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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!

 

343 responses to “Home

  1. Devon Eastland

    I just heard about six blue jays calling like mad in my backyard (Holden, MA) and went to see if I could figure out what was up. The object of their interest seemed to be a gray squirrel that had recently been killed, lying on the top of a log, throat torn out, but otherwise intact. We have red tailed hawks and foxes in the yard. No idea how Mr. Squirrel met his end why the jays were so upset, but I thought of you and your work! Thanks for everything you do!

    Devon

  2. Paula Marr

    I have spent many years studying their behavior. I have 4 generations that I feed everyday. During winter months I go through approximately 70lbs of cat food a month. Breeding and fall I supplement with fruits and horse grain. They recognize me when I’m within easy 5 miles from home and they let me know!! I love every spring when I meet the next generation I KNOW ME BABIES LIKE THEY KNOW ME AND YES THEY ARE HIGHLY INTELLIGENT!!!! I’ve watched them use things & solve something’s beyond my comprehension. I may sound crazy but I’ve always felt a respect and a connection with them. Not only have I been opportunities to watch my four generations at my current location but I’ve ALWAYS watched,learned and fed them for well over 25years they are the one of my life that I feel blessed to have them in my life❤️❤️❤️❤️ Not to mention that my neighbors have no moles because my crows eat the bugs & worms that attract them. That’s my story and I wouldn’t change anything!!! Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story!!!

  3. Susan S.

    At sunset, the resident crows in the neighborhood’s tall trees in Northern California, have a burst of activity where they fly from one tree to another, seeming to visit different trees (different families?). The flying is impressive as well as the crowd aspect. Any insights into this behavior?

    • Sounds like typical pre-roosting activity, which is admittedly a big hole in our understanding. There is a group at UW Bothell that is working on better understanding the function of pre-roost gatherings. Hopefully they make some headway!

  4. Sylvia Freeman

    I have a question. The other day I saw a murder of Crows, maybe 25 or so, sitting in a yard. Three of them had their wings fully extended, sitting upright, in irregular three lines, one in each line. The others were sitting close by or walking around the ones with outspread wings. I was driving so couldn’t stop and take photos but the image stays with me. Do you have any insights to this behavior?

  5. Glassy C.

    I am so sorry for such a morbid question, but does anyone know if it’s common behavior for crows to leave the carcass of their young in someone’s yard? This is the third time in the past month we’ve seen a young female bring an almost mummified youngling down and leave it on our front bench. It’s honestly quite sad, and this all started out of nowhere, is there anything we can do?

    • You’re in the right place for morbid questions. It’s common that birds will eject dead/weak nestling from the nest, but what you’re describing is something very different since it’s not the breeding season and these are not fresh carcasses. I need to know more information to make an informed guess as to what’s really going on. For example, you said it was a young female, how do you know? Are you sure the dead baby is a baby crow and not some other bird? Would you be able to provide photos of the bodies? I don’t mean to imply that your interpretation of things is wrong, but I’ve learned over the years that double checking all the details is the best first place to start.

  6. Valerie Tomlin

    I have cultivated a relationship with a family of crows where I live in Jacksonville, FL. I have observed them burying the raw peanuts I put out for them. The peanuts grow in our garden and yards in the neighborhood. I am wondering if that is their intent? When I feed them roasted peanuts, they eat them. Has anyone else noticed them “planting” crops before? Is it possible crows are capable of an agrarian society given the means?

    • Hi Valerie, what you’re seeing is called caching. That’s when animals bury food for later use. This is a common behavior across corvids. Crows are an example of an opportunistic casher, which means they bury excess food but don’t rely on that food for later and most of it never gets recovered. Pinyon jays, Clark’s nutcrackers, and Canada jays are all examples of obligate cachers which means they rely on their food stores come winter and recover almost all of them. The fact that you see them cache raw nuts but not the roasted ones is either a coincidence or a product of confirmation bias. I’m sure if all the cheetos they planted in our gutters grew into trees though they would figure out how to farm 😉

