What kind of crow feeder are you?

With the advent of social media, the number and official community of crow feeders is more apparent than ever.  They come together on twitter and facebook, though blogs and websites, to share their observations and even document the lives of individual crows.  They think deeply about crows and their relationship to them, but I wonder how much thought they’ve given to the science of their own activities and their relationship to fellow feeders?

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For those curious how their own food provisioning behaviors relate to those of their peers, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel; crow expert, John Marzluff, and renowned culture anthropologist, Marc Miller, tackled this very question as a part of pilot study for a chapter in Biocommunication of Animals1. They argue that crow feeders can be sorted into two categories: ‘crow friends’ and ‘crow observers’.

Crow friends exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Have a personal commitment to the wellbeing of one or more named crows.
  • Care about signaling  approval, disappointment, sadness, praise, hope, etc.
  • Motivated to improve their friendship.
  • Value a symmetric relationship where both crow and human benefit equally.
  • Relationship mirrors that of a human/human relationship (commitments are honored, routines developed, and feelings considered).

Crow observers on the other hand are identified by these metrics:

  • Prefer interacting in unobtrusive and passive ways.
  • Do not identify or name individual crows.
  • Value providing food but do not consider what the crow may think of their actions.
  • Do not care if the crow comprehends their humanity.
  • More interested in learning general crow behavior and not the behaviors or personality of a specific crow.

With these guidelines in mind I’d love to learn which category you fit into.  Do you fancy yourself a crow friend or a crow observer?  Why do you prefer that approach?  Let me know in the comments!

What bird are you

What kind of bird FEEDER are you?

Literature cited:

  1.  Marzluff, J.M, & Miller, M.  2014.  Crows and crow feeders: Observations on interspecific semiotics.  In: Witzany, G. ed., Biocommunication of Animals.  New York: Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. pp 191-211.

23 Comments

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23 responses to “What kind of crow feeder are you?

  1. Bryan

    Definitely a bird friend:) I deeply care about how they are, what I feed them, and when and how. I fear moving, for the soul reason of losing base with my new found avian friends.

    • We lived on MDI, ME, for 11.5 years, during which I fed, observed, interacted with and drew my flock of crows. Some had names, but for the most part I knew the individuals by the clicks and murmurs they would make around me when we were under canopy. Solo boo and his mate would bob, hold their wings out from their sides, click and then do a woo-sort of sound. I have heard this woo-sound from other crows – not my flock. I was fortunate to have had such a wonderful relationship with my boos and I do miss them (and worry about them – not like they don’t live on an island in the ocean!).

  2. MrRavenite

    Would be interested in learning about “feeding crows” Crows apparently do not visit “typical” bird feeders! How would one attract crows? Thanks

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Toss a peanut or leave some food on the lawn.

    • In my (non-expert) experience: when I enter a new area, the local crows start watching me at least as soon as I notice them. They study and assess humans, don’t they?

      When I spot a curious new crow, I’d nibble a bit of food, to demonstrate that it’s good edible stuff. Then throw a bite-sized piece. Don’t throw it directly at the crows, because that can be mistaken for a projectile attack. Throw it at a heading of 60° or 45° away from where the crow is perched. On first encounter, a crow may be shy if you stare. Look away, and use your peripheral vision to watch the bird approach the food offering. Only make eye contact after the crow seems happy eating. Stand still, to avoid spooking the birds while they’re close.

      Initially, the crows may think that the first morsel was an accident or lucky theft. To prove that it was an intentional gift, I put another piece of food in the same place. Keep replacing whatever food the crows take, till they understand that you’re benevolent and reliable. To build trust, throw successive treats to shorter distances. You’ll discover how close each individual crow is willing to come.

      I find that pre-dawn and late afternoons are bad times to feed crows. The hooded crows near my office seem unable to see in the dark as well as I do. They hear me call, and they may squint down at the feeding site, but they don’t fly down. Feed them while the sunshine is bright.

      If you see crows already on the ground (e.g. foraging for worms after rain) that’s a good occasion to entice them with something tastier.

      To prevent a shy crow from flying away immediately after grabbing food, try cutting the food into small fiddly pieces. My crows can be tricked to linger longer, if they need to collect tiny crumbs of grated cheese or mince.

      My crows act more confidently if I lay the food up on branches, fences, or other raised platforms. Maybe that’s because my campus is overrun with bloodthirsty feral cats, a few boars, and other predators. The abominable cats often try to attack my crows, right in front of me, if the birds descend to the ground. If you’re a “crow friend,” are you willing to whack a cat? If the crows yell loudly at a particular animal, pay close attention!

