Monthly Archives: May 2015

Help, I’ve found a baby crow!

You’re walking down the sidewalk when suddenly you notice a waddling little mass of black feathers trying awkwardly to hide under a bush or car.  When you begin to approach the young crow, it simply stares up at you or perhaps continues on its poorly planned waddle down the sidewalk or worse, into traffic. Clearly this baby crow cannot fly and has a habit of making bad decisions.  Your instinct (and perhaps the opportunity to interact with a baby animal) are tempting you to intervene and “save” this young crow who seems ill prepared to be out of the nest.  What should you do?

Does this baby scrub jay need to be taken to a rehab facility?

This baby scrub jay was found running around the grounds of an apartment complex.  Should it be taken to the rehab facility?

The answer, almost always, is to ignore your instincts and good intentions.  I’ve had many friends and colleagues who are either licensed wildlife rehabbers or who spent summers volunteering with their local rehab facilities, that can attest to the dozens of animals that get brought in during the spring and summer by well intentioned folks who assumed that simply finding such a vulnerable baby meant it needed help.  In many of these cases, these animals did not need help and now they’ve been separated from their parents or mother and stand a much lower chance of surviving once they’re released from the rehab facility.  So how do you avoid making the same error?

First, understand that corvid babies very often leave the nest before they are completely flighted (usually by about 7-10 days).   Evolution has taught them that it’s better to be flightless but still mobile on the ground than trapped in the nest where they stand no chance of escape, should they be located by a predator.  During this time they are still in the care of their parents who will continue to feed and defend them.  So finding a flightless baby crow or jay is totally normal between late May and July.  Perhaps it would be helpful to gently herd the fledgling away from traffic and under the safety of a bush but, outside of that, most baby corvids do not need your help and are better off (less stressed) if you give them a wide girth. The baby jay in the above picture was captured so it could be color-banded, and then was released under a bush where its parents quickly attended to it.

Simply knowing this piece of corvid biology will lay to rest the concerns for most situations you may find yourself in this summer.  For babies that are naked, are bleeding or have drooping wings, or are within reach of a dog or cat, etc., the following flow chart is excellent and will help navigate the situation (I’ve thrown in the mammal one too just for fun).

Help, I’ve found a baby bird
Help, I’ve found a baby mammal

The main thing to remember is; as long as the baby is mostly feathered and being attended by its parents, it’s just where it needs to be.  Only if it’s trapped in a storm drain, naked, injured, cornered by a cat, or after several hours has not been visited by its parents is it appropriate to intervene.  Even in most of those cases, simply creating a makeshift nest out of a basket and securing it to a tree, or placing the baby in a bush and leaving the area, is much better than taking it away to a facility.  So use your best judgment this summer and remember; if you feel your situation is unique and has not been addressed by the flow charts provided, give a rehab facility a call and let them help you decide if an animal needs to be removed before you make the mistake of taking babies away from their parents.

IMG_2453

A recently fledged juvenile waits for mom or dad to return with food.

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Filed under Crow behavior, Crow life history

Raven nest provides tasty meal for Alberta bear

I’ve talked before about how the claim that crows (and ravens) are “destroying the ecosystem and songbird populations” is mostly unsupported by science.  Breeding plovers and desert tortoises are among the handful of exceptions1,2.  Nevertheless I still see, even in the comment threads of this very blog, people claiming that corvids are out of control and have no predators.  If it wasn’t such a misguided and ultimately dangerous sentiment I might just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ whenever folks claimed that crows and ravens have no natural predators because those of us who spend even a small amount of time observing them in the summer will know this is anything but true.

Eggs and baby birds are a key summer food source for lots of animals and, while seeing a downy little gosling in the mouth of an arctic fox makes me cringe a little, knowing a healthy population of breeding birds is helping to sustain a community of predators is the kind of ecological balance that, in the long run, makes my heart sing.

