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The Secret World of Crows

Updated on February 20, 2017

Watchers from the Skies

As you walk outside your door, and move around your yard going about your business, there are eyes upon you. Up in the trees numerous pairs of dark eyes follow your every step. Those that watch you know exactly what you look like, and can pick you out in a group of hundreds. They will make a decision whether they like your face or not. And if they don't, they may well began to stalk and harass you. These watchers are from the animal kingdom, but are smart enough to memorize your habits and patterns if they so choose. If you treat them well, they may bring you trinkets of gratitude. However if you mistreat them they will get revenge too. These creatures may even attack you as you pass by. They can also communicate to others of their kind whether you are friend or foe. If you are an enemy they won't forget and forgive. They will even teach their offspring to distrust you as much as they do.

The watchers in the trees are crows, and they're behaviors and ability to learn have been amazing us for hundreds of years. As you observe the secret world of crows, you will be surprised at the unusual things that the normal flock of crows do in their everyday life. They have adapted to human habitation better than almost any other creature. You could even make the case that they have thrived living beside people. In this article we will take a closer look at our feathered neighbors.

Crows and Humans

As people cleared forests and build cities further and further out, they drove off many species which can only thrive in heavily forested areas. Crows on the other hand, prefer open spaces with enough trees to call home. They also have become experts at living with, and profiting off of humans. Crows are omnivores, meaning they will eat fruit, vegetables, meat, and anything tasty they can find in the garbage you leave out for pickup. Numerous flocks have even learned when the garbage pickup schedules are. When they find an item like stale bread which is a little hard, crows have been seen dipping or dropping the item into a puddle to soften it up. Some crows will use twigs and small sticks as tools to dig or spear insects burrowed in bark.

Crows have no problem co-habituating with people. They have become very accustomed to our habits, and are experts at acquiring food in busy cities. Our avian neighbors also love the little shiny trinkets we inadvertently leave for them. Recently a story came to light that a eight year old girl began leaving food for the local crows. It turn the crows started leaving her a few of their prized possessions from their secret stash, such as buttons, baubles, and small metal pieces. One crow apparently decided to feed her in return leaving a crab's claw.

Roosting Crows
Roosting Crows | Source

A Murder of Crows

Crows typically nest together as a family unit. Often older male offspring will help the parents feed newborns. They have different vocalizations, one loud for the flock at large, and a softer sound for talk among the family. They communicate with other crows to warn of potential predators such as cats, hawks, eagles, or owls. If they spot a predator too close to the flock, they will begin mobbing it, meaning they will divebomb, chastise, and harass the potential hunter until it leaves the area. They will also mob people if they feel threatened by them. Crows are very aggressive during the daytime going after owls who are trying to rest before a night of hunting. The idea is to drive the owl father away, so that when it begins it's hunt, it is nowhere near the sleeping, vulnerable crows.

When roosting together, crows will groom each other, picking out parasites from other crows which is normally only seem in primates. They also will indulge in a extremely odd behavior to seems to serve a similar purpose. Crows will find an anthill, and spread out amongst the ants. They will crush an ant in the beaks, and rub the acid that the ant produces on their feathers to drive off parasites. Ants that climb onto the crows will also eat the small parasites that the crows can't reach. Groups of crows will also lay flat on the ground to get some sun, and warm themselves up, especially after a cold spell.


Crow Research

Researchers at the University of Washington devised a test where they captured and tagged crows while wearing a mask over their head. The idea was to see if the crows they tagged would recognize them when they walked in public wearing the mask. Others also wearing different masks also walked around the campus. The crows ignored the researchers in the other masks, but when a person in the familiar mask walked around the crows became vocally aggressive and began mobbing him.

Not only did the specific birds remember, but they communicated to others in the flock that this was a bad person, and they joined in mobbing him. Even more interesting is that as the crows had offspring they taught them to be wary of the masked person as well. This feature gives them a communal memory which lasts far beyond the lifetime of a single bird.

A large group of birds can be referred to as a murder of crows, or simply as a flock of crows. Throughout the centuries, crows along with their relatives ravens, have been associated with death and dying. Which is interesting in that crows seem to mourn their dead. Individual birds will watch over old, ill birds, and when a crow is dead a large group will land around it for a minute or two, and then silently fly off. The intelligence of crows seems to be at a very high level in the animal world, and scientists are occasionally announcing incredible new behaviors that they have observed in the wild, or under controlled conditions. It will be interesting to see how crows adapt in the next decades to an ever-changing world.

Problem Solving Crows


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    • Niecey Doc profile image

      Niecey Docherty 2 years ago from Firth, Nebraska

      What's the difference between a crow/raven/blackbird? I've always wondered.

      This is interesting. I've always found crows kinda creepy. This kinda makes me even more scared of them...they know stuff, man.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Crows are regarded by many as some of the most intelligent animals on the planet.

      Great hub!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      The dark birds are wonderful, and have quite a hierarchy and have also helped other species. I have penned a few articles on the raven. Feed your crows some eggs, and after a extensive period of time, they might just trust you. Treat them well, and they will take care of you as best they can.

    • wildbluefrontier profile image

      Nathan M 2 years ago from Tucson

      Elephants are quite intelligent as well. I believe they are also very family/group oriented.Thanks for commenting.

    • wildbluefrontier profile image

      Nathan M 2 years ago from Tucson

      Yes crows have become experts at getting food by hanging around humans. I've always seen a lot of crows around Walmart, and now I know part of the reason why!

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 2 years ago from India

      Awesome! Crow research was fun to read. I have also read about elephants that they also can identify people who harm them physically.

      Voted up and shared

    • integrater profile image

      Certified Noob 2 years ago

      Fantastic, interesting hub !!! . I had no idea about the very unique way crows use ants . Intelligent birds . Upvoted .

    • dogmama58 profile image

      Judy Ward 2 years ago from Hutto, TX

      My mother was a greeter in the garden dept at Wal-Mart & noticed that birds were landing among the parked cars & picking dead bugs off the grills & bumpers. So since cars have been invented, a little over 100 years, some birds have learned that there are dead bugs available when they see a car park.