“If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows” -Henry Ward Beecher (1813 – 1887)
American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), along with other Corvids, are considered by most to be the most intelligent avians. Social and adaptable, these completely black, including bills and legs, birds thrive even in areas where their habitat is severely altered by humans and despite aggressive attempts to exterminate them. Why do they survive? Probably because of their intelligence, sociability and adaptability.
An omnivore, American crows will eat anything they can find. They gobble great amounts of grain in fields, steal fruits, vegetables or any other edibles they can find in yards and orchards, rob other bird’s nests of eggs and young and raid poultry yards for the same purpose. In balance, crows devour vast quantities of insects in all stages of development as well as mice, rats, snakes, and carrion of all kinds. In the broad picture, their evils probably match their good works.
American crows show abstract reasoning, cooperation and display a sense of fun, traits that help them survive and thrive:
*They use tools to obtain food. After shaping a stick, an American crow will use it to probe a hole or crevice for food. In laboratory studies, crows will perform a series of tasks, in order, to obtain food.
*American crows will take hard-shelled mollusks high into the air and drop them onto rocks to break open the shells to obtain the animal. In cities, acorns and other nuts are placed on the road. After cars run over the nuts, the crows retrieve the released nutmeats.
*By following other birds to their nests, crows can steal eggs, nestlings or other food.
*Crows collect shiny objects.
*Detailed information about predators or new food sources is transmitted by variations in the crows’ far-carrying calls. Sentinel crows also warn groups of their feeding companions using calls.
*Crows can recognize people simply by looking at their faces and remember faces for years.
*Crows will slide down snow-covered hills.
*They play tricks on one another, other animals or humans. (Years ago I had a friend with a pet crow. The crow would hide objects and then seemed to caw with “laughter” when the friend would search for the hidden item. His pet crow could also mimic a few words.)
*American crows also hold “funerals” for dead family members. A deceased bird is often surrounded by other crows in significant numbers, often in rotation, for a period of time. The crows may be paying homage to their deceased member. In an Animal Behavior 2015 article, Swift and Marzluff noted that by having “funerals”, crows more likely are assessing danger and triggering anti-predator behaviors (learning about dangers).
*Crows will work together to harass or drive off predators, devise solutions to problems and recognize unusual sources of food.
The various crow and raven species are difficult to distinguish. Subtle traits such as body size, head and neck shape and bill shape and size take a trained eye to discern in the field. Crows generally have smaller, thinner bills than their cousins, the ravens. The species designation of the American crow, brachyrhynchos, is from Latin and means short bill (brachys = short, rhynochos = bill).
One name for a group of crows is a “murder”. This murder of crows was photographed along the Coquille River near Bandon OR.