About me

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I’m Kaeli Swift, Ph.D. Since I was a kid I’ve loved wildlife—especially birds—and asking questions about animal behavior and cognition. While an undergrad at Willamette University (2005-2009), I discovered that crows and other corvids offered the perfect marriage of these interests, and I have been hooked on them ever since. In 2012, I was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to pursue this passion as a graduation student at the University of Washington. As a Masters and Doctoral student (2012-2018), I dedicated myself to understanding what American crows do in response to dead crows, as well as what adaptive motivations might drive their response. My research included both field-based projects observing wild crows, and non-invasive/non-lethal functional imaging studies aimed at understanding what was going on in the crow brain during these experiences. Visit the Previous Research and Publications pages to learn more about these projects. Currently, I am a Post-Doctoral researcher at the University of Washington studying the foraging behaviors of Canada jays in Denali National Park. You can learn more about this study on the Current Research tab.

What follows after my PostDoc position comes to a close in the fall of 2019 remains to be determined, but science communication will forever remain a core part of my identity as a scientist and person. As a child, I struggled immensely with school. While I loved science, I did not see myself as someone who could become a scientist. Even outside of those with learning disabilities, women remain vastly underrepresented at the most high profile and visible levels of science communication. I aim to be apart of the growing number of women seeking to change this, and welcome any opportunity to bring science to the public. I regularly give public talks to audiences ranging from elementary students to careered academics. Video, audio, and print reports of my research have been featured by National Geographic, PBS, the New York Times, The Atlantic, Ologies podcast, Science Friday and many others. For collaboration or to schedule a speaking event, please contact me at kaelis@uw.edu.

 

454 responses to “About me

  1. Shaun Chandler

    Hi Kaeli,

    In regards to facial recognition, at what distance can a crow identify a known face ?

    Thanks!
    Shaun Chandler

    • ooooo that’s a great question. That’s never been explicitly tested but in my experience they can see a familiar face from far away, up to 75m. Their eyesight is excellent!

      • Ed

        I’m wondering though if it’s my face they recognize from that distance or just my body in general. I almost always carry the same bag for example. I walk the same.
        There is one thing they recognize from any distance though, which is the way I throw food at them, hehe.

      • We know they learn the face immediately, but I suspect with time they also pick up on other features like your gait or consistent clothing, that kind of thing….

    • Joey Shyloski

      Hi Kaeli, I think you are now post your crow funeral research but I wanted to share with you my experience as a, let’s say, a crow funeral director.
      I was on my way to an appointment and parked my car on a residential side street, off the main arterial. Getting out, I heard a distressing caw. A single crow on the pole wires above me, looking down, at me, and the road. There, in the middle of the street, a completely flattened crow. Poor thing, looked like it recently got struck. I felt bad and I didn’t want to leave him there. I didn’t exactly want to pick up a freshly squished crow either. I looked up to the sidewalk to see if there was something to use. Up on the grass, near a tree, was a paper plate. A clean paper plate. So, sliding the dead crow by the wing tip, and praying he would move in one piece, I slide him up on the paper plate. Then I walked back over to the tree and placed him at the bottom on a grassy mound. There was a lavender bush nearby and I grabbed a handful of flower spikes, sprinkled them on the crow, said a little prayer, and ran off to my appointment. When I came back to my car there were 10-12 crows silently sitting up on the telephone wires above the tree where I had placed the crow. A few looked down at me, and I swear, bowed and bobbed a bit when they saw me. What a touching moment. Thanks for reading. /Users/joeyshyloski/Desktop/IMG_2048.jpg
      /Users/joeyshyloski/Desktop/IMG_2043.jpg

  2. heekroot

    I just started feeding my crows within 3 weeks to a month. They come now when I give a certain whistle. But one cooed at me. So now I’m looking up that meaning.
    I’m just south of Seattle! Go cougs.

    • Hi Heidie, you’ll discover lots of cool new calls you can only hear if it’s quiet and the birds are close to you. We know VERY little about crow calls but I encourage you to explore anyway. Beware of phony “crow experts” trying to sell you books or courses aimed at teaching you to decode crows. Good luck!

    • Ed

      Did you find it out? If they recognize you as a source of food, they will make a certain call to notify the others of your appearance. It can sound a bit like they give a call of danger at first, but you’ll know the difference after doing it for a while. Try to avoid too much eye contact at first. They’ll come closer if you look away.

  3. Julie Dickson

    What a wonderful research topic! I love corvids and have now signed up to your blog as well as following your twitter account. All the best with your work!

