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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!

 

73 responses to “Home

  1. Eric Van Bibber

    Are there examples of crows learning small tasks from humans and then teaching other crows what they’ve learned without losing any of the steps/integrity of the task?

    • In the wild or in captivity?

      • Eric Van Bibber

        In the wild, if the human trained crows could be introduced into the wild.
        Also, could a crow rookery consist soley of crows who continually interact with humans?

      • No, there are no examples of people training wild crows to solve multi-step problems. I’m afraid I don’t understand exactly what you’re asking for your second question. Crows pretty much already continually interact with humans be they captive or wild, so I’m not sure what the scenario you have in your head is. Maybe it would me to understand if you explained why you’re asking after this particular line of questioning.

      • Eric Van Bibber

        I apologize for my questions. I’m working on a story and needed some information regarding the nature of crows. I’ve always been fascinated with them which is why I use them in the story.

      • Hi Eric, please don’t apologize! It was a totally valid and interesting question. I just wanted a better idea of what/why you were asking so I could respond in a more helpful way. Best of luck with your story!

  2. Mike Hewitt

    I just listened to you on a Science Friday podcast. Nice job.
    Question: Do ravens glide/soar considerably more than crows?
    Fun observation: While running along an old water ditch traversing a mountain in N California, I stopped to watch 2small birds, perhaps sparrows, harassing a crow/raven riding a thermal. One of the small birds flew below the, we’ll say, crow. Suddenly the crow dropped down and grabbed the bird with a talon. Then, amazingly, after about 7-8 seconds let the bird go! It joined it’s mate and flew away. It seemed the crow was teaching the sparrow a lesson: don’t mess with me!
    Very memorable. (I’d choose to return in an afterlife as a raven…)
    Thanks for sharing your work.
    Mike

    • Hi Mike. Ravens are known for soaring more than crows, yes. This is in large part because their territories are larger than crows and because they tend to live in more wildland habitats where they are using thermals to scan for carrion.

      That is a great story! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Gerry

    Just listen to your fascinating ologies podcast. Quite interesting and loved story about your special bird and that you now have its bands.

  4. lensatov

    Hi there. It’s November 1 and I was just dive-bombed three times by a crow!
    I thought they only did this at nesting/fledgling time?

  5. Ashley Force

    I just listened to the corvid thanatology ology and it was amazing. I have to say i have always loved crows and ravens. I still to this day caw at them and while listening to the podcast in my car i honked at one!! Love what you do and your energy. Very inspiring. Also I’m very sorry to hear about Go. It made me cry.

  6. Amanda Rose

    I ❤️ Birds, but especially crows and ravens and jay birds. Loved the ologies interview.

  7. Brie Sasser

    A few years ago, a young crow landed across the fence from my backyard and set about screaming like he was on fire. I took some water around the block, slipped through the gate, and went to set the water on the ground. As I set it down, the crow hopped on my hand, climbed up my sweater, and settled under my hair, on my shoulder. He wasn’t injured, or sick, or anything, so I walked home with him riding my shoulder and making croaky little purr-sounds and we hung out in my backyard the rest of the afternoon. After a few high-protein snacks, water and some flying practice, he was able to take off from the ground and off he went on his crow-business. So now I make a point to greet every single crow I see and make sure they can see my face as I walk to work and around town, and I wonder if they tell each other tales about humans they’ve met. I deeply hope so! (Thanks for the great work you do and for giving me a place to share my experience.)

  8. annetteschendel

    I have several that hang out in my yard. I am quite in love with them they are so smart and know how to get my attention for peanuts or mealworms. One, in particular, I call Funnyeye, it has one eyelid that is not quite right since it was born, half open and a little bulging, also a little smaller than the others born around the same time. The nest was in the tree on my property so I have watch it grow up. so sweet and one actually still grooms funnyeye. Would you say the purring/clicking sound they make is affectionate talk? they don’t do it often unless they are relaxed and enjoying the yard together.

    • annetteschendel

      they also play a little bird soccer with the dogs tennis ball, it’s quite fun to watch.

    • Crow calls appear to be very context specific. In that context, I think you’re absolutely right. But I’ve also seen them make those noises when they’re alone. In that context the same may mean different things.

