Crows: Naughty Ninjas

Cherie Morris

crow-1There’s something about crows – black, menacing ninjas, muttering “Nevermore.” Personally I’m a crow lover and I will try to convert you – resistance is futile!

Caw! Caw!

Yes, they can be noisy, but so can humans when we get together. Like many of us, crows are very social and surprisingly family oriented. Let’s start with the “caws” that seem most prevalent early in the morning. This is the standard communication that serves as greeting, warning, general gossiping, kids arguing and males bragging. In April the communication will change to a higher pitched whining when the females are stuck on a nest and saying, “FOOD! Over here, dear!” Dutifully, dad and his family helpers will deliver a tasty morsel. Extended family groups often include kids from previous broods, parent’s brothers and sisters and occasionally neighborhood “adoptees.” Family groups can number as large as 15, and the kids often hang around for years, squabbling and playing. Sound familiar?

Extremely Intelligent Birds

Crows are opportunistic feeders, basically omnivores. They’re also part of nature’s clean-up crew, darting expertly into traffic, tidying up remains of more unfortunate and less agile neighbors. Super intelligent, crows can mimic human words and a variety of sounds. Curiosity, not always an advantage, leads them to inspect shiny objects and often collect them in nests which have yielded spare change, nuts and bolts, and lost earrings. Years ago, as a docent at Chicago’s Lincoln Part Zoo, I became fond of a rescued crow, no longer able to fly. He was dubbed Edgar Allen Crow and quickly became a favorite resident. He loved to wolf whistle at all the girls and could deftly mimic a barking dog causing frequent confusion in the bird enclosure! Then he enjoyed a good chuckle (oddly similar to his keeper’s) at our expense.

Local Crow Bar

If you would like to observe crows more closely, having mature trees in your neighborhood is helpful. Leave a pile of small sticks and dryer lint for nesting. To create a local “crow bar,” try tossing some food scraps in a location where possums and raccoons can’t reach them or leave some shiny pennies in a birdbath or feeder. Normally crows are not visitors to seed feeders but curiosity (or juicy grapes!) can attract them. If you should glimpse a wing tag on one, be sure to notify the Cornell University Ornithology Lab. They love to know where their tagged birds land!

Next issue: the mockingbird, avian defensive tackle.