  4. Blair

    Great blog!
    I have been trying to observe and learn about crow behavior at the large outdoor facility I work at in South coastal B.C. ..crows seem to recognize me when I arrive, from often at least 75- 100m as they swoop over looking for a scrap of food I regularly offer. Sunglasses and a change of hats seems to offer a disguise they don’t always see thru.
    I have one charming favorite in particular that coos and clicks and bob’s his head.. as opposed to the full body/full throated CAW! , they often favor.
    Blair

  5. coastal birder

    Hi, Kaeli–Great website! Question about crow behavior: A mourning dove was foraging on the ground and a crow (either Fish or American–we have both) flew from a low branch and swooped down, feet extended in hawk-like fashion, and appeared to try and “take” the dove.  He was unsuccessful, but it was weird. He did not dive at or peck at the dove like he would have if he was chasing it off. Any insights on this behavior?

  6. Hi, I am wondering if you have any insight into placing orphaned babies with a surrogate raven parent? I work at Hope For Wildlife ( wildlife rehabilitation centre in Seaforth, Nova Scotia, Canada), and we just got four young ravens in, but we also have a permanent resident adult raven on site. If you are able to give me any information it would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Amy, rehab isn’t my are of expertise but I’ll leave the question up for others to address

    • Alexandra Y.

      Hi Amy,

      I wish I had not seen this comment so late, but if you still are in need of help I may be able to put you in touch with someone who would potentially have some insights, but judging by the date of this comment it may be too late.

      Let me know if it would still be useful. If not, I would be very interested to hear what you did!

      Best,

      Alexandra

  7. Kate Reid

    Hello Kaeli
    I came across your blog via Twitter this morning and I am really interested to hear of your field of study. Some years ago I was in Calcutta staying in the heart of the city where the population of house crows is huge – a never ending source of fascinating observation. I saw for myself, only once, a remarkable piece of “thanatology”: dozens of crows in an evenly spaced crowd gathering round a piece of one of their kind – the wing of a crow – all that was left after a road accident perhaps – and they spent as long as I had time to watch touching, moving, the wing, gathering around it, silently engaged in a ritual process. I have always thought this a fascinating field of study and I am not sure if you ever would get to India in your work but I thought I would just put the idea out there, there is a treasure trove of material among the large numbers of house crows and the hazards of urban life.
    Warm regards, Kate

    • I think it would be wonderful to do some of this research in India particularly because crows have a crucial roll in the human death rituals common across India (as is my non-Indian understanding anyway). There would wonderful opportunities to make some some really interesting interdisciplinary connections there.

  8. Wendell Hocking

    Hi, Kaeli-I’ve been following your Twitter feed for a while and enjoy everything corvid. For the past 5 years a crow has been visiting my feeder. I first noticed it because of its wonky r. wing. The feathers look beaten up and the wing drags. It appears to flick the wing to keep it off the ground. Now it’s hanging with a second crow with the same issue. (I’d like to think they’re related!) What could cause their dragging wings?

  9. Greg

    Hi Keali,
    I just read the NPR article about crow funerals; fascinating stuff. Anyway it reminded me of this video I recently saw on FB of wild turkeys circling a dead cat, so I just searched and found it on YouTube. I don’t know where it was filmed. Perhaps you’ve seen it already. Just wondering what this behavior might mean.

    Greg

    • Turkeys are found of playing “follow the leader.” There’s lots of videos of them circling trees for instance. If I had to guess I’d say one waddled over to take an interested look, another followed and so on and so forth. Rather that jostling for a best position they just started moving and voila! A macabre circular inspection team has formed. Just my guess.

  10. Hi Kaeli – Interesting story for you. I went into my yard a couple of weeks back because my local crows were cawing and there were more of them than I normally see together at this time of the year. Sadly, I found a dead juvenile crow under my neighbor’s eucalyptus tree. My neighbor’s dog seemed to be curious about it and was approaching it repeatedly, but each time she would approach the dead crow, the adult crows dropped sticks on her to scare her away. This was the first time I had seen the crows that upset and the only time I saw them dropping sticks on another animal.

    • I’ve seen them pull sticks when they’re agitated and John Marzluff has a story about a raven swinging a stick around at a predatory barred owl. It would be huge to learn if your crows were doing this intentionally or just kind of by accident.

      • Ok – so, I’ve definitely seen them rip off bits of branches and leaves when they’re agitated, but this just made me recall something one of my friends told me last week. He said that a few mornings in a row, one of the mated pair on his block would pick up large sticks when he took his dogs out for a walk and perch above them from roof to roof. He said it looked like the crow was dangling it above them and getting ready to drop it on them.

  11. K Schlesinger

    Hi
    Have a story you might find interesting. We rented a house for 3 weeks at the beach. The house next to ours was a private home. On their back screened porch they were rehabbing a injured crow. Each day for those three weeks several crows would come to visit and “talk”. We found it fascinating that the crow had such dedicated friends.