      Brace yourself for devastating tragedy. Along my way to work, I recognise and interact with 14 paired crows with fixed territories, plus younger adults in their extended families. All of their 2015 babies were killed. Every one. That’s frustrating, because although most of the cute youngsters won’t touch a human, I find them easily teachable: inquisitive; capable of playing games; and responsive to simple signals.

  3. Deborah Trout

    I am a crow friend. I have named a lame crow Hop-a-log who has been coming to our deck for at least 3 years. He and his crew show up mid morning for grapes, salmon kibble and Cheerios. I’ve spent some thought and time on fine tuning this combination. You could say I started as an observer but soon turned into a friend.

  4. I fed, observed, and drew my flock of crows for 11.5 years when I lived on MDI, Maine. They knew my car, what I looked like both in winter and summer… A few had names, but I mostly recognized them by the cooing calls they made around me when under canopy; Solo and his mate would bob, hold out their wings, click and coo for me… I still miss my flock and worry about them.

  5. We lived on MDI, ME for 11.5 years where I fed, observed and drew my flock. I identified them by the sounds they made around me when we were under canopy – several were named, though, and Solo boo and his mate would bob, hold their wings out, clock and do a soft coo for me. I have heard other crows, in other places do the coo type thing – and clicks – but never for me. Now that we no longer live in Maine, I do worry about my flock and miss them.

  6. I currently consider myself a little of both although a friend is what I strive to be. I’d love to have tips on getting closer. I work in an old elementary school building and our “office” is an old classroom with the floor to ceiling windows lol. Outside the windows is one tree and from there it’s a corn field and a large grassed area (lawn/soccer field). I’ve fed 2 crows every day for 3 years now (I work close to home so can come on the weekend too). Pete (as in Peg Leg) has one totally useless leg (hangs limp when it flies and can hold no weight). Norm (as in normal) seems to be the friend/helper. This summer a third crow has joined them. Broken Beak is missing at least half of the top portion of it’s beak. Had an acorn stuck on the end of the bottom part one day but somehow worked it off. Doesn’t have trouble picking up two peanuts in the shell at a time! I’m impressed with this trio. I have read everything I can. I feed them the peanuts, cat kibble, hard boiled eggs and various other “treats” when available. Thanks for the opportunity to tell this little story. Not a lot of people to share with lol.

    • K.

      Hi Rhonda!
      If you want to find a lot of dedicated crow friends and observers, join the FB group ‘Crows and Crow Followers’. You will find yourself in good company. 🙂
      Kirsti

  7. I’m a crow and raven friend. I missed my old crow friends when I moved from the city, but when I drive by the old house to see them (once or twice a year) they remember me, even though it’s been 5 years. They fly alongside the car, just like they used to. I always have some healthy treat for them. There’s a raven outside my window right now, waiting for a corn muffin. <O

  8. Crow friend and admirer. I am in awe of them and think they are one of the most beautiful of earthlings. I am constantly looking and listening for them and consider it a privilege to photograph them.

  9. Tiffany

    I am a crow friend. I befriended “Jojo” nearly a year ago. We meet almost daily for peanuts. I always ensure the water bowl on the lawn is filled for him/her. Soon after I started giving Jojo peanuts, another crow (who I believe is his/her mated pair) would come with Jojo. Soon thereafter, they brought 2 juveniles with them. The juveniles have since moved on. Jojo still visits regularly. I know s/he recognizes both me and my car. And comes to eat when I whistle. I hope to further earn Jojo’s trust and develop our relationship.

  10. I am pretty sure I must be a “crow friend” (thanks for the link to my blog in yours). In fact, as I was reading the criteria for crow friend, I got to “commitments are honored, routines developed, and feelings considered” and suddenly leapt up from the computer because I realized I’d forgotten to get out there with the early morning offering of peanuts!
    As you know, from my blog, I think a lot about the crows that come and go in my ‘hood. I try to combine art and a bit of science (friend and observer).
    I do watch them closely and over time (wearing my observer hat). I photograph them – sometimes looking beautiful, sometimes looking injured, sick and bedraggled (friend and observer hats on).
    I feed them (but only a little, so I don’t end up attracting more than a few individuals, and so that they don’t depend on me for their livelihood) and — I admit it — I lie awake at night worrying about some of them when they’re sick, injured or haven’t been seen for a while.
    Finally just can’t help myself from taking the bits of observed evidence and extrapolating them into life stories and personalities.
    Story and image tend to create empathy among people. So I figure that my “job” is to combine these, with observation, to create a warm place in the human heart for crows — and all wildlife.