      • an soegijo

        I just jotted down a list of the crow communications i have learnt to (mostly!) understand since observing and interacting with quite a few of them in my neighborhood over a number of years. These are European hooded crows, urban and territorial. My impression is that they differ in some respects from American crows. (The majority of territories are occupied by one pair only. Offspring are cared for and educated extensively for nearly a year, then must leave. Only one pair i know have kept a slightly handicapped daughter with them since 2014. They seem quite old and the male is weakened from an old injury; the daughter helps with defence.)
        Their voices are more middle-register than the rather high-pitched Americans. There is some variation between individuals. It may well be, as you say, that some sounds have more than one meaning according to context, but on the whole i can usually attach a clear and specific meaning to nearly all the ‘vocabulary’ i happen to know. More than half of this is made up of gestures or some form of theatrical demonstration or sign language; i feel sure there is far more of this than i am aware of. In several cases i interpret identical meaning to more than one sound. This seems to be because city crows generally prefer to keep a low profile, thus there is a quiet sound for communications between family members and a loud one for when the occasion demands getting noisy.
        Many (but not all) of these sounds and signs have often been used by my crow friends and acquaintances to communicate with me as well. I just hate to think how much i have missed, and continue to miss, through my clumsy human inability to perceive their subtle and varied repertoire.

  9. Congrats on making into discover. Also, really cool that you studied crows and such. They really are interesting birds to watch.

  10. Yay! I am so thrilled to have a new corvid blog to follow! I live in West End, Tacoma and am unashamed to admit how much time I spend watching the crows in my neighborhood. Excited for your blog!

  11. Where I live there are many vultures soaring in the sky. I love to watch them soar…so graceful. But they are not pleasant birds to look at. Having read your article, I’ll have a better appreciation for them Thanks for the post.

  12. Ola
    Interessante
    Nunca tinha pensado
    Assim sobre estes bichos
    Um abraço
    Luiz

  13. They and we also have similiary marks. They also have knowledges of natural scenes.

  14. They also have knowledges of natural scense as alike as a human.

  15. Do you really love birds? That’s amazing!

  16. Suneel Kumar

    nice post

  17. What an interesting blog! Look forward to reading more.

  18. biswanathnaskar

    Great Post!!That’s amazing!

  19. I love this! Such a beautiful concept ❤

  20. Love crows! We have a interesting intraction together. They are incredibly smart and know how to get my attention!

  21. Marjorie

    My bicycle commute takes me through a cemetery with a large crow population. Sometimes they spread out about three yards apart and cover entire hillsides. They each have their own “plot,” which is kind of eerie. Is this common?

    • Hi Marjorie. Crows will often gather together in large grass fields to feed. Since cemeteries are (from a crow’s perspective) basically just a mother large grass field it’s not unusual to see them in groups there.

  22. Danny

    I have a question about crows and sound. How much sound would it take to stun a crow? There is an anecdote about an ancient roman meeting where it was supposedly so loud that a crow flying close by fell to the ground stunned and while I doubt that actually happened I am curious to know if it is possible to stun a crow with a loud enough sound and how loud that sound would have to be.

  23. William

    Hi Marjorie, We found a juvenile Crow on the driveway mid october. there are a few crows nests in the pine trees along the driveway and our guess is it fell out. It was not able to fly and begging for food. We live on a big farm and there are various wild animals, like mongoose, honey badgers, caracals. We lost of few of our own cats to them in the past. I tried making a temporary nest for it high enough to keep my dogs and cats away. but after a day no mom or dad crow came to help it. The crows nests are very high, impossible to reach so that was never an option. We could take it to a rehab but they would keep it caged and we decided to try raise it close to its home and see what happens. For the first few weeks we kept in locked in a room and when it started to fly we left it our and only locked it up at night. then two weeks ago we started leaving it out at night too and it now sleeps on the garage roof, it is totally free day and night. It still begs for food but is digging around the garden a lot more finding insects and spiders to eat. I am trying to feed it less and less to inspire him/her to forage for itself. My cats and dogs have learned to stay away from it, and it has become very aggressive towards them, chasing them away and attacking them. I guess that is a good sign, it would be dead otherwise, especially from my two dogs, they killed all my chickens in the past. I feel it was a better option doing it this way, it has a better chance to reconnect with its family, they all still fly around here but have not connected with the crow yet. What are the chances it may one day just fly off? We have been looking after it for 6 weeks, it was probably only a few weeks old when we found it so its probably about 12 weeks old at the moment. It still does not fly away from our garden, it stays within its borders. We started taking walks far away on the farm to get it to fly farther away. Any advice you can give us to try get it wild again?

  24. Andrea

    Hi Kaeli ..I love reading your blogs and your photos. Can you tell me about the camera and lenses you re using?
    Thanks much!