    • Sounds like it had imprinted on them. Imprinting stories are sort of a sore spot for me because while I think the interaction unquestionable life changing and may of the story that come from it do a lot of good in terms of broader cultural opinions about crows…more often than not these birds are killed more quickly or are deprived of their basic biological needs or behaviors in some way. So it’s tricky…

  12. Carol Dean

    Hi, I totally love crows and would love to get more into helping with research about them. Does anyone in your department ever need volunteers for projects?

    We have a crow that landed in our yard last year when he left the nest early and couldn’t fly. We provided water for him but left him alone, and I guess he feels safe with us. Now he comes back regularly to hang out. His mom and dad are nesting across the street, and I hope we’ll get to see him help raise the new siblings. We have imaginatively named him ‘baby crow’!

    • Hi Carol, I’m afraid at this time most of our crows study’s are either coming to a close or working on a much smaller scale. That’s a wonderful story about your crow friend though. I am always happy to hear when people leave babies to their parents and develop their relationship another way.
      Cheers,
      Kaeli

  13. Cheryl Marelich

    Hi Ms. Swift,
    The link to this blog talked about your research of crow funerals. I have experienced one once when a crow was apparently hit by a car in front of my house early one morning. What woke me was the cacophony of caws happening in the trees overlooking the dead crow. It was incredibly loud as there seemed to be at least one hundred crows. As the dead crow lay in the street, a pickup truck came by. The driver opened his door, flung the crow into the cab of his truck and drove off.
    All the crows in the trees immediately stopped cawing and then flew off all at once. It was mesmerizing!

  14. Michael E. Bierman

    Wonderful. Great work. Thank you!

  15. Sarah

    Hello! Found your site whilst trying to see if what I saw today was a known behaviour of crows. A crow flew past me with a small nest in its beak, which I assume it had just lifted from the bush it flew from. It then landed on the ground nearby and devoured the eggs. I was a little shocked.. I know they do eat eggs but it lifted the entire nest out! I think it was a chaffinch nest, only judging by pics online. Curious to know if that’s been seen before. It might explain another side to fallen nests.

    Thanks.

    • If it’s small enough and they’re in a hurry it might make sense that i’d be easier just to make off with the whole nest rather than take the time to pluck out each egg. This is pretty common across lots of nest predators.

  16. Josh Zelecki

    Just seen your piece on Bill Nye Saves The World. I have always been intrigued with nature and animal behavior. I couldn’t help but fond somewhere to contact you in regards to crows gathering to mourn. Was just curious if you’ve considered a instinct to congregate and try to identify the predator responsible after sighting a dead bird? Really wish I could perform the same test and introduce a predator decoy after they gather. Would be so exciting to watch.

  17. Michele Douglas

    Hello there~
    I have developed a relationship with the crows in my neighborhood over the last 3-4 years. We had two rather harsh (for Oregon) and all the birds were needing water and I also left out high energy food for them. Of course the crows came. Soon they would follow my car anytime I in the area on my way home and call to eachother when I got home. Two would come very close to me after I left treats and let me stand close. In bad weather I once counted 40 or so crows in my yard and lines. Such a delight! The parents started to bring their young to my house and it was such fun to watch them grow and grow. But tragedy struck this year – one morning I heard very agitated cawing. I went out several times to make sure all was well. The crow was perched up in a tree they don’t normally sit in and “yelling” at me. Finally the fourth time I went out, I found another crow, dead in the bushes, under some other trees, near the first. I was so upset. The moment I found the dead bird, the other instantly stopped cawing and stayed still, watching me. After that, it flew away. For a period of a week and a half I had zero crow activity at my house which bothered me. Now I have one back who has taken over both of my birdbaths. It comes to eat when we do in the back. I know crows learn and warn others when a place/person is dangerous – is it possible that the rest of the crows are staying away because of the one death?

  18. Alyssa E

    Hey Kaeli,

    I’m so intrigued with animal behavior and love your research. Question – which I think I know the answer to – have you ever witnessed cannibalism after a crow funeral? What about other rituals, or do they tend to fly a way?

    • Hi Alyssa. Cannibalism is extremely rare in corvids. I’ve never seen it in my studies but of course I couldn’t because we use taxidermy prepared specimens. As for other behaviors…I have a new paper coming out in July. You’ll need to wait for that 😉

  19. Stupidguy

    Two days ago in a forests i found a crow cornered by cat and thought its injured i was know nothing about crows , and after read this website i suspect i May mistakenly take a fledging , anyway since it cant stay on its both legs and looking like balance problem and i dont know if it get touched by that cat , i have questions like how can I be sure if its injured or no , do i must bring back this crow immediately or after it learn to fly? İ feel so bad and thinking how terrible thing i did , please help me asap i beg you

  20. Tuhin Chakraborty

    Hi
    Cool video. Do you know whether these crows have high CRH in their blood? I am curious whether sight of conspecific death make them anxious. So seeing the video, I guess these birds form an associative memory.

