Bird Watcher's General Store

Good Stuff About Crows - 01/31/03


Dear Bird Folks:

What's with these crows? Crows used to be wary of humans. Now the crows here in Osterville are downright aggressive. They hog all my expensive birdseed and chow down my suet. And those plastic owls don't work, I've seen crows perched right on top of them.

David, Osterville

Hey Dave,

Was there a real question in all of that? Let's see, plastic owls, expensive seed, chowed suet, not wary of humans. Which one of those things do I respond to? What you sent me is more of a rant than a question. But that is OK, I'm used to listening to rants, I have a teenage daughter.

Is it that you are upset that crows are coming to eat your birdseed? Did you somehow not know that crows are birds? Birds being attracted to birdseed is what is supposed to happen. When chickadees become less shy they are called "friendly" and "inquisitive." Yet when crows do the same thing they are "bold" and "aggressive." Is there a double standard going on in Osterville? I hope not.

Let me point out a few things that may make seeing crows a more rewarding event for you. Crows mate for life, which is not really that big of a deal, since they all look the same. Crows are smart. Why change mates when a new one will look exactly the same as the old one? But they do have one of the most sophisticated family structures in the bird world. It takes a crow two years to reach maturity, which is a long time for a songbird, but not long at all when compared to some of the humans I know. Young crows remain with their parents for the entire two years.

In those two years they learn much from their parents and they also help to raise their new baby brothers and sisters. The young birds assist their parents by incubating the eggs and feeding the newly hatched chicks.

Crows' intelligence is legendary. We all remember reading this past summer about "Betty," the crow from New Zealand. Betty would not only use wire tools to extract food, but she needed to bend the wire in just the right way or the wire wouldn't work. Every time the researchers would give Betty a straight piece of wire, ol' Betty would bend it back to the proper shape and start pulling out food again.

Crow hunters (don't get any ideas Dave) have long claimed that crows will count the number of hunters who are hiding in a blind. The crows will not go near the blind until every hunter has left it.

Crows, like humans, are omnivorous. They eat almost anything, plant or animal. There is no doubt crows compete with us for food. Farmers have long battled crows over who is entitled to the corn in the corn fields. However, crows help the farmer by eating a lot of harmful insects. Crows also provide a huge service by eating road kills. Picking up rotting dead creatures along the side of the road is a nasty job for the highway department, yet crows do it for free. Plus, unlike the highway department, crows don't need a state cop to watch them while they work.

Crows will take an occasional baby bird, but crows also alert wildlife to the presence of predators. I have had some of my best looks at owls by following the sound of screaming crows.

The "deal" with crows, Dave, is that they are fascinating, intelligent, adaptable birds, that are dedicated parents. I know some people don't like crows, yet everyday I talk to people who are amazed at their skills and abilities. I guess it's all a matter of attitude.

I know this probably doesn't answer your question, because I'm still not sure what your question was. But wasn't that an interesting story about Betty?

Artwork by Catherine Clark




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