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Whether you’re here with specific questions or a general interest, you’re in the right place to learn the science behind one of the globe’s most charismatic and influential groups of birds. I created this blog in 2012 when I was just starting as a graduate student at the University of Washington as a platform to share my own research on crow “funerals” and to answer questions I was regularly fielding from the public. Since that time, my title and area of research has changed, but my passion for corvids and commitment to science communication remains immutable. I hope that by educating the public about these magnificent birds people will not only view them more compassionately, but will appreciate what a valuable connection to the natural world they provide.

No matter your feelings for them, nearly everyone has a story about crows, ravens, jays or magpies—even those people who otherwise feel quite separated from nature.  This connection is not recent one; you need look no further than the religious texts and creations stories of cultures around the world to appreciate our historical fascination with these animals. The fact that some of them are conspicuous and thrive in human dominated environments means that corvids are a uniquely accessible animal that offers a wealth of opportunities to connect people of all interests and backgrounds to the natural world. With over half the world’s population living in cities, this kind of accessible connection is more important than ever. So go watch them play, problem solve, bond with their families, cause mischief, inspire mythology, and watch you right back. The questions and stories these observations provide will always be welcome here, and I do my best to answer each message within a few days. So go learn, and let me know what information you’re still hungry for. Welcome to the Corvid Research blog!

 

126 responses to “Home

  1. LA

    Hi Dr. Swift,

    I caught you on DTFH and loved your interview (and your other work I’ve found). I’ve been feeding crows at my office for a few weeks and trying to at home for a long time with a little success. This morning when I got out of my car at work a group of four flew over me low and the one that I think watches me back and calls in the others when I throw out food was closest and cawed. I’m pretty sure they know my car. I left them peanuts and a peanut butter dog biscuit and when I went back out (they don’t let me watch them eat, even through the window) they had left a piece of a wooden dowel or stick pecked up to a point on one end where the food was! How awesome to get a physical gift from an animal!

    How long does it normally take for them to gift? I’ve only been feeding the ones at my office a couple weeks. Maybe they’re more grateful since it’s been snowy and extremely cold this week.

    • Hi LA, well there’s no set time for it. Some people have fed them for years and never received one. That’s part of the reason the motivations for this behavior remain unclear. There’s just no consistency in when it happens. That’s why I tell people who feed crows but never gotten one not to worry or take it personally. As fun as it is to imagine these gifts are a signal of gratitude we really don’t know, and there could be a number of other explanations for the behavior that have nothing to do with signaling thanks.

  2. Hi Dr. Swift! I was wondering what crows do during snow storms. Do they stay closer to the communal roost? Do they stay in their neighborhoods? Do they still actively look for food or just recover what they cached earlier? The reason why I am asking is because I haven’t seen very many crows today and it is snowing really hard! Thank you!

    • Hi Kris! They won’t stay closer to the roost (as far as I know) but will spend more time roosted on their territories in the interior of trees where it is warmer and more sheltered. They may recover their caches but with so much food available in the city they can probably forage “fresh” food just as quickly!

  3. Letty

    So not sure if I’m dealing with crows or ravens.. BUT on my school campus there’s A LOT of them. I always look up and try to find them sort of say my hello and wander to class, so they’d usually be somewhere in sight but also typically cawing.. then one day I was on my phone walking up a staircase when one started caw-ing on the rail of the stairs SO loud I heard it through my headphones turned around and I said HEY super startled, sort of shocked and we made eye contact and I tried to soften my shocked ‘hey’ by continuing with ‘hope you’re well’ and then went off on my way.. Since then, I haven’t really seen them much on my way to class. I don’t know if we were chill and my startled ‘hey’ and direct eye contact was a No-No and now I’m in the doghouse or if I’m fact they didn’t like me before and were aggressively following me until I spoke to the crow/raven. I haven’t come back to a car covered in bird poop or anything so any thoughts on where I might be with them? And is feeding my only way to mend our relationship? Also I don’t know if I was near their nesting site and that’s why the crow/raven so loudly cawed (it was ~5ft away), if I had pissed it off for not paying attention to it, or if it was simply saying hello and found my response to be rude..?

