The American Crow

07Apr08

My sister hates crows and I love them. I think any real birder will respect just about any species of bird, crows, vultures you name it – if it flies it’s completely worthy of respect. The more I learn about birds the more I realize how really intelligent they are and the crow is no exception. As a matter of fact he is actually one of the smartest birds.

I’m not always about what is popular and today would be no exception. The other day a really nice American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) decided to pose for me so lets start with his pictures.

American Crow

American Crow

For all the bad press the Inuits once believed that the crow brought daylight to their home of the north – but only for six months of the year. And the Lenape Indians of Delaware believed in a Many Colored Crow or Rainbow Crow who selflessly brought fire to all the woodland creatures and thus he is black from burning himself on the trip. And then there is the Native American tribe of Montana and Wyoming that are called the Crow Indians. Interestingly enough their name (Apsaalooke) once literally translated into English actually means “people of the birds” but when they talked of themselves they called themselves Crows so it stuck. Where am I going with this? Only that at some point in time the crow was highly praise and considered valuable enough to be part of the stories passed down for generations across this great land.

It could be the not so nice caw that almost seems to pierce through the mind of those who pass by. It may be the blackness which is so closely associated with the Raven who Poe turned into a villain in one of his most read works. However, even the Tibetans believe the crow so sacred that watching their actions can predict an outcome in your life.

What does science say? The results are also very favorable.

  • The very common American crow is one of the most intelligent of all birds. The American Crow is one of only a few species of bird that has been observed modifying and using tools to obtain food.
  • It can communicate warning, threat, taunting, and cheer to other crows by varying the “caw” sound it makes.
  • Its cries of warning are specific enough that some animals other than crows are also able to use them as signals of dangerous predators.
  • American Crows are a sentinel species indicating the presence of West Nile virus. This is because populations as high as 72% in a season has been recorded as dying when the virus is present. (However, humans cannot catch the virus from a crow.)

The end result? It may be one of the most common birds and probably won’t be the favorite of many for years to come however, he just might be worthy of a bit more respect. One thing I’ve learned about nature is if a person just cannot find it in themselves to offer admiration – respect will work just as well.

{p.s. for those who like to kill them; American Crows are protected internationally by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.}

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16 Responses to “The American Crow”

  1. Great shot of these crows! Bravo

  2. 2 montucky

    Those are good photos of a bird that is so smart it is difficult to approach. Good job! In our area we have few vultures, but a lot of crows who perform the very valuable services of scavengers very well. As a hunter and someone interested in wildlife I have found that I can get a lot of information by simply paying attention to crows, how many there are in an area, what they seem to be doing, where they’re going and what they’re saying. Many times they will point out the location of a large predator.

  3. 3 zenuria

    In the Australian Football League, one of the home teams for Adelaide is known as the Crows! (not that I follow footy at all).

    I think they are beautiful birds and when I see them wheeling and cawing I wonder what message they are transmitting to those who can understand. They seem so purposeful in their communication.

    Nice photos 🙂

  4. Lovely post about an under-appreciated bird, and some great photos of them! In SF, we have many more Common Ravens here than American Crows (although that’s totally reversed just ~40 miles east of here in our Central Valley, where Ravens are scarce and Crows abundant), but both are wonderful birds.

    Of course I may be a /little/ biased – I have a large’ish tattoo of a raven on my chest 🙂

    Based on this post of yours, I /highly/ recommend picking up a copy of “The Mind of the Raven” by Bernd Heinrich – it’s a fascinating study of ravens’ behavior, and doesn’t have too much jargon, making it a good read for anyone with an interest in nature.

  5. Hi Monarch, thanks again for your visit! 🙂

  6. Hi Montucky, this guy was amazingly friendly or I was amazingly lucky. I’ve noticed that too about predators too! If the woods are silent look around but if a crow is making a bunch of racket look around too. Thank you for point that out! (I totally forgot about it!)

  7. Hi Zen – for the guided some believe they have a lot to say and this does not shock me really. I am amazed at how intelligent birds (and other wildlife is).. these guys are no exception. Whenever I hear them making a scene I go and look and without question I find something fascinating. Hawks, Eagles… etc.. They are very cool!

  8. Hi Adam, wicked tattoo! (IMO) 🙂 I’m going to look into that book and thank you for the suggestion. I also noticed finding a lot of good information on Raven’s are not easy. In our area we are encumbered with Crows but I’ve noticed that they soar quite well. (I read somewhere that raven soar and crows don’t… only goes to show there is a lot of inaccurate info online about these birds.) Thanks for the visit!

  9. Thanks 🙂 That’s interesting about the soaring – that was mentioned as one way to separate Crows & Ravens in the ornithology class I was taking. Around here, anyways, the soaring does appear to be confined to Ravens. The minute they open their mouth, all doubt is removed anyways! Another ID tip (like most, not 100% reliable) is that when flying, Ravens have a rounded, almost spade-shaped tail, while Crows tails are much flatter, almost square’ish. Of course if their tail is not fanned out, this isn’t of any help at all!

  10. I have some other book suggestions and links on a site I put up that you might enjoy: http://www.crowcentric.com. Recently I started a blog, too. (www.crowcentric.blogspot.com) I have enjoyed watching crows and learning more about them. I concur on the suggestion for reading “The Mind of the Raven.” Keep taking pictures–you did a great job!

  11. For no particular reason, I’ve been watching crows as I walk around my Berkeley neighborhood. In addition to the fact that they’re beautiful, and apparently fearless, they will often answer me when I caw back at them. They see and hear me, as I see and hear them.Anyway, I’ve decided it would be interesting to make crow life a background in the life of a youngster in a book–a kid who needs an interest other than people. There are many tracks to follow here, and I appreciate them.

  12. ok hi! im gonna tell you how the crow got black first is was all before lenapehokin and all before humans and back then animals could talk one day it was snowing and no animal worried but it got worser and worser and worser then they asked crow to go up crow was rainbowcolored and so it went up to the creator and ask him to please stop it snowing but the creator didnt hear him so the crow sang bueatiful and the creator heard the crow told the creator everything the creator said he cant do anything about it but gave him some sage and lighted it and he said hurry down as fast! the crow started going 1 day some went on its nice feathers and ash went on it then the second some smoke went in his mouth that cause him to go caw cawwww and the third day he came back down and helped all the animalds then the crow was crying the creator came and said you did a good thing so i will repay you back i will give you back your rainbow feathers but youll still be black then he said you are luck y if you still had your rainbow self and one day theres gonna be humans and they wont hunt you so be happy and crows will live forever some crows now will have rainbow feathers hahaha have a good day lol its real

  13. thank you ashley… for you wonderful story.

  14. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.

  15. Terrific shots. Great info. Thanks!


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