Stillframe from Planet Earth

Stillframe from Planet Earth

Corvids are part of this system too, which means their babies are also getting eaten.  Usually it’s by things like hawks, eagles, owl and racoons but a recent video taken in Alberta shows yet another predator we can bear in mind.  It’s never gonna be fun to see the birds I care about taking a hit like this, but knowing that corvid babies are helping to sustain top predators only deepens my love and appreciation for them.  Predators and prey make the world go round and corvids have the badass role of being both.

Photo: Linda Powell

Photo: Linda Powell

Literature cited:

1. Johnson, M. and Oring, L.W. 2002.  Are nest enclosures and effective tool in plover conservation? Waterbirds 25: 184-190

2. Kristin, W.B. and Boarman, W.I. 2003.  Spatial pattern of risk of common raven predation on desert tortoises.  Ecology 84:2432–2443

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Filed under Ecosystem, Raven behavior

Corvid trivia quiz!

How much trivia do you know about our favorite family of birds?  Head on over to Buzzfeed where I’ve created a quiz to test your knowledge.  When you’re done, feel free to come back to this page and scroll past the corvid photos for more information, citations/links, and to post your score in the comments section.  Can anyone get 100%???

TAKE ME TO THE QUIZ

peeking
ready crow
congrats

1.  Were you surprised to learn that they are songbirds?  Indeed, corvids have impressive vocal repertoires and are among the minority of songbirds that can learn new sounds throughout their lives1.

2.  I’ve railed (get it?!) about this in a previous post but until this image stops circulating my Facebook feed I’ll take every opportunity show folks what real baby crows look like.

3.  The life span of different crow species (Fish, American, Hawaiian and Northwestern) is similar and generally they top out at between 14-24 years.  Ravens on the other hand, usually only make it to 13, though in captivity they can live 40-80 years1.

4.  It’s a common misconception that humans can get WNV  from touching a crow, but there’s no evidence for it according to the CDC.  It’s an understandable rumor, however, considering that corvids are an ideal host for this virus, something I’ve talk about in a previous post.  Humans on the other hand, are considered dead-end hosts, meaning the virus can’t proliferate in our bodies (though that doesn’t preclude it from making some of us very sick).  The real transmission culprits are mosquitoes.

5.  Learn more about the ‘Alala at American Bird Conservancy.

6.  Currently there are actually 7, not 6, ravens at the Tower (you know how those Brits are about their spares!).  According to Historic Royal Palaces they eat 170 g of raw meat a day, plus bird biscuits soaked in blood.   Yum!

7.  Originally, I was going to make the whole quiz just a corvid ID quiz, but I decided that might get old quickly.  Still wanted to get at least one question in there!

8.  Again, ‘murder’ and ‘unkindness’ are not words you’ll typically see in scientific writing (apart from, perhaps, as a means to a pithy article title).  But they make good trivia questions nonetheless.  Fun fact: Company is the term for parrots and deceit is for lapwings.

9.  John Marzluff discusses nearly all these behaviors in his books, so I’ll make thing easy and simply refer you to In the Company of Crows and Ravens.

10. New Caledonian crows are well know for their puzzle solving prowess, but I’m sure ‘007’ completing this task had his researchers especially delighted.  To see footage of 007 at work check out this video.

11. Keeping crows, like hunting them, is regulated under both federal and state laws.  To learn more about the rules regulating crows read my previous post on the Portland crow poisoning.

12. I recently acquired Crows and Jays by Madge and Burn, and recommend it to anyone who wants to become more familiar with all 120 species.

13.  See above.

14.  Part of why I wanted to create a trivia quiz is because I thought it would be a fun excuse to go hunting for a thing or two I didn’t know myself.  Jimmy’s story was exactly the kind of discovery I was hoping for.  Perhaps I’ll do a bit more digging and dedicate a whole post to it.

15.  It’s with good reason that John’s motto about crows is that “they’re little flying monkeys”.  I love this study2 and sharing its findings never gets old!  This kind of equity perception is something that’s been rarely documented outside of primates and underscores the impressive convergent evolve that’s occurred between corvids and primates.