  7. George Burnstein

    In the past 2-3 weeks I have experienced a major increase in the number of crows that come for a little snack time. There is a consistent group of about 20…now Im getting about 60+… there seem to be three groups that chase each other around… a lot of fighting when they fly over to me… is it the change in seasons or is this normal. Sitka, Ak. UAS campus..
    Also.. normally there are a few established raven pairs that will come down and take some peanuts along side of the small original crow group… now they have moved about 50 yds away and will not come anywhere near the crow riot. George B

    • Hi George! I just gave a talk in Sitka few months ago, I hope you were able to attend! Sounds like a seasonal thing. Crows group up more in the winter. And it doesn’t surprise me the ravens are staying the heck away. Crows attack ravens and 60 against 2 are not great odds!

      • George BURNSTEIN

        Was at your Sitka talk… have painted eyes on the back of my motorcycle helmet… although my “friends” would never swoop at me I hope

  8. Dan

    Hi Kaeli, love the blog!

    I wanted to feed my local crows and see the “food-on-a-string” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuPL5Vb0jkw ) retrievals in action, so I built a simple platform for peanuts and tied peanuts to the end of a couple strings (pic: https://i.imgur.com/0z5dIVK.jpg ). As you can see though, instead of crows, I got blue jays!

    I’ve been feeding the blue jays for a while now, but so far they haven’t figured out how to pull up the string with food. During feedings, they’ll sometimes swoop down to try and grab the peanuts out of the air (unsuccessfully), but mostly they just ignore them. I’ve read that blue jays are intelligent, but haven’t seen anything about their problem-solving ability in lab experiments like we see so commonly with crows. Could you speak at all to the intelligence of blue jays and how they compare to crows? I’m particularly interested in their problem-solving abilities as well as whether or not they remember faces like crows do.

    Thanks!
    Dan

    • Hi Dan! You know, I haven’t come across much work with blue jay cognition and as I have spent very little time around them I don’t have much of a frame of reference personally. I can tell you though that American crows are also really bad at the string-pull test.

    • Hi Dan! You know, I haven’t come across much work with blue jay cognition and as I have spent very little time around them I don’t have much of a frame of reference personally. I can tell you though that American crows are also really bad at the string-pull test.

      • crowmignon

        Hello Kaeli –

        About the string test – at least one crow (Northwestern crow) that comes to my balcony has mastered it, and it only took him three tries to figure it out.
        Not sure if this is of interest or not.

        I’d put the treat-ball out a couple of days before, and some of the crows had just become comfortable with it – this is the first time it rolled over the edge as far as I know.
        I *love* his ‘expression’ of dismay when it rolls over, and the way he seems to thoughtfully examine the situation (not that I’m projecting or anything).

        FWIW, I hadn’t given them any tasks involving string yet, so I was pretty impressed with how quickly he figured out that he needed to hold the string to pull it up the rest of the way.

        I’d love to hear any thoughts or observations you have about his behavior.

        Thanks for running this blog and sharing your knowledge!
        Keith

      • Hi Keith, I can’t seem to get the link to work. Feel free to try and post it to the Corvid Research facebook page!

      • crowmignon

        Oh dear, I’m making a complete mess of this – sorry!
        (Don’t have a facebook account – it creeps me out 😉 )
        The video is definitely public. Does this link work?

      • crowmignon

        Ackk! wrong link to the video!

        How do I edit a reply?!??!

  9. Kevin Wilkinson

    Hi. Do you have any contacts of researchers in or close to Portsmouth, NH or York, ME? I’m interested in volunteering so that I might learn about crow behavior in the wild. Thanks for your work, Kevin