  11. Jacqueline read

    I, too consider myself a crow friend and am always aware that I will be met on the way to my destination. Peanuts are my main offering, but they do receive the occasional egg and any leftovers that I can provide. Unfortunately, the word has spread throughout the neighbourhood that I am a provider of numerous treats and it has spread to the seagulls as well. My little twosome now lose some of their anticipated treats much to my disgust! Hopefully the seagulls will move on and find their breakfast elsewhere as the food supply improves! My only defence is to provide ample peanuts in the darkness and hopefully my little feathered black friends will find them when I am not there.

    • Christian

      Jaqueline,
      two weeks ago there was a flock of seagulls (Larus ridibundus, small gulls ) at my site…someone offered white bread there. Do your gulls take peanuts in shell? Do they swallow them right away, really?
      I offered peanuts in shell to the ridibundus just for fun; they were not interested. They never were. At that particular session I saw a flock of about 20 or more gulls on the paved place for some reason, and a crow at the fringe of the flock. Standing some 7/8m away from the gull ensemble, I took a walnut out of my pocket, bowed down and used it like a bowling ball rolling onto the center of the flock. The gulls flew up, somehow irritated, maybe 2m high, while the crow quickly hopped beneath them towards the walnut and took it.
      Don’t feed anything that would decoy gulls, like leftovers of all kinds.

  12. Elizabeth Rooke

    Currently I am an observer. Crows use to freak me out til I saw the David Suzuki special on crows. Now I have a better understanding of them. I’m learning more about them and can see myself becoming a crow friend should the opportunity present itself!

  13. I began as a distant observer, but I’ve experienced some “mission creep.”

    One day in late 2014, I tossed bits of my lunch towards a crow foraging near my department. The crows paid attention. Soon, both of the mated pair would fly down when I passed their garden. As an observer, I was interested in testing their physical and mental limits. Is it possible to plant some delicious food outdoors, in a special position that the crows can see but cannot reach? It was fun to watch them solving these challenges.

    Later and gradually, after the crows bred, I heard their screaming babies up in the treetop. The babies would scream when I arrived. Some days, they’d start screaming before the parents flew down to me. Apparently, the nestlings could peep down, and perhaps they recognised that I was the supplier of the cheese that the parents were delivering. As the babies emerged more often and further, I continued indulging them. I involved them in games. At that stage, I guess that I became their “crow friend.” Sometimes the family visit my office window, way up on level 6.

    Fascinated, I extended my interest to include amiable baby crows living in adjacent territories. I began carrying bits of food, as gifts for any new crows I might meet in town.

    Then I noticed the horrific aspects of their lives. Babies vanished. I found some remains. Cats stalk my crows during feeding times. One baby survived bloody foot injuries, sustained in my absence. So, as well as being a “crow friend” feeding the crows, I became their defender and enforcer. If I point and warn my crows about an approaching cat, they heed me and ascend to higher branches. They flee if I say the word “cat” repeatedly. If the adult crows scold a particular cat, I infer that this is a special enemy, and I will forcibly expel that beast from the area. Witnessing a successful battle seems to turn the crows fluffy and relaxed for a while.

    Now, after a long string of disappointments, I wish that I could invent a tool or weapon that would turn the tables. I daydream about a tool that would empower adult crows to hunt and eat feral cats. Would it be possible to attach a sharp little bayonet to a crow’s beak? >:-)

  14. Probably both. We looked after a young crow a few years ago that one of the neighbours found as a chick. It had some white feathers on it’s wings so it was called Gwyn which means white in Welsh. When it had grown up it was released into the wild and stayed around the neighbourhood for a couple of years and then one day it came back with a mate. We felt happy that we had been part of giving it a future.

  15. Christian

    Interesting question. I don’t see my crow activities as science.
    I don’t feed crows because that would be necessary. They don’t need
    me to survive in the center of a city of 550.000 residents.
    I feed them to get them closer to me, the curious observer.
    When going through the 10 points of crow friend/observer characteristics,
    I gave 1 point for agreement or 0.5 points for partial agreement.
    The result is: 4.0 observer vs. 1.5 friend.
    Accordingly I’m more an observer than a friend. Why?
    Does it increase your chance being an observer if you strip off all
    your emotions, feelings and thoughts about crows while feeding them? 😉