Literature cited

1. Marzluff, J.M. and Angell, T. 2005.  In the company of crows and ravens.  Yale University Press

2. Wascher, C. F.  and Bugnyar, T. 2013.  Behavioral responses to inequity in reward distribution and working effort in crows and ravens.  Plos One: DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056885

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Filed under Corvid trivia, Just for fun

Corvid of the month: The jungle crow

If there’s one corvid that’s most notorious for getting into trouble, it’s probably the jungle crow (sp: Corvus levaillantii genus: corvus).  A dubious reputation perhaps, but it’s one that’s been well earned through this corvid’s knack for exploiting humans and the opportunities we create.

Physical description: While jungle crows aren’t much bigger than an American crow, their square head and heavy bill gives them a more raven-like appearance.  To me, they look like what I might expect if a common raven tangoed with Rick Moranis’s contraption from Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

Range: They are found throughout the northeastern Asian seaboard to Afghanistan and eastern Iran in the west, through South and Southeast Asia, to the Lesser Sundas and Cambodia in the southeast.  Although in India the jungle crow and large-billed crow behave has two distinct species, in northern parts of Asia their distinction is less clear and colloquially the two are often analogous.

Conservation status: Given their large range, it may come as no surprise that their populations are abundant and are considered a species of least concern by the IUCN.  In fact, since the 1980’s the number of jungle crows in Tokyo has quadrupled1.

“Corvus macrohynchos map”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So what accounts for their bad reputation you ask?  Where to begin…how about vandalizing cemeteries1.  In Japan, food is left at the burial sites of loved ones as an offering.  Although in some cultures these offerings are meant to be eaten by animals, that is not the case here, and the crows’ stealing of food interrupts the intention of the ritual.  Historically, this probably wasn’t a conflict since jungle crow populations were much smaller than they are now.

As if that wasn’t enough to get people fired up, jungle crows also have a bad habit of, well, firing things up.  People were stumped how field fires near the Fushimi-Inari shrine in Kyoto were starting until someone thought to watch the crows.  There are 10,000 candle holders that line the walkways of the shrine and on busy days they may contain thousands of individual burning candles.  With some diligent watching, researchers discovered that crows were eating the melted candle wax (which is often made with tallow) and in some cases taking the burning candles out of the holders and flying off with them.  Although they never witnessed it, researchers suggested that crows’ attempts to cache burning candles may have been the cause of the mysterious fires2.

Photo: H. Higuchi

The crows appeared to show no fear of the flames according to the paper’s author. Photo: H. Higuchi

To top it all off, jungles crows seem to be just as good at turning out the lights as there are at lighting them up! Unlike American crows, which predominately use sticks to build their nests, jungle crows have developed a fascinating (and immensely frustrating for the Japanese government) habit of using clothes hangers to construct nests.  Mixing wire hangers with power lines is a recipe for disaster and in the summer time jungle crows are responsible for massive blackouts.  The Tokyo government spends millions of yen, and employs full time crews, to search for and destroy hanger nests in an effort to prevent such black-outs1.

Photo: Götz

Maybe Joan Crawford had just spent too much time around jungle crows…  Photo: Götz

It’s not all bad press for these resourceful crows, however.  One of the more spectacular things they are known for is using cars to crack open otherwise inaccessible nuts.  Not only that, but they also appear to be sensitive to crosswalk signals and know when it’s safe to collect the exposed nuts and when it’s not3.

So while the jungle crows make their fair share of trouble stealing food, candles and hangers, there are still plenty of people who adore these animals for their cleverness and ingenuity.  For those that don’t, well, some Japanese aren’t shy to take control measures into their own hands.  Or should I say mouths…

IMG_1922Literature cited:

1Marzluff, J.M. & Angell, T.  2005 In the company of crows and ravens.  Yale University Press

2Higuchi, H. Crows causing fire. (2003). Manuscript from The University of Tokyo

3Marzluff J.M & Angell, T. 2012. Gifts of the crow.  Free Press

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Filed under Corvid of the month, Crow behavior, crow conflicts, crow intelligence, Crows and humans