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In Defense of The Misunderstood Crow (Excerpt 1)

October 21, 2009

   “If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”

                                                                        Rev. Henry Ward Beecher  (1800’s) 

(Excerpt 1 from “In Defense of the Misunderstood Crow,” authored by this writer, which appeared in “Voice From Santa Barbara,” Santa Barbara News-Press, July 23, 2000. The article was written in response to the Bird Watch column in same newspaper.)

This morning I woke up to one of the most beautiful sounds I know of ….. the cawing of a Crow!

With my love of crows in mind, I present my defense of the misunderstood crow.

All people should be encouraged to enjoy and learn about crows, as they are fascinating animals.  Their intelligence, well documented, is as incredible as their family structure.  Crows are cooperative breeders, which means that several adult birds participate in the hatching and rearing of baby crows.  There can be up to seven generations of a crow family in one area.  Older siblings may help build the nest, feed the parent bird sitting on eggs, feed the nestlings, or chase away predators such as great horned owls and red-tailed hawks.

Each breeding pair of crows has an established home territory where they build nests and raise their young.  Urban territories are about 10 acres, but rural territories are much larger.  Crows hold their territories year-round.  Non-breeding crows may leave the family territory for a while in the winter, but many return to their parents in spring.  Young crows don’t leave to breed for two or more years, so family groups on the home territory can grow large.  It’s not unusual to have three or more adults attending a single nest.

Crows mate for life, unless a mate is killed or severely incapacitated.  Sometimes you may see crows bury things in the grass or in the yard – they usually cover it up with grass or a leaf.  This behavior is called “caching.”    

Crows also have a huge vocabulary and varied vocalizations, which range from their loud caws to coos and clucks.  Crows have 100 to 150 basic vocalizations.  Even their basic predator calls are different, distinguishing between whether it’s a dog or cat, a distant human, or one close by.  As with many intelligent species, crows have a fairly long life span, and a long time in childhood to learn.  The oldest wild crow known was 30; the average crow usually lives to age 13.

In the late afternoons and evenings, one may notice many crows flying together or perched in trees, and then suddenly many may fly off in a particular direction – these crows are congregating with others, on their way to their communal night roost, collecting in numbers as they go from staging area to staging area.  While at these staging areas, these congregated crows talk and play at these places until dusk.  Then they fly to their communal roost, usually in tall trees, where they spend the night.  It is theorized that crows exchange information at their roosts.  If a crow hasn’t found much to eat one day, for example, it might watch for fellow crows that look well-fed.  Then the hungry crow follows his fatter friends to their feeding area in the morning.  The social interaction that occurs at roosts may also be a way crows establish the pecking order of their society.

One thing is for certain:  No matter how people feel about crows, the crow is not going to disappear from the urban or rural scene.  Perhaps with a better understanding of these remarkable, amazingly adaptable and some-what humanlike bird will come a more positive opinion of its place in our world.  The crow is a truly amazing animal!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. jack permalink
    September 1, 2011 11:14 pm

    I admire crows so much, They really are misunderstood just as the blue jay is. I have seen crows protect songbirds by chasing off hawks at my bird feeding station. delightful to watch.

    • September 12, 2011 1:04 am

      Blue jays!!! The corvid family is amazing. Where I am currently living, there are magpies, which I’ve never been around. However, there are no blue jays – I haven’t had the pleasure of their company since I lived in the Midwest.

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