    The missing word here is “Anthropomorphism”.
    I’d easiliy call myself a crow friend or even crow lover.
    But what does the word ‘friend’ mean? It is hard to define even among
    humans… who is your friend? Are you sure? Do you really know the point
    of view of someone you call a friend?
    There are people who think they are part of the society of wild crows
    they feed. I’m pretty sure they are wrong. Crows live in their own society,
    they have their own communication incl. a silent language (or argot)
    which is very hard to decipher for humans but is as important to their
    communication as their vocal calls, and there’s a pecking order among
    them. Plus, crows know their feeders much better than many feeders think.
    Crows are like perfect drones, they can anticipate.
    If I may do this, here’s a video still, You’ll see a crow in the middle of it, but there’s another crow in the picture. If you want to, look for it…

    …and if you’ve found it, ask yourself: is that a sign of friendship?
    Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s a crow trying to get attention. It will quickly land just in front of you awaiting food. The crow will probably get it from you and you’ve lost. 😉

    “Friendship” ist just an example. The same goes for any feeling YOU
    might have concerning crows. Btw, I know quite a few professional
    ethologists by name who “name” crows. They use some kind of marks and
    certainly are interested in the relationships among individual crows.

    Anthropomorphizing crows is ok, but it’s not science.
    From what I’ve observed at my site I’m sure that carrion crows (the Eurasian brothers of the American crow) can think and plan rationally.
    ***
    Off-topic: for those who are interested in Wolf/Raven relationship at
    Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, here’s a link to a draft paper (PDF)
    by wolf researchers Guenther Bloch and Paul Paquet, 2011:
    http://www.hundefarm-eifel.de/images/hundefarm/pdf/WolfandRaven_GuentherBloch_PaulCPaquet_2011.pdf

    Humans use livestock guardian dogs to defend herds of sheep against wolves. These dogs grow up in a herd of sheep to imprint them in a way so the herd is their “family”, and the dogs will defend it fiercely.
    Some ravens seem to do something very similar… with wolves.
    [The wolf is back in Germany, yeah!]

  16. Christian

    Interesting question. I don’t see my crow activities as science.
    I don’t feed crows because that would be necessary. They don’t need
    me to survive in the center of a city of 550.000 residents.
    I feed them to get them closer to me, the curious observer.
    When going through the 10 points of crow friend/observer characteristics,
    I gave 1 point for agreement or 0.5 points for partial agreement.
    The result is: 4.0 observer vs. 1.5 friend.
    Accordingly I’m more an observer than a friend. Why?
    Does it increase your chance being an observer if you strip off all
    your emotions, feelings and thoughts about crows while feeding them? 😉

    The missing word here is “Anthropomorphism”.
    I’d easiliy call myself a crow friend or even crow lover.
    But what does the word ‘friend’ mean? It is hard to define even among
    humans… who is your friend? Are you sure? Do you really know the point
    of view of someone you call a friend?
    There are people who think they are part of the society of wild crows
    they feed. I’m pretty sure they are wrong. Crows live in their own society,
    they have their own communication incl. a silent language (or argot)
    which is very hard to decipher for humans but is as important to their
    communication as their vocal calls, and there’s a pecking order among
    them. Plus, crows know their feeders much better than many feeders think.
    Crows are like perfect drones, they can anticipate.
    If I may do this, here’s a video still, You’ll see a crow in the middle of it, but there’s another crow in the picture. If you want to, look for it…

    …and if you’ve found it, ask yourself: is that a sign of friendship?
    Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s a crow trying to get attention. It will quickly land just in front of you awaiting food. The crow will probably get it from you and you’ve lost. 😉

    “Friendship” is just an example. The same goes for any feeling YOU
    might have concerning crows. Btw, I know quite a few professional
    ethologists by name who “name” crows. They use some kind of marks and
    certainly are interested in the relationships among individual crows.

    Anthropomorphizing crows is ok, but it’s not science.
    From what I’ve observed at my site I’m sure that carrion crows (the Eurasian brothers of the American crow) can think and plan rationally.
    ***
    Off-topic: for those who are interested in Wolf/Raven relationship at
    Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, here’s a link to a draft paper (PDF)
    by wolf researchers Guenther Bloch and Paul Paquet, 2011:
    http://www.hundefarm-eifel.de/images/hundefarm/pdf/WolfandRaven_GuentherBloch_PaulCPaquet_2011.pdf

    Humans use livestock guardian dogs to defend herds of sheep against wolves. These dogs grow up in a herd of sheep to imprint them in a way so the herd is their “family”, and the dogs will defend it fiercely.
    Ravens seem to do something similar… with wolves.
    [The wolf is back in Germany, yeah!]

  17. Crow observer, though if I had more time I suspect I could become a crow friend 🙂

  18. Jas

    Crow friend. Lol. I dont have a choice. The jungle crow caws at my workdesk window till i turn and give her attention. I think of her as a MENSA level smart dog with wings and a child who craves attention. She has long lovely eyelashes and the funniest expressions.

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