Now it can be told: the closely guarded family secret for keeping crows and their annoying "caw-cawing" out of your trees.

Stomping outside to shout at a murder of crows relentlessly cawing tends to spark dark thoughts in the "if-I-hear-one-more-caw-I'm-gonna...." householder. Acting out these thoughts is mostly illegal, though, including firing a gun within city limits.

However, there's no law against scaring crows.

Perched in the venerable tree 30 to 40 feet above you, they are used to being in the catbird seat, so to speak, knowing earthbound humans can't touch them.

Ah! But a human with a slingshot and a handful of small BBs can get in their faces. A pouch full of BBs spreads out and makes a lot of noise. BBs rain against leaves, branches, and, possibly, an occasional bird. The entire murder scrambles to get away from this scary invasion of their personal space.

Does it hurt them? Apparently not. Gravity slows the BBs significantly, and given that you use the small ones, any BBs that do strike their coarse feathers harmlessly bounce off. Every crow I've ever shot at like this has flown away to caw another day.

Do they come back? At first, yes. Like teenagers, they'll test a new regime again. But unlike teens, they learn fast. After my first two attacks with BBs, their numbers noticeably decreased.

Then all it took to scare them away was just holding the slingshot, dashing out into the backyard, and letting loose a soul-satisfying tirade. After a few of these performances, they didn't come back.

They didn't come back that week. Nor that month. Nor that year. Not even once in the four years since I discovered the secret. An entire murder of crows has learned that my eucalyptus trees are too dangerous to roost in. And they seem to pass it on.

Why am I telling my secret? Aren't I afraid that crows all over town will be desensitized to BBs and will come back to my trees?

They can try, but they won't find any trees. Sadly, beetles infested our trees and we had to remove them. A fitting side effect for the season: I can share my secret with the world, now that I don't have to worry about crows any more. May your New Year be happier with fewer crows.

TOM EGAN lives in Costa Mesa.