    • Hi Letty. Well, if you’re in the US and this happened recently then we can start by ruling out any relationship to the nesting season since we are still about a month out from that. Second, more than likely since you’re on a college campus and you say there’s a lot of them and you describe their vocalizations as “caws” you are dealing with crows, not ravens. As for what happened…it’s probably just a coincidence. Making direct eye contact can make them wary, but in contexts like…you threw some food on the ground and are starting at them (as opposed to looking away) while they try and retrieve it. You’ll notice in this situation that if you stare they will take a lot longer (if not give up) trying to get it than if your gaze if facing another direction. But staring (and even a gruff bark) is not the kind of threatening interaction that triggers the kind of facial memory and predator aversion behaviors caused by say, throwing rocks, picking up babies or dead crows, or capturing them. And if you look through the comments across this blog you’ll notice lots of comments to the effect of (I love my crows and they used to be x place everyday and now they’re not, what happened?!). They just move around sometimes for their own reasons unrelated to us. As for repairing your relationship, from your description it didn’t really seem like you had a relationship unless you left that part out of your story. So since you’re not being harassed you don’t need to do anything. But yes, if you had birds you were feeding and feel sad they’re gone try carrying a handful of raw unshelled peanuts with you and feed them opportunistically as you encounter them across campus. Thanks for your questions!

  4. Jared H

    Hi Dr. Swift,

    Just heard you on the podcast ‘ologies’ and I was blown away by all the stuff you taught me about crows and their funerals! I knew they were smart, but I have a reignited appreciation for them now.

    I live in Seattle and work at University of Washington in a microbiology lab and I was telling one of my co-workers about the podcast and your episode specifically. Someone overheard me and chimed in that one of his neighbors is constantly harassed by the neighborhood crows, and said it’s because someone from UW (maybe you!) used to come do the crow work in his area and the mask they wore looked like him. Now he is crow public enemy number one on his block!

    Thought you would get a kick out of this story. Hope your post-doc in Denali is going well.

    Jared

    • Probably from John’s original facial recognition study since those birds had a lot more and a lot more intense exposure to the mask. Is the guy bald? The bald mask caused more problems than for just the neighbor!

  5. Theodora

    I love crows
    In my country I do not have them, when I travel the first thing I do is try to listen to them

  6. Absolutely amazing, thank you, I thought I was the only one that loved crows (ravens) of Australia.
    Lachlan

  7. From time to time, crows would stray in our backyard, perching on our big mahogany tree. Sadly, though, I never give much attention to these birds. Thank you for this valuable information, I’m beginning to get interested in them.
    Forest Degradation

  8. Hi Dr. Swift, I just read your interview on wordpress, and it’s really great to find another neurodivergent person in academia! In undergrad I’m quite certain that we read your paper on crows identifying/remembering faces in animal behavior, and I was so interested! Afterwards I did some literature review in undergrad on pinyon jay social hierarchies. It was really cool to read about!

    This may sound really strange or come out of nowhere, but you said you were diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia – I was just wondering if you’ve ever looked into autism? A lot of the current literature has a rather stereotypical view on how autistic people act/behave (a lot assumes that we don’t have empathy, and many autistic women have loads of empathy), and a lot of women have gone undiagnosed most of their lives (I only found out because of reading about random interesting things at 24! Then looked into it, read autistic women’s experiences, and got a diagnosis a year later). Understanding my brain and my sensory sensitivities has really helped lower my stress – academia’s already stressful as it is!

    I’m not trying to say you’re autistic, I was just wondering if you’d ever looked into it! I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of women in the sciences are autistic and undiagnosed. Anyway I really loved your interview!

    • Hi Autisticsciencelady! I haven’t ever looked into autism. But as it happens, I have a friend (another really wonderful science writer) that was recently diagnosed so I am becoming more familiar with the ways that autism presents differently in women and how it is so much more under-diagnosed. That said, I don’t think it really fits me. I suppose I don’t have a good reason, I just don’t identify with most of the symptoms especially the sensory ones. But it is interesting to think about! If you want to read a really great article Kelly wrote about her experience though you can check it out here: https://www.theopennotebook.com/2018/10/09/writing-when-on-the-autism-spectrum/

      • wow, that’s awesome! I just figured I’d mention it. Thanks so much for the link! It’s good to know there’s openly neurodivergent people in the sciences doing well! I’m trying to figure out my career path right now and have absolutely no idea (not sure whether to go the academia route or not), and it’s quite hard to find other openly neurodivergent people. Thanks for the reply!

