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Monday, April 4, 2016


"Listen... that bird seems to be calling my name," thought Caw.

It was almost as if a crow can know you personally... because it can. How smart are crows? Scary smart actually.

On one hand, crows can remember your face. They can mimic human voices. They are terrific problem solvers. They can conspire with one another. They have a memory and know how to use it. They use tools. They plan. They problem solve. They have adaptive behavior. They can like you or not. They bring gifts to those who treat them special.

On the other hand, they are raucous, bothersome, revenge-seeking trouble-makers. But mostly, that's because you don't get to know them or care to love them like this eight-year-old Seattle girl.

She has befriended a group of crows in her neighborhood by putting food out for them. When she was four, it was accidentally dropping a chicken nugget when getting out of the car or part of a sloppily eaten sandwich. The birds knew a good thing when they saw it and started 'hanging' with her primarily because she was sloppy.

Then it became purposeful, sharing a part of her school lunch as she walked to her bus. Soon it became more deliberate with feedings of peanuts, dog food or bits of bread every morning by the bird feeder as they watched from surrounding wires or trees. When finished, she called to them and they came.

She proved worthy of their attention. To show their appreciation, the crows started bringing gifts... trinkets, an earring, a smooth rock, a hinge--anything shiny and small enough for them to carry and some icky stuff too--a frog's leg or a dead bird, but it meant something nice.

This has been going on for four years and her gifts have multiplied. She has hundreds of small 'gifts' all saved and categorized. This is just a small sample of crow appreciation.

Once when mom was taking one of her many bird photos, she lost the lens cap to her camera. Next day, a bird flew it home, sitting the cap on a flat section of their feeder.

In captivity, crows have been known to get an out-of-reach treat deeper in a glass by laboriously bringing water to fill the glass and float the treat within reach. They can bend a small wire into a hook to bring a larger piece of bread home. In their real world they know how to time traffic so they can drop nuts in front of oncoming tires to crush the shell or place hard shells directly under the time of the cars stopped for the light. They have adapted to us better than we have adapted to them.

They can remember your face and your car. As you may suspect, this can work for you or against you. If you are perceived as a threat, watch out. Crows have been known to fly beside the windows of your car and recognize you as the driver or realize that it is someone else and fly off, for better or worse.

One bird expert, Kevin McGowan, talks about what he calls crow 'family values.' "when we hear them cawing—they’re communicating to each other—often helping save one another from danger, an owl for instance. And they’ve been observed feeding injured adult crows in their family. “They have great family values,” McGowan says. “They do neighborhood watch. They help each other out. They are everything almost that you would want from a moral animal as we see it. They really do pay attention to the threats that are occurring to other crows. They are very interested in working together to make the world a safer place for other crows. It’s kind of just the way they are.”

And yes, magpies Heckle and Jeckle of old cartoon fame are of the crow family.  

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