Crows, members of the Corvidae family, live everywhere in the world except Antarctica and are part of myths and legends in many global societies including American culture. The stories range from comedies to horror and curiously, a flock of crows is referred to as a murder. A folktale explains the reference because it is said that crows will gather to decide the capital fate of another crow guilty of wrong doing. If you’ve heard crows are smart, there’s a whole lot of truth in that because they are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Many studies and observations support their awesome problem solving skills as well as a few other behaviors also very human like such as recall, memory, gossiping and holding grudges. Researchers in Seattle spent many years banding crows, which the crows were not too happy about, and the humans found that crows never forgot a face. And remember they do, for a very, very long time. Even crows that were never banded would scold and dive-bomb human banders because, it is believed, the bandees “told” the other crows about this horribly unwanted and anxiety producing activity humans engage in and were advised to be wary of certain people and those who associate with them. It is reported that crow assaults and “mobbings” went on for years in that area. Wildlife rehabilitators experience first-hand the savviness and intelligence of the crow. When American Crows or Fish Crows (the smaller of the two), which are the only two crows indigenous to North Carolina, are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport for treatment, we take precaution to ensure fasteners on their enclosures will be difficult and hopefully, impossible for the crow to figure out. That prevents us from having to look all over the building to find him or her. We also provide enrichment tools and toys because they can get bored in captivity which may cause them to become depressed, and that is not good for recovery. Sometimes we put food inside containers so they have to work to get it out. They enjoy a varied omnivorous diet, so we give them lots of food choices; insects, fish, earthworms, fruits, eggs, vegetables and nuts. In the wild, you may see them dining on frogs, snakes, mice, berries, carrion such as road-kill or even garbage. An adult crow needs about 11 ounces of food daily, so they are adaptable and consummate opportunists. As scavengers they often associate with other hunting animals to take advantage of unguarded or abandoned prey carcasses. When you think about it, humans are some of those hunting animals who exploit the environment and tend to leave waste behind, so it’s only natural to find crows wherever you find people. In the way of description, there’s not much to tell that you don’t already know. They are black, all black; feathers, beak, legs, feet, talons, even their tongue is blue-black in color. Some people consider this big, black bird scary while others describe them as elegant. They measure 16-21 inches in length and the tail takes up 40% of that measurement. Their wingspan extends 33 to 39 inches. Males tend to be larger than females. The flight of the American Crow is swift but prolonged and performed at great heights, although they are also very comfortable on the ground. Its gait, while on the ground, is lofty and graceful, with the progression being a calm and composed walk, although it occasionally hops when excited. Crows are very social, caring creatures and have tight-knit families. Older crow siblings take on the responsibility of care for younger siblings. They roost in huge numbers, in the thousands in some areas, to protect themselves from enemies like Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls and raccoons. Crows also, amazingly, use at least 250 different calls; however, the sound we are most familiar with is the rapid caaw-caaw-caaw. That call is unmistakable. Their distress call brings other crows to their aid, as crows will defend unrelated crows. Crows are monogamous, mate for life and raise their young for up to five years. Their nests are formed externally of dry sticks, interwoven with grasses, and plastered with mud or clay while lined with roots and feathers. They lay four to six eggs of pale green spotted with purplish-grey and brownish-green. In our region they may raise two broods a season but further north, seldom more than one. Both sexes incubate, and their parental care and mutual attachment are not surpassed by any other bird. The average life span of the American Crow in the wild is 7–8 years, but captive birds are known to have lived up to 30 years. There’s a lot to admire about the crow. The crow is extremely courageous when encountering any of its winged enemies and appears to find pleasure in outwitting and teasing them. They also are known to use tools just like humans, chimpanzees and elephants do. When contending with unfamiliar tools, they use common sense to come up with ways to make them work. Studies show crows work together to protect their flock, hunt and have been observed overtly sharing food. A crow family can eat 40,000 grubs, caterpillars, ants, worms and other insects in one nesting season. That’s a lot of insects gardeners and farmers consider troublesome. These great environmental citizens also transport, distribute and store seeds, thus propagating forest renewal. Their habit of eating carrion makes them part of nature’s cleanup crew. So let’s give crows the “props” they deserve for being impressive environmental partners. Crows might have a scary reputation, but the most frightening thing might be how much they know about us and how little we know about them!
author of, “Save Them All”