  21. Johan

    Well, you just made it on Belgian television with the corvidresearch. And with mask… 😉

  22. We have a crow that says “Hello” clearly. It’s been heard by a few people. It doesn’t hang around the homes. I rarely even see crows here. How would it have learned that?

    • It’s an escaped pet. There was a crow in Montana that knew how to say “here boy, come boy” and spent a week tormenting the neighborhood dogs before it finally disappeared!

  23. Joseph Vinegar

    Good day
    There’s this fairly famous 4chan thread called The Great Crow War. It’s a greentext story about a guy who befriends one group of crows, and becomes an enemy to another, resulting in a crow battle. Is there anything you could teach us particularly from this story? Things like crow morality, psyche, and group-forming? http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/738480-4chan

    • Not really, as I don’t find the story credible. While it draws on aspects of crow biology (things like pre-roost gatherings and facial recognition) that are very much true, it also hinges on a couple of assumptions that are not true (things like site fidelity during pre-roost gatherings, and how/when physical altercations between crows take place, etc.). Hate to be a bummer, but this is just a great work of crow fiction. Still an interesting read though!

  24. Nevermore

    Caw! Caw!

  25. Shaun mcdonald

    Hello I have found a injured fledgling crow he dosent seem to be a baby and is not eating by him self or won’t be hand fed he’s verry friendly I was just wondering is there any thing I can do to maybe get him eating he also dosent know how to fly

  26. Hidden San Diego

    Hello! I am hoping you can answer my question. A few weeks ago I took in a fledgling crow with a cold and infected eye. After seeing an aviary vet I was able to get it proper antibiotics and helped heal it. It now lives outside but visits me several times a day for feeding and love. Although it is learning to feed itself it still relies on me to help. Beyond this, I believe it’s family is bullying it! Therefore it hangs out alone. My question is, I am moving in a few weeks and desperately want to take it with me to live in my new backyard. Do you think this is a good idea? Do you think the crows in that area will try to hurt it? I am afraid it will not stand a chance if I keep it at my old house as it needs to be fed still. Help! Thank you so much! ❤

  27. James Monahan

    Hello Kaeli. I very much enjoyed your talk yesterday at the Hearthstone. My experience with feeding the crows shows me that they much prefer the “Iams minichunks with real chicken” to the in-shell peanuts that they often just pick up and drop back onto my deck or fly off with, or seemingly swallow it whole. The most prominent behavior I notice is that they look around so much as they are eating as if there are close by predators. God bless you in you interesting work. Jim

  28. Lauranda

    I’ve enjoyed your blog immensely and have learned a lot from it in the past 3 years! Thank you for what you do! I love crows and strive to watch them whenever possible. That being said I witnessed something I have yet to see or read about in crow behavior.
    I live in NE Portland, OR. I live very close to the Juvenile Detention Center off of I84 and NE Halsey St. There is an area that is semi wooded and not visited or walked thru by humans. This area was the site where I witnessed at least 60 crows gathered together and making noise I had never heard. At first I thought this was a funeral, as I had seen one before. But in this case what I witnessed was a crowd of 20 to 30 crows fly in a huge group and would make rounds out from the trees and back out. Then I saw three different pairs fall together to almost the ground. This went on for at least 30 mins that I know of and watched it before catching a very late bus. This happened in February of this year. And I have never seen it or have seen this behavior outside of falcons or eagles. Was what I saw a mating ritual of some kind? Thanks again and looking forward to your reply!

    • When you saw they were falling to the ground, could you clearly see the ground? Is it possible there was a red-tailed hawk on the ground with prey? Alternatively, do you recall if it was windy? They might have been playing in the drafts.

  29. Bev Kosty

    Our “Gambino” family of crows (our nick name for them because of how they own our property) are pure joy!!
    When they see us on the deck they will
    Watch us for up to a half an hour. They
    Will come close when I put healthy
    Treats and make clucking sound and
    A young crow that was a little ways from his family looked at me and fluffed his feathers and called
    To me. I have put out fresh watermelon
    And they love this treat. They are the best watch dogs. We don’t have other crows crowding our property like we used to and when food is put out they are so quiet so the other crows don’t know what is going on. We have a kestrel that comes around to catch little birds at our feeders and the crows chase it away and warn everyone it’s near! We feed them: eggs, walnuts, steak, chicken, cherries, dates, cheese but we are careful to not over load them so the eat there much needed natural diet. We
    Have two clear basins that they love to take a bath in. The dominant crow “Spats” has come close to the kitchen window to look at me doing dishes – it is a purposeful check to see me and check me out. They follow my husband when he cuts the grass to pick up the hidden bugs. We are blessed by their friendship.

