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 uniquely accessible animals that offer 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!

557 responses to “Home

  1. R

    Hello ! It’s so nice to see this blog. I’m fascinated by crows and feed them at home and at work (when I used to go to work, now it’s all work from home) and just generally enjoy their company.

    I have a crow couple nesting in a tree in front of my house. I tried feeding them but they didn’t seem to want what I gave. Then I realised they had plenty of food but very few water sources. I put out a water dish for them that they now use regularly to wash and soften their food before feeding their kids (who should be ready to test their wings soon). I even managed to feed one by hand once but the second time was less successful.

    I was really happy with our relationship. I’d give them their space and if I came out to the balcony they’d stay right where they were and carry on doing what they were doing, completely unbothered by my presence. Sometimes we’d watch the world go by downstairs ‘together’.

    That’s what I thought we were doing today when I went out to the balcony door a phone call. One of the crows was in its usual spot in one of my trees. It started approaching me slowly. I thought this just meant it trusted me but then it perched on the door frame just behind me and when my back was turned it swooped me!! I felt its claws graze my head before it returned to its tree and started making its way to the door again.

    I’m pretty devastated by this betrayal but I’m also wondering what’s going on. There seems to be some crow drama afoot as there are several more crows in the area who aren’t usually around. They seem to be standing guard or keeping watch or something and they are frequently communicating with each other. I checked the nest and all the babies are there so it wasn’t a fallen fledgling. I can’t see anything on the verge of death either so it’s not dinner. They’re very agitated (and they’re up past their usual bedtime) and i can’t tell why. Surely not because of my 15 minute phone call…

    • Hi R. Don’t take this personally! It’s so easy to feel like we are completely on the same page with crows and then, bam! They remind us that while their relationships with us are intimate, they’re not pets and have they boundaries. Why the shift in behavior, I cannot say. Perhaps there is an unseen predator hanging around, like a raccoon. They sometimes take up residence in trees to wait out the daytime and can cause quite a stir!

  2. Atzhiri Chavez

    In http://avesnoir.com, what happen to “10 Really Weird Crow Facts” and some other articles?

  3. Cheryl Forrest

    I just saw the most amazing thing. “My” original
    Crows lost their territory around my home. There is now a new crow family around with four youngsters. I’m pretty sure I know which of the mated pair is the dad. Since there are young ones, I make them scrambled eggs every morning, along with dog food, and sometimes cheese.

    The smallest youngster was having a hard time getting to the eggs, due to other crows flying around and landing. The “dad” grabbed a mouthful of eggs and deposited it on the ground in front of his fledgling. As he did this, he made a bow!

    I’ve seen this done with mated pairs, but never to a fledgling. Is this normal behavior with fledglings? I assume he was letting the fledgling know that he didn’t consider it “his” eggs, but his youngsters food?

    • Hi Cheryl. Hmmm I suppose that could be. Usually at this stage they’re still just feeding directly though. Did the kids then eat it?

      • Cheryl Forrest

        Kaeli, Actually, the 4 fledglings had all been getting their own eggs and cheddar cheese. None of them were being fed, to my observation, when this “event” happened. In all likelihood, the parents were still procuring food/feeding them, for the remainder of the day, until they were served dinner:) The fledgling that the dad presented the eggs to appeared to be the smallest, and likely the youngest. That fledgling seemed to need lots of extra attention from the parents, and did “aw” the most, and likely did still get fed other times during the day. The three other fledglings still seem way more developmentally advanced than this little fledgling.

        After the “dad” laid the eggs at the fledglings feet, he bowed, then turned and walked away. The fledgling ate at least part of the eggs by him/herself. I was truly astonished! It’s like he was being a “servant leader” 🙂
        Thanks for all your research and for your blog! I love watching these birds hours daily, while doing tasks. They are always full of surprises.

        I have to share another fun story. I put out a small pool for them, and I have a bird bath. A couple of weeks ago, the “dad” sat in the birdbath, while two of the fledglings “played” in the pool. It was so cute! The adult looked pretty content cooling off for like fifteen minutes!
        Cheryl Forrest

  4. bstownshend

    Thanks for all the great info in your blog! We have a pair of crows living in our backyard and I was wondering about whitish/gray spots on their breasts. Is this something typical? See https://bst.smugmug.com/Events/202007-Crows

  5. Tracy Brewer

    We have 5 crows that hang here. Three have white spots on them. Two of those have matching spots. How rare is this?

  6. Ben

    We have a new neighbor as of 2 months ago. We’ve gotten pretty friendly and I think he/she is a Carmel crow…love to share pix with you.
    Ben Palmer
    Alki Beach Seattle

  7. Ann Fasano

    Just found crow in street on Capitol Hill, seems unable to walk, feet curled up, but alert. Flapped a bit, but didn’t fly. Lifted with gloves to bushes by side of road, is that all I can do? Is it too late in season to be baby tumbled from nest? Any thoughts on curled up feet? Might it be poisoned? Appreciate any info.