  25. Joy

    Yay! So happy I found this site! I feed a bunch of crows. They are so smart! What’s the average size for a murder? Once I had thirty-five crows all eating…

  26. Michael Dorle

    I am probably one in the minority but I like Crows. Every fall they use the streetlight in front of my house to crack walnuts by dropping them to the street, and they like the grubs and stuff in my yard. I always try to communicate with them by whistling or talking to them.

  27. Stephanie Adams

    I found a dead Crow today. It looked like it puked a lot of blood before it died. It was by a fence it could’ve smashed into, but I didn’t see any physical damage to the crow.
    Any idea how it may have died??
    Thank u!!

  28. Bev kosty

    We have been feeding our crows for a year and 1/2. Summer time when it is hot the crows really enjoy
    Watermelon and they eat it down to the green rind along with many other healthy foods. We have been buying beef short ribs here and there to enjoy ourselves and we have been leaving a lot of meat on them and placing them at their eating area in the morning between 8:30 and 10:00 am. If they see us or hear us they sit on the trees around our home
    on the trees/fence/telephone pole and wires and look in the windows till we acknowledge them and put food out. The other day I received a rib bone as a gift from a “rib feast” we left them a week ago and it was my gift for when I feed them for I go out the front door and it was left at the front door. Today there was a rib bone placed at the garage door for my husband for he replenishes the multiple feeders and puts bark butter all over the lower part of the telephone pole that is on our property near the house so we can watch the antics of them trying to take the bark butter off the pole. My husband thinks it is a BIG HINT to put more meaty bones on their feeding spot. We call the head crow of the family “Spats” he is the boss!! Today he had a grape in his mouth and watched me as I walked past the window and he stood there just watching me for about 10 seconds to say “thanks” for the care we show his family 😍

  29. Josh berg

    Love what you’re doing. Keep being you 🔥

  30. Bill Erdle

    Your activities with crows brought back memories of when I was a student at the U.W., inadvertently interacting with a couple of crows on campus. These crows may very well have been the ancestors to the crows in your studies.
    I was going to class, and I noticed two crows ahead of me that were in a tree. They were fairly low in the tree as I passed under them. Other students were going to class, too, but these crows seemed to wait until I was just under them, and they pooped on my head. I heard a lot of crowing….almost like they were laughing at me as some of you may be doing right now. (Please, no descriptive names/labels) I was close to the HUB, and I was able to duck in there and wash my head in a restroom before going to my next class. Fortunately, it’s always raining in Seattle, so I didn’t look that odd. In spite of this experience, some of my best years of my life were at the U.W., but I’ve never liked crows after this. I do find them fascinating and highly intelligent, though. I suppose I shouldn’t generalize to all crows as a result of a couple of what seemed like delinquents.

    Getting back to your studies, I just watched the short PBS video on your mask/dead crow experience. Of course, the video didn’t show your whole study, so you probably checked this, but the question that comes to mind to me that I think would be helpful would be to see initially if the mask, itself, did anything to cause the crows to change their behavior. I assume you tested this out before you ever associated the mask with carrying a dead crow. I just get the feeling those earlier crows who I encountered simply didn’t like the way I looked, although I didn’t do anything more than look at them as I walked to class. Maybe, that was enough…..Are you looking at Meeeeee????

    • Hi Bill, it’s nice to hear from another husky, though I’m sorry to hear the crows were so ~shitty~ to you! To answer your question, yes we did run controls where we looked at the response to an unconditioned mask and found that the birds did not react. So we can safely rule out that it was the masks alone that were causing the reaction. Great question!

  31. Beky

    Hi Kaeli! Thank you for sharing such fascinating information! My husband and I have been feeding crows, to our neighbors dismay, for over 5 years. We love watching them take stale bread, or other hard foods to mud puddles to soften it, or sometimes bury nuts in the yard. I was excited to see advertised that you’ll be giving a talk here in Vancouver on Jan. 9th…but good for you, sad for us, it’s already sold out! We’d love to come learn more so I’m hoping you’ll be back!

  32. Todd Kellison

    Hello, Kaeli – I learned of your work with crows from a recent National Geographic issue. Just an FYI, in case it might be of interest (I have no idea if these type of behaviors are documented in the avian literature): in the mid-1990s I was in the Bahamas (Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park), and, while standing on a building’s deck, I stopped to watch a number of bananaquits in the bushes and on the ground below. While I was watching, a small constrictor (presumably a boa?) that I hadn’t previously seen sprung onto one of the bananaquits, capturing and killing it by constriction. The other bananaquits immediately gathered in a relatively small area (but safely above in the bushes) around the snake and the captured bananaquit, and began to vocalize loudly. I assumed that behavior might be a mechanism to teach younger bananaquits about the dangers of snake predation.