    • The bond people humans and crows in an incredible thing. Don’t get me wrong, all wildlife is wonderful (yes even the kestrels, which need to eat too!) but I just adore crows. Nothing like them.

      • Kevin Watson

        Been thinking about that too.
        They know us already really.

        I think it must be based on similar lifestyles, and that they were pre-adapted for millions of years to cooperating with wolves–and who knows what else before that.

        But boy are they personable!

        Just really have to watch one’s manners and never raise one’s arms. I have a black jacket and dark cap–similar to what someone else mentioned. (Cant hurt anyway.)

        My “raven calls” are…not good.
        But they are extremely understanding about that.

        One last thing:
        Sometimes one’ll do a caw like say five times.
        So i make some noise back to him/her five times.

        Also i do just speak english to them.
        They read emotions. The tone.

        If they know you and are too loud you can easily shush them–without offending them.

        It’s like being a good grammar school teacher almost.

        But these ravens here have a soft life imo.
        Almost never stress out and plenty of little shore crabs to eat, etc.

        Ok sorry to ramble! Geeze.

        Too bad I’m not a scientist because i doubt real scientists have so much time to just sit and listen.

        i do have some human phonetics training.
        That helps. Except not really.

      • Bev Kosty

        We now are seeing a pair of Kestrels working our property and bird feeders
        And this morning they were working
        The feeders and chasing the finches,
        Hairy woodpeckers and Towhees. We knew they were there because we have a very large kitchen window and heard some of the birds hitting the window. A few minutes later the crows showed up and I went out to see if I could help and our 4/5 crows were working in a gang chasing the Kestrel from the feeders and our front property. It was like I was sitting at the super bowl game watching the USA airforce doing fly byes proving once again don’t mess with the big boys.

    • Venita Gallaway

      I am new to this group and have wanted to comment on the comments for a very long time. I grew up in FL, but moved to Maine 5 years ago. I have had 4-6 crows come and check out my three song bird feeders and eat from what falls on the ground. When I hear them outside, I’ll go out and put an assortment of items I know they love. Still, they are very shy and fly away. Other times they call (to me?) and I’ll go out and put the food stuffs then go back inside and wait. They can see 6’ inside, and if I move around too much they will fly away. There is one very large crow, or maybe a small raven b/c he comes alone and his tail is pointed. He quietly watches and sometimes will come down to eat. He will fly away when the crows come in. I know that the crows live behind my house b/c there is a lot of water and trees to hide in. Still, after 5 years, it’s just frustrating for them not to see that I feed all the animals here, except when the foxes come, they caw and I’ll go out and run the foxes off. Maybe that’s why they fly off too? I will call to them if I see one, and maybe they will come in to feed if I stay out of sight. What can I do?

      I really love these beautiful birds and will do whatever I can to gain a little trust with them.

      Nitabug

      Sent from my iPad

      >

      • Elle O.

        I’m sure Kaeli will have a better answer, but I’ll tell you what I did, and maybe it will help. I’ve had great success twice with this method: I started putting out what I knew they’d love (roast chicken seems to be a big favorite and my special “crow bars”). I did it at the same time every day (I waited until I saw them around). It didn’t take them long to know that I was running a 5 star crow take-out. Then, I sat inside by the glass door or window so that they could see me but still feel safe. Finally, I was able to leave the door open with just the screen between us and they’d land a few feet away. The bravest ones, Bran and Edgar (the mates of Raven and Posey, respectively) would tap on my window and/or follow me around the deck when they saw me. They’re fabulous friends, and I miss mine so much. I had to move, and now I have chickadees, but sadly, no crow friends. I think it’s just too busy here… but I’m going to find a new place this fall, and I’m going to make sure it has CROWS nearby.

        Good luck with your new friends!

      • Venita Gallaway

        I have to run off to work, however THANK YOU for your reply! I was so excited to get it. I have tried to do those things, but the squirrels eat it up. I have 3 baffles on the feeders but the crows don’t fit on it. I have waited for them and they see that I put it out to them. I call quietly and put different items down then back up slowly. after all this, they fligh off! And the squirrels get another meal! I’ve done this for 3-4 years and sometimes it works. When it snows here in Maine, I look to see them and go out. If I’m in all black or dark colors they come out. If the squirrels come out they wait till they are done and then gently come in. What manners they have. The one I’ve named Maverick is the half breed raven/crow. When he/she comes usually I don’t know it is watching. At times it will land and eat, and a few times it allowed me 8’ away. I freeze and slowly back up inside the house. That has not happened again. I’m not sure if it joins up with the crow family or not b/c they are very shy. If I do the alert call, they do come but then fly away.
        I have to leave for work but thank you so very much for taking the time to write Elle O.
        Venita

      • Elle O.