  10. Cedric

    Hello, I’m a construction supervisor and back in October 2018, I started building a new garage for the maintenance of heavy machinery on junkyard site. A year later, we just delivered the building to the client and are working on resolving a few minor issues and a major one. In July I noticed a leak from the roof. I went on the roof to try and find the source but could not find it. Two weeks later when I came back from vacation, I went back on the roof in the hope of finding the leak. As I got on the flat roof, I quickly saw the problem. A roof that was only a few months old now had over 100 holes in it. What on earth happened during the two weeks I was gone??? Looking at the holes, I came to the conclusion that it was caused by birds, as crazy as it may seem! First experts we talked to said it could not be caused by birds, but the pictures I got from the hunting cameras I installed on the roof proved them wrong. There is depending on the day, somewhere between 5 to 12 crows hanging around on the roof, eating the calking, the roof membrane and the insulation. Different so called experts tried to give us some explanations, ranging from the crows doing this for fun to them eating the roof because the products probably contain silica. The damage is upwards of 150 000$ and we have to find a solution to fix the problem. We dont know for sure if changing the roofing material will fix it or if we are better of trying to get rid of the crows. So far the experts say we are really unlucky and got stuck with one of the smartest birds out there. Most solutions that would work to scare away other species would not work or may only work for a short period of time until they figure it out. Being located on a junkyard attracts a ton of different species and in large quantities. Recent sightings of crows in the area puts the local population at over 100 individuals. One of the brought up solutions that im not in favour for, would be to try and educate the local population by killing a few individuals and to show them that the location is unsafe. This is where your insight come in. Can we really educate the local population, whether is it by killing one or a few, or by some other passive way? And would the effects last? I dont like the idea of killing one and im also scared of the bird’s reaction to the situation. After all, they already did a ton of damage without us even provoking em. Can we even outsmart this smart bird?

  11. Linda Pulford

    Hi, I am a volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center in CT. We have a non releasable American Crow (Eddie) and he is very shy. Since he will be a permanent resident, my job is to ‘socialize’ him and get him as comfortable as possible with us. He hides behind a stump whenever anyone enters his enclosure. I have been working with him for about 2 months and now he will consistently come out and eat a live roach (very attractive) from a bowl when I offer it to him and he will comfortably hang out for about 20 minutes hopping about with me while I am standing still about 8 feet from him. For the other care givers, he still hides when they are caring for his enclosure or bringing him food. I am his safe person. So, now that he is getting comfortable with me, I am trying to figure out next steps. Can you suggest a logical next step for Eddie and me? Eventually, I would like to get him to perform a simple trick or just sit on a glove. Thanks!!!, Linda

  12. Mary Lou Kandigian

    Back in the fall of 1995, my preschool daughter and I witnessed a crow funeral in our front yard. It lasted more than fifteen minutes and seemed to be ceremonial rather than a warning. The dead crow was under a large spruce tree and the other crows seemed to be getting close to the dead one and paying their respect. Then some of the crows picked up evergreen beaches from the ground and covered the dead body. There seemed to be a watch of some sort where some birds stayed near the body for a long time. My daughter and I watched fro
    Inside our minivan for at least half an hour. We didn’t want to get out and disturb whatever was going on. It was fascinating to watch. I wish we phone video cameras back then! Not many people believed is when we related what we had seen. After hearing you on the Short Wave podcast, I don’t feel crazy any more.😁

  13. We have a cabin at 9,500 ft in southern Colorado. It has been there for 13 years. This summer we had a bird attacking every window on the ground floor (7 large windows total) leaving the windows looking like a Jackson Pollock canvas . I thought it was a blue bird – as they are very territorial during nesting. In July we noticed a raven tapping at the window, then later that weekend a screen was ripped. I still thought it was a blue bird, since I did not think ravens would fight their own reflection. Last weekend we actually caught a raven in the act. It had been fight itself for long enough to have left blood on the window and on the porch. Is this normal behavior? How can we encourage it to stop?

    • Ravens are both highly territorial and bad at mirror tests (as are most birds/corvids) so no, it’s not unusual. You need to stop or break up the reflection. You can films that apply to your windows and look more opaque from the outside but transparent from the inside. Or you can just put up black paper (but on the outside not the inside). Just don’t go the UV route since most corvids are unique among songbirds for their inability to detect UV.

  14. Liz Ramsden

    I have a young son (7) who is particularly interested in crows. We have raccoons and crows in our neighborhood, and my boy is fascinated by their interactions. The raccoons are frequently trying to nap in the trees in our backyard and the crows come make a racket until they leave. He’s asking me how he can learn more about crows. He’s a really observant kid and I would love to foster his interests.

    I was wondering if you know of any outreach group in Seattle that works with young kids to help them learn about the natural world and birds or crows in particular?