    • Hi Todd, the behavior you are describing is called mobbing and yes, these behaviors have been of keen interest to ornithologists for some time. Now a days we actually use these behaviors to train birds how to react to and avoid predators. This kind of training is often used in captive breeding programs for rare and endangered birds. For example the formally extinct in the wild Hawaiian crow has only held on to life via a captive breeding program. Recently they released a few individuals but not before letting them watch American crow model how to respond to predators. I can send you some papers if you want to learn more about this behavior and how we use it in conservation!

  33. Wildlife Lover

    Hi, Kaeli,
    I always love your blog. I haven’t been here in a while, I love the new look. I have a question, concern about a caged crow kept by my neighbor. Seven yeras ago he was one of those baby crows that are on the ground, that my neighbors assumed was orphaned and they put him in a cage (approximately 4″ high x 3 feet square wide.) It is wood and chicken wire, has only a large branch for him to hop around on and stones on the floor of the cage. He has been in there for seven (7) years. He has very little attention paid to him. I know this because my door opens out to the balcony on which he lives. It breaks my heart to see him, a social creature, so isolated, with no toys, no companionship, and no heat in the winter.
    I made a couple inquiries about him to the neighbors, but I get the feeling they think I’m a busybody. Perhaps I am, but I love corvids and animals.

    Do you have any suggestions for them, to make him happier, books they should read. Is he okay to be in there when the temps are low with nothing to warm himself? Am I being ridiculous to be broken-hearted for this bird.

    They are well-meaning and decent folk, but I don’t think they know much about corvids, they don’t have much to say about it at least when you ask them. I mentioned a book about the mind of a raven that I thought they might like and they did not seem interested.

    • Karole

      P.S. In the “it’s not all bad” department, I should mention that he seems very healthy, makes cawing noises and clucks at times. He is fed regularly and his cage is kept clean. He does get a visit now and then from wild crows who sit near his cage. His people told me that the think he has a girlfriend who comes and visits especially each spring…

    • You are not at all being ridiculous for being upset for this bird. That is an unacceptable way to house a crow. As far as heat goes, it’s probably ok (and obviously has been for the last 7 years) as long as there is a covered portion to protect from rain and sun.

      Given that you’ve already tried to pitch book ideas to them (and the bird has managed to keep living for almost a decade) the impression you’ve given me is that they will not be open to your ideas for how to improve its quality of life, sadly. There’s also no books I could really recommend for this, since science books about their natural history will be of little use to them. Maybe something about parrot husbandry would be the only comparable thing.

      If you want to go the nuclear option you could report your neighbors to Fish and Wildlife. I call this the nuclear option because while there’s a small chance it could be rehomed with a well equipped/licensed person or organization, mostly like they will simply euthanize the bird. So it’s up to you to decide if its current quality of life is better than death. Or you could maybe poke around and see if you can find a volunteer to take the bird before you report it. But bottom line is that what you’re neighbors are doing is illegal and, given the husbandry you’ve described, unethical in my opinion. Tough options all around 😦

  34. Bill Clarkson

    Hi Kaeli, I was concerned when you spoke of a new area of research. It almost sounded like “goodbye”! Please tell us what you’re doing, where you are, etc. Some of the posts talked about the relationships between crows and other critters (mostly dogs). When Mug Crow was a member of my family (see my previous posts) we had two bird dogs — a pointer (Ben) and a setter (Smoky). It took them a while to get acquainted. The dogs soon learned Mug was no threat to them, and in fact had a huge advantage — he/she could fly! They allowed Mug to eat from their food bowls. I have a picture of Smoky and Mug just hanging out! I would attach it if I could figure out to do that! I’ve sent this message with the picture to Kaeli.

    • Hi Bill, don’t you worry. No matter what the future holds Corvid Research will remain active and I will continue continue to publish on here just as I always have. I love these birds too darn much to ever say goodbye, even if I have to professionally. Bill, if you are active on Facebook you can join the Corvid Research page and post your photos there! https://www.facebook.com/corvidresearch/

  35. Shannon Barker

    I enjoyed your presentation at Science in Tap. Thank you for sharing your time with us.

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