        Oh, I love the crows and ravens, and finally knowing an answer (sort of) meant I had to reply 🙂

        As for the treats, I had a special “little bird” area, and the crows never went there. I always put my treats on a railing for them, and the squirrels couldn’t reach it, so that saved that until Nutley, the red squirrel who was a bad, bad man, figured out how to climb the bush to get to the railing (bye, bush 🙂

        I also read about how crows and ravens can get spooked easily, so I always made sure that they could see me clearly, not like I was trying to sneak up on them.

        I don’t know if that helped – Kaeli, is it better for them to see us?

        I have medium-ish length blonde hair so naturally “shiny” and I spent a lot of time just “sitting” with them (they were in the trees, I was on the deck). I did make eye contact, too. It got to where they knew my car and would greet me upon arrival and then fly around to the back of the building to watch my deck. Literally, it was a corvid entourage 🙂 I like to think that they liked me, but I also think my crow bar recipe (shared here somewhere) probably didn’t hurt (mine really liked roast chicken and peanut butter tea sandwiches (tiny whole grain bread cubes layered with crunchy PB). I really miss my crows 😦 and it’s nice to be among friends who appreciate them, and I’ve learned so much about them reading Kaeli’s blog.

        Good luck with yours! I’m sure they’ll come around, though it may take time to earn their trust because there are so many bozos in the world who don’t appreciate our amazing corvid friends.

      • Hi Venita, sorry I missed this comment. Not sure how that happened, but luckily Elle brought it back to my attention! Sounds like that one bird is definitely a raven. As far as why your birds are so shy it’s probably a combo of not being used to people feeding them and potentially being locally persecuted. Elle’s advice is really spot on. Be consistent, give them space, and expect slow improvements. Or there’s just a chance these birds are too shy and there’s not much you can do about that but continue to appreciate them from afar :/

      • Venita Gallaway

        This is so very exciting to find so many (few?) people that love these birds! Reading your comments is a thrill and can hardly wait for the next one. I don’t have much to add right now except that my heart races and my eyes brighten and smiles seem to relax my whole body! I keep peanuts, mini chicken cat food, fruit,pasta peanut butter extra chrunhy in my cooler for when I see crows or Ravens anywhere here in Maine. Hoping to take a 2 day trip north to where I heard some Ravens live. In winter it is easier to see them. One thing I am at fault with and that is I do not go out and feed them at the same time every day 😦 I usually refill my other feeders at odd times when neede. I did however put up a high perch with an area for them to land on with peanuts in the shell, but they still seem to like the ground. Love to hear anyone’s comments on anything related. They are my vitiman happy every day!

      • Elle O.

        I agree that consistency is important. I think it’s less about the time it’s done (though I lived in the urban woods, so we the crows and I knew what time I’d be home) and more about having them see you be calm and offering them goodies. I did not put my offerings in a feeder but lined them up along a railing instead – they never ate “the little birds’ ” food, nor did they bother the little birds (now Cooper, the hawk, he was a different case lol.)

        It’s hard to explain, but it seems more like a communion or a connection with another species, it’s a lot more than just putting out food, My crows became so comfortable with me that I was able to get within a few feet and a few would eat when I was on the deck. I was also teaching “Bran” his name (from Celtic legend, Brân the Blessed (Bendigeidfran, “Bran [Crow] the Blessed”).

        Crazy, I know, but I believe they can “read” us in some way and know their kindred human spirits. I have had some really special moments with my corvid friends, and also some very funny ones (like the one who showed up with the Frito bag and the dancing Stellar Jays who actually seemed to be emboldened by my laughter).

      • Bev Kosty

        We have had a “relationship” with our crows for over a year now. I found that repeating the same sounds/phrases/manners greatly enhances the trust factor they have with you. All creatures are wary of quick movements. It takes time and a lot of patience. Our natural inclination
        Is to run up and give them a big hug as humans. I am more mindful but my husband is often on a mission and every once in a while they will scold him for forgetting the rule of being gentle and slow. Crows and nature have a lot to teach us about life 😊

  30. Zivio

    I’ve enjoyed reading about certain other people’s very close “friendships” with crows in their lives that sounds really fun and amazing. Most crows out here are quite wary, so I’ve contented myself with letting them be however they will be and not try to intrude on them — truly, they have their own ways. For years I’ve blown a whistle and put out peanuts and puppy kibble and then sit quietly about fifty feet away while anywhere from 10 to 20, at most, come to feed. It seems a wonderful thing that humans and animals can interact in this way, even at a distance, and this gives great pleasure.