  15. Joe Garrow

    I’ve lost out twice to attend your special presentation on corvids. I get the notice, but within a few minutes all of the tickets seem gone.
    If another presentation is being planned, please estimate in what month it might occur. I’ll really watch for it.
    Thank you.

  16. tara

    I dunno if you’ll see this or have time to reply, but I have a question about crows near the UW. I catch the bus near montlake, and i’ve noticed one or two crows who will happily eat out of my hand if i’m carrying (unsalted, unflavored) nuts. Is it likely these crows are this way because of habituation to researchers and such? I’ve befriended a lot of crows vie feeding, but even individuals i’ve known since fledglinghood won’t eat out of my hand!

    • Hi Tara, no research wouldn’t be the cause here. We keep a firm distance between ourselves and our subjects. These are either released, imprinted crows, or someone in the neighborhood has been conditioning them for years.

  17. Becky

    Hello, Dr. Swift.
    I’m a Wildlife Rehabilitator in Oregon. Two months ago I got in a crow who had an advanced case of bumblefoot, and the feet were deformed. I lanced the abscesses, soaked daily in Epsom salts and administered antibiotics for a month. The bumblefoot has cleared up, but the feet are still deformed. He has been in a flight cage for a month now. He can perch well with one foot, but not so well with the other. He doesn’t walk well. He can fly down and pick up food, but doesn’t walk more than a few steps without wobbling and almost falling. I am torn about releasing him, as I’m not sure if he can make it in the wild. How important is the ability to walk to a crow? The decision to release him or put him to sleep really hinges on this question. Thank you so much for any advice.

    • Hi Becky, walking is crucial for a crow as that is how nearly all foraging is done. If you haven’t made a decision yet let me know and I can put you in contact with a very accomplished corvid rehabber that may be able to offer more specific advice.

  18. Elisabeth Sjöberg, Surrey, UK

    Hi Kaeli Swift! As a dedicated crowcrazy/corvidophile, I love your fab blog. Thanks for sharing your extensive knowledge and making it a pleasurable and fun read too.
    Are you going to share your research into Canada Jays on this blog? I hope so!
    I have a couple of questions concerning young crows and roosting:
    1. How old would a fledged crow be before it goes to the roost with its parents? When the young are fledged (but not yet flying well) are the parents spending the night in the territory near it or flying of to the common roost?
    2. Here in the UK at this time of year (early December) my local crow family, “Kraka”, “Krok” and 2 youngsters go of to the roost at 4 PM and arrive back in the morning at 7.30 AM for breakfast(cashews) with me, a magpie and 2 jackdaws. This is a very long night. Just like I can not sleep 15 hours in a row, I guess that the same goes for crows? So what happens during these long nights? Do the crows wake up and socialize like humans did in medieval times, when people slept in 2 periods during the night? Are there sound recordings from crows roosts?
    I would love if you have some input concerning this.
    Kind Regards.

    • Hi Elizabeth! Let me take this one by one.

      1) By fall they can go to the roost. So about three months after fledgling. I haven’t tracked this personally, but it squares with when we see the roosts increase tremendously in size. The parents do not go to the roost while they have fledglings AFAIK.
      2) A big part of the early evening is spent socializing. It’s not until well after dark that any sleeping happens. I don’t know whether they wake and socialize during the night but I have never heard this. Good questions! Now I want to double check with my friends that have observed roosts.

      • Elisabeth Sjöberg, Surrey, UK

        Thank you so much! Very useful. Nice to know that the parents stay near their fledgelings during the night. Good parenting!
        Concerning giving “my” crows a gift for the holidays: Would it be ok to buy some berries? I was thinking blackberries or blueberries, would this be good?
        Happy Solstice to you and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  19. Victoria Grossack

    I understand that some species of birds swallow small stones in order to help digest their food in their gizzards. Do corvids do this?

  20. Elisabeth Sjöberg, Surrey, UK

    A Happy New Year to Kael!i Thanks for all the corvid knowledge and fun you share with us on your blog!
    Also a Happy New Year to all my fellow crowcrazies. Peace and fun to all birds and their human friends.

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