases weekly heat maps indicating where break-ins and vehicle thefts are occurring most frequently, for example. O’Leary said he’s aware of some municipalities documenting reports of rats using heat maps to figure out where rodents reside in numbers.

If CrowTrax garners enough reports to point out hotbeds of aggressive crow activity, O’Leary said he’s hopeful to share data with the appropriate bodies to help develop solutions. But he’s also hopeful the project can illustrate the power of Geographic Information Systems.

“That’s what this really is about — to give an eye-opening window on what GIS is and how useful it can be.”

Access CrowTrax here