    On my bicycle commute there are about three areas along the way where I’ll toss out peanuts and it’s clear the birds recognize me and will fly over for the food. There were a few that had learned to pursue me in flight as I ride by, and one I call Sable Brave who will swoop very closely in front of my bike to get my attention for peanuts. These, though, are the exceptions. I’m delighted by the individually of their behavior which is really the only thing that allows me to be able to tell the difference between them.

  31. Kevin Watson

    I’ve been looking around the web trying to find more information on raven vocalizations.
    Been getting to know a family of ravens this year and it’s fairly exhilerating to hear a couple of the rarer ones.
    The “raised-hackle throat click” (= “i love you and i love snacks, just saying.”?)
    The “warbling love (?) song.”

    Anyone have any ideas on these?
    I have recordings.

    This is in coastal humbold county, calif.

    Anyone?

    Take care!!!!

  32. Anna K

    Came across your quote in response to the grieving Orca in Puget Sound.
    “There is this really quick jump to interpreting this behavior as grief,” said Kaeli Swift, a doctoral candidate at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington. “There are lots of things animals do that are easy to understand through the lens of what we do ourselves. … We have to be cautious about not projecting about how this makes us feel as to what is going on with this orca.”
    Just curious how you interpret what is going on with this orca?

    • Hi Anna! If you want a really in depth answer you can read through a twitter thread I did about postmortem infant transport here: https://twitter.com/corvidresearch/status/1024423785749864448

      But if you don’t want to read that suffice it to say that I interpret it as…we don’t know what’s going on plain and simple. Could she be grieving? Sure! Could it be other things? Sure! For example: learning to mother, learning from death, wait and see (i.e she hoping it will recover), doesn’t recognize that it’s dead, social signaling, mate signaling (i.e look at me future mates, I’m really dedicated), may reduce stress…etc. The point is that with the limited amount we know about postmortem infant transport in cetaceans and other animals, it’s no more reasonable of us to say that this is evidence of grief, as it is of us to say that that mother and son orca teaming up to kill a female’s calf last year is evidence of malice. We just can’t get in their heads like that.

  33. You warned against anthropomorphizing human emotion onto the grieving behavior of Tahlequah the Orca mother of a baby who died at birth. You prefer ‘objective’ data and explanation, But doesn’t objectivity preclude understanding the meaning of this atypical Orca behavior following the death of a new-born. Instead of the detached ‘objective’ observer for whom
    consciousness is non observable, wouldn’t ‘inter-subectivity’ be a more reliable guide. Doesn’t the world response of sympathy and grief show Tahlequah’s behavior can be understood from within and between living beings.
    Salishan

    • The value in being objective here is that it allows us to consider other possibilities. Grief is not that only explanation for this behavior and a person has no more reason to site this as evidence of grief as they do of mate signaling for example. So I’m not trying to discourage anyone from considering grief. I think it’s entirely possible and that a high emotional intelligence would be as adaptive for Orcas as it is for us. So don’t mistake me for being a human exceptionalist, I’m not. But humans have a very long and bad history of misunderstanding animals. Our relationship with our dogs is a prime example (check out Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson). I also want to offer that we have no idea if this is atypical behavior or not. It’s certainly not the first time it’s been observed in orcas and of all cetaceans, dolphins do it the most so it’s possible this happens more often in orcas than we realize. Out of curiosity though I want to put this question to you: if this is evidence of grief, is infanticide among orcas evidence of malice? Why or why not? I’m not trying to be combative, these are genuinely the questions I like to ask.

      • Infanticide supposes moral intent to do evil which presupposes a knowledge of good and evil. We have no evidence orcas can be guilty of malice but we do know orcas are fellow mortals who know death and loss as we do in our own way. Mortality is the bond that makes us a conscious We who can know the other intersubjectively as an alter ego and not just an object.

  34. Brenna Jensen

    I find crows absolutely fascinating! Is it true they hold “funerals” for other crows? And do other members of the family do the same?

    *Also, we went to grade school together and shared many adventures as well as a love of wolves and animals. I saw your name and it made me smile.

    • Hi Brenna! Well they hold “funerals” in the sense that the respond strongly to and gather around other dead crows. Whether it’s an expression of grief is unknown to me. But they are certainly smart and social enough that under certain death circumstances (such as a long term mate) I wouldn’t be surprised to find that feel a certain way about it.

  35. Erin Poole

    We have a tall fir and red leafed maple tree in our Portland, Oregon backyard. For 25 years we have had crows that raise their young in our yard. The past 5 years, one of the pair seems to have taken a keen interest in getting very close to me. I will be doing chores around the yard and will find it within feet of me. Recently, it landed on a chair within 5 feet of my chair and stayed there for almost 15 minutes. All very relaxed and seemed to actually enjoy the company.