  8. Donna

    There is a group of crows that visit my backyard daily. ( I feed them peanuts and they like my bird feeder). They are always the same crows and there is something wrong with each of them. They seem to work as a team and take care of each other. One has no foot —- just a stump. One is lame… his foot is twisted behind him. Two or tree have a lot of white on their feathers… like they have been splattered with paint and the underneath of their wings are more white. One has a mangy ruffley neck that is white.
    We have lots of glossy black ravens in the area but these do not hang out with them. At first I thought that they had beef affected by pesticides but they appear to be fairly healthy. Can you give me your thought on this and what I should perhaps be leaving out for them other than peanuts. I have left fruit but they are not interested.
    I live in Carmel by the sea, ca.

  9. LittleBirdy

    Hi- I have a “Feeding Crows in the Time of COVID” question for you.
    I am a fan of crows (and people who study them). We live in an urban neighborhood not far from UW.
    It’s kind of a long story involving a one-legged crow who showed up in our yard freshly injured over two years ago. We started feeding him/her, since we were not able to help in any other way. Eventually, it morphed into us feeding maybe 12-15 crows once or twice a day. The group size stayed about the same for those two years.
    The one-legged crow has survived all this time. We consider him or her a “friend.” Unfortunately, our friend now has up to fifty or sixty other friends who essentially never leave the immediate vicinity of our yard. I think this is partly because of the pandemic- it *seems* like there is less food available in general. Our neighbors are less than pleased with this situation. Several have recently made it known that they want the feeding to stop. Now.
    My question is how much of an impact will it have on the crows if I just stop feeding immediately? I have not been feeding much over the last two days and they are mostly still hanging around. Will they find food elsewhere? I am ASSuming/hoping so. Since you don’t see too many dead crows lying around (mostly fledglings), there must be more food than I think. But I would feel better hearing you say that the crows will be fine without my feeding..

    • Hi there! So short answer: they will almost certainly be FINE. Crows eat human food, yes, but they also eat a ton of bugs and luckily the pandemic has not affected our yards! And unfortunately unhappy neighbors have succeeded in taking crow feeders to court over perceived damages, so I would heed your neighbor’s wishes now before the problem gets worse. I’m sorry they’ve put you in that position, as I know it’s hard to cut these relationships off. Limiting feeding to only a pair, and to only a handful of food a day, can really help make sure you’re reaching a good balance between your own needs and those of your neighbors. Which truthfully includes other kinds of wildlife as well. So give it space, 6m or so, and then you can see if you can pick up just feeding one to two here and there again.

      • Littlebird

        Thanks, Dr. Swift!
        I do truly feel better hearing your answer.
        Been trying to only feed Peg Leg. Which of course means the one-legged crow and whoever else is hanging around. We still have lots of crows in the immediate area (waiting), but numbers going down.
        Aware of at least one lawsuit over damage (Seattle area). No-I don’t want to end up there. In fact I spent two hours cleaning poop off neighbors’ asphalt parking strip yesterday-a real joy! So I plan to heed your advice!

  10. Robin Carlson

    Great presentation last night! Love your enthusiasm coupled with your vast knowledge, and your ability to present information to the layperson.

  11. Joanne Kroll

    Just curious: I know that crows recognize our faces (and I do have a lovely and faithful crow following). But, these days we have no faces. We have hats, sunglasses, masks, maybe more. No visible face. What else are these creatures recognizing??

  12. Ben Thijssen, the Netherlands

    I am building a light hearted websites about corvids. Am I allowed to make references to your articles or videos you ever recorded, also with John Marzluff? I will not copy anything, just making links. The website is just in development stage, in Dutch, and not accessible from the outside world right now.
    I certainly will accept “no” as answer, no problem.

  13. corvidaemon

    Thank you for your contribution Dr. Swift. You enrich so many! I was feeding some local scrub jays in the Ballard area who would come by my house on their daily route. Their timing was fairly predictable. It’s so interesting to see them strategically stash their nuts so meticulously in places that rats, squirrels, and other birds were unlikely to venture. I got the main one to come within a foot or so of me but the shy spouse only swooped down only once in a while. I eventually found their main spot 5 blocks away. There was a whole gang there! They seemed to have moved on for now and apparently they don’t migrate so I have hope they’re just in an adjacent neighborhood and will be back. They’re probably looking for the best food spot and completing with the crows, gulls, pigeons, starlings, flickers and others is no easy business. Regardless, it’s been challenging for me like many others lately and that scrubby couple really helped pick up my mood for several months. I read an article saying they came up here in the nineties. Do you think that they will become more prominent around here? Are they reacting to global warming? Do you think any other warmer weather corvids might come up here? Conversely, do we have a danger of losing some to Canada?