  9. Jacquelin Rogers

    There is a crow in mum’s garden, it only fly’s short distances and mostly climbs up trees. It is on its own. The other crow attack it. It appears thinner and feathers are short and messy. We have started putting out a bit of food when it is around. It hides in the bushes and low trees.
    Is there anything we can do to help this bird?

    • Ah that’s too bad. It’s not unusual for crows to attack and even kill injured crows. We’re not really sure why they do this. Nothing you can do aside from bringing it to a rehab facility but depending on the extent of the injuries they may just put it down right away anyway. So my advice is just to leave it alone and let it find a quiet place to pass.

  10. Jon Noad

    Hi Kaeli, I thoroughly enjoy all the corvid related material that you share. I had a quick question for you. Do you know how many primary and secondary flight feathers, and how many tail feathers, the Eurasian Magpie has? I am giving a talk on Archaeopteryx and wanted a comparison with a similar sized bird. (Archeo has 11-12 primary, 12 secondary, 16 to 17 tail feathers). Thank you
    Jon

    • Hi Jon, so aside from the primary feathers (which there are ten) the other two stats I don’t know off the top of my head. So, I used google image search and photos from the Slater Natural History Museum wing collection to just hack it and count. I counted 11 tail feathers and, depending on the specimen 8-9 secondary feathers. So suffice it to say arcyaeopteryx has more of these feathers than the standard passerine bird!

  11. Chris Welbourne

    Hey Doc! Been following you on Twitter for awhile now (welby). I’m fascinated by birds of all kinds but mostly crows. A murder hangs out near my house and I want to endear myself to them.
    What types of food do they like most? Also is there a preferred delivery (tray, feeder or simply leaving it on the ground or patio table)?

    • Hi Chris! Unshelled peanuts are a good, inexpensive way to start feeding them. I recommend directly on the patio table or a tray. Just stay away from any feeders where they need to stick their heads into something. They might be used to and okay with this, but if they are at all shy they won’t even check out the food if it’s in this kind of feeder.

      • Chris Welbourne

        Great! A side note, I’ve listened to the Adam Carolla show podcast for years now and he’s a big Crow fan. He talks about training them to do all sorts of funny and interesting things to help humans. It’s equal parts serious and funny but I think about you every time he brings it up. I think he would find your expertise fascinating. He has nearly 600K followers on twitter and it might be a good opportunity to pick up some of his.
        Thanks again for replying!

  12. Meg

    Crows always elicit a sense of eeriness for me…their oily wings, their cawing call. I appreciate this new insight into the fascinating and prevalent critters!

  13. Julia

    Dear Dr Swift,
    Fellow UW alumna here! I’m a huge fan of your research. Thank you for all you’ve done to encourage people to appreciate crows, ravens, and other corvids as the amazing neighbors they are!
    My partner and I live in Seattle, and we’ve been feeding unshelled peanuts to our neighborhood crows for a few weeks now. The other day there was a group of four or five on the telephone wires waiting while my partner put out the peanuts. One of them looked really unstable on the wire, and suddenly he flipped upside down. He hung there for a bit very casually, then let go with one foot and hung one-footed until finally dropping off and landing on the ground. At first we thought maybe he was sick (or drunk??), and were happy to see him land safely. Before long, however, he flew up and did the exact same thing again! We got some great pictures of him hanging upside down. We read online that crows sometimes do this for fun or to show off for one another, but I wanted to check with an expert.
    Thanks so much for your time, and I hope your postdoc is going great!
    Sincerely,
    Julia

  14. Becky Armbruster

    Hi Kaeli,

    I feed the crows in my area, Gig Harbor, regularly now a mix of small dog kibble & seed/nuts, there are about 30 who come by. Today I noticed what looks to be a younger/smaller crow who is missing a leg. The bird squatted a lot, hunkering down so I could not tell if the leg was gone or twisted a different direction. She adjusted balance with his or her wings but listed quite a bit. She did get some food & flew off, so flying does not seem an issue. Any tips on how I can help this bird should they come back? I can call Sarvey as well for advice. I don’t want to interfere much if it does not need assistance but don’t want it to suffer either.

    Thank you for any advice.
    Becky

    • Hi Becky, crows are astoundingly resilient when it comes to foot/leg injuries. If you see it again, I’d take that as a sign it is getting along fine and leave it be. Best of luck to it!

  15. I love my neighborhood corvids…thank you for sharing your experience with us.

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