Dear Umbra,

Is there a national increase in the crow population, or am I just noticing them more as I age?

La Jolla, Calif.

Dearest Jim,

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Probably both. I’ll wager that you have become more observant as the years pass, but it’s also the case that, according to various bird counts and surveys, the American crow population is indeed expanding — although not in all parts of the country. Industrial agriculture provides little friendly habitat in the way of perches, food, and shelter. On the other hand, these social, clever birds are doing a fine job of adapting to life in the big city. Like rats, crows are consummate urbanites — territorial, clannish, smart, aggressive, and adaptable. They eat most anything, learn quickly, and cannily avoid city hazards.

Thanks to all of those qualities, crows have acquired an equal number of fans and foes. If you’re a member of the former group, perhaps you notice so many crows because they delight you with their savvy. If you fall in the latter category, perhaps you notice them because the hair on the back of your neck rises every time you spot a murder of crows lurking in the high-rises and watching your every move. I fall into the fan camp, but then, I also admire rats.

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