    • The scrub jays have been on the move a while, and I absolutely expect them to stick around and increase in number. Likewise the Steller’s jays have been moving down south. I think it has more to do with habitat modifications than climate change. I suppose some of the southern jays could head up, but I suspect they’ll be kept out not by the weather, but by competition with other corvids. I don’t think we stand to lose any corvids to the north. The main risk of climate change for crows and other corvids is the increased spread of West Nile Virus rather than changes to weather.

      • corvidaemon

        Thank you! Movement of bird species is fascinating and depressing at the same time. Are there any studies going on that you’re aware of on how covid is affecting bird populations? I imagine pigeons and gulls are taking the biggest hit. City crows can move to the suburbs as the food supply in the city shrinks. I often wonder if old city crows have any type of “wtf is going on” moments at this unprecedented time, but I’m probably anthropomorphizing and misunderstanding the nidopallium.:) I can’t wait til science learns more about corvids’ thoughts though! I read a study that showed scrub jays have metacognition abilities so who knows what else is going on in there.

  14. Fiona

    I have enjoyed having a rookery in my garden very much this year and watching the families grow. They have left now, but still visit announcing their arrival with a LOT of noise! I hope they will all be back next year. Obviously, some of the fledglings didn’t make it and I suspect there were a few fights that were lethal, so I found 7 dead rooks (mainly large fledglings, still with fluffy heads) over the summer. I know that death is special to them but is it known how long I should leave the body before moving it under a hedge to rest in peace? I have been leaving the bodies about 5 days but do you know at what time the body ceases to be so important to them?
    Many thanks, Fiona

    • Hi Fiona. It’s tough to say because we haven’t formally tested how long it takes them to respond to and process deaths from familiar birds. But in my experience, they move on from juveniles quickly. I’d say 5 days is plenty and you’re free to let them meet the earth under your hedge. Thanks for caring enough to ask!

  15. ERICA

    Hi Kaeli — with the recent influx of this persistent smoky toxic smog my crow friends are looking truly bedraggled and pathetic and acting jumpy and overly territorial within a much smaller domain than usual – they don’t seem to want to move around more than they have to. The other birds around (jays, sparrows, even the local Cooper’s hawks) are also behaving differently too in a variety of ways, all of them telegraphing what looks like discomfort, disorientation and high anxiety. They are clearly stressed and we have already found several dead around the neighborhood. I realize birds that live wild have to contend with these unfortunate realities. It’s likely to be a very challenging autumn for all our outdoor friends and anything I’m doing is at best a butterfly bandage on a chainsaw wound but i want to do anything I can without causing harm. I’m keeping a consistent feeding schedule with extra raw proteins and lots of circulating water out between bird baths and makeshift buckets that I clean and refresh a couple times a day attached to the fence posts but that’s all I can think to do right now. Is there anything else I could do during this intense period of air pollution to aid them in getting by?

  16. John Treble

    I was recently on a mountain in Wales watching a lone crow flying in the lift generated by the wind blowing onto the mountainside. The crow flew left and right to stay in the lift band, which I too was using to keep a radio controlled glider in the air.
    I noticed during a break in my own flying that on each pass, the crow would perform a half-roll to inverted flight, say ‘Caw, caw’ and then half-roll to upright again. A little later it was joined by a second crow and they started doing the same manoeuvre and call in unison.
    I’ve seen crows do different aerobatic manoeuvres, but this was new to me. More usual is a sort of tumble, which they seem to like to do in groups. The manoeuvre is prefaced by folding of the wings to increase speed. They often use their feet as airbrakes as well.
    Are they just having fun, or is this to do with mating, or something else?

    Incidentally, many birds show an interest in radio-controlled gliders when they encroach on their habitat. Raptors (e.g. peregrine falcons) in particular are often curious and will sometimes be very aggressive. They have been known to bring model gliders down. Seagulls, too, sometimes show an interest, or wariness. But I’ve never seen a crow taking any interest at all. Perhaps they are just too clever to be taken in.

  17. Erica

    Somewhere in downtown Renton there must be a treasure trove of walnut trees. The last couple of weeks it’s been a riot to watch the crows swoop through the streets with them in their beaks. They land on light posts and drop them from heights to crack them open and in a few cases have attempted to let cars do their dirty work by stooping on the wires above the road and dropping them just as a car is about to pass under. This is rarely successful but it doesn’t seem to stop them from trying. Leaving the nuts in the road and waiting for cars to roll over is another gambit I have yet to see pay off as they get impatient and return to the street lights to drop on the concrete if it doesn’t work in one go. I expect that once one of them figures out how to time a nut placement with oncoming car just right, though, the tables will turn when word spreads and everyone will be doing it. Their brains at work are so much fun to watch!

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