    Do crows make attachments to humans? I know that I enjoy their company and am amazed at their use of tools.

    • Well that depends on what you mean by attachment. Crows will learn people who are friendly and feed them, and visit them regularly (even bringing “gifts” sometimes). But whether that’s really an attachment vs. a clever strategy for an easy meal…I leave that distinction to you.

    • Bill Clarkson

      A crow was a member of our family when I was young. I describe it that way because he/she (?) was never caged and adopted at a very early age. I don’t think Kaeli approved, but was kind enough not to scold me! There’s some material about that in this blog.

  36. Faye

    I have been spending time with a murder of crows for about a year and a half. They are fascinating. I feed them and they sometimes touch down on my head. I stand on a footbridge and they land on either side of me. They have started coming closer and even cross the road with me. I feel honoured to spend time with them. Even when l have run out of food they just sit hear me. They do recognise me. Awesome birds!

  37. Jack Marler

    15 years ago in the Ozarks of Missouri on the Current River I was just walking out after a great October morning when I had a murder of Crows come in and one had a very extensive case of Leucism. Is this very common in the Corvidae population?

  38. Faye

    Hi Kali. I live in south west England.
    Fascinated by your research. I made friends with a murder of crows about a year and a half ago. I feed them and we go for walks together. I have even had a couple of them briefly touch down on my head! If l stand on a footbridge they land on the railings either side and quietly nod to me. One crow comes up very close and even when people have scared the others away this crow stays close to me. I was introduced to them when an older crow came up to me one day and just followed me. Sadly he or she disappeared. When the crows follow me they even wait with me at the traffic lights and fly across the road with me. Amazing creatures.

  39. TJ Bickert

    Hi!
    I literally just found you on Twitter (@oskar_learjet. I’m a teacher, but I’ve political beliefs and ideas some in my school district might deem inappropriate, so my Twitter handle is a fake name. Everything else is real)
    ANYWAY, I’d hoped to get a suggestion on a place to start learning more about Thanatology. I’m fascinated and want more. I’m curious, too, on if there was a way to incorporate Thanatology into my lessons (we’re reading Poe, soon), so any and all info/help you can spare is SUPER helpful.
    Thanks!
    And congrats, again, on a well-earned degree!

  40. Sue Cutlet

    Hi Kaeli,
    We’ve been experiencing some strange crow behaviour. For the last 3 months our peace has been shattered, each day, by a crow which attacks our car as well as several of our neighbours’ cars as well as some of our neighbours’ house windows. It also caws repeatedly & aggressively.
    Just wondered if you’ve any ideas about its behaviour?
    Thanks
    Sue (Hereford, England)

    • Hi Sue, so crows are miserable failures at the mirror test. This is a problem come breeding time when they become super territorial and see every reflection as an intruder that warrants attack! This behavior should stop soon though, the breeding season is pretty much over.

  41. Jeff Andersen

    I once saw a crow die in mid-air. I was driving, and noticed a crow flying in a weak, labored fashion. Then it stopped, and plummeted straight to the street, where it was instantly squashed by a car.

  42. Dr. Swift, so happy to come across you on Twitter. I have been feeding crow in my backyard for years and love the interaction of the family unit. I look forward to your blog and expertise.
    Dan

  43. Love this! I consider myself a “crow lover” after an encounter with a crow while cross-country skiing. Actually, a bird lover, but as you say, crows are so widespread, resilient & (to me) fascinating, that they hold a lot of my attention. Do you know about the crows of Portland Oregon & how they gather at dusk by the hundreds in the Park blocks? Have you read the novel “Ka”? Anyway, best wishes for your work.

    • Hi Janet! Yes I am familiar with the Portland crows. The behavior you are describing is called roosting and they do it all over the country. We have two big (~15k) roosts here in Seattle I’ve written about previously if you would like to learn more about how and why crows roost. I haven’t read Ka yet but John Crowley actually just sent me a copy so it’s on my to do list!

  44. Josh Havens

    Dr. Swift,
    I also have a deep love for wolves! Ravens and crows also hold a special place for me and my culture. Good stuff!
    I happened to see a video about your work sometime ago. I thought the whole study was absolutely fascinating. I’d be interested in reading more. Quick question, are there recordings available somewhere of the different Crow call types? I understand there is a sort of funeral call crows have. Is there a friend call or this is a safe place call? A danger call? Thanks so much. I look forward to learning more.

    • Hi Josh,
      So crow calls are simultaneously one of the most prolifically studied areas of crow biology and still the most poorly understood. The short story is that (I suspect based on my own research anyway) that how crows respond to vocalizations is incredibly context specific. So the sound a crow makes to elicit x behavior in y circumstance might produce an entirely difference response in z circumstance, even though the call is the same. This has made the study of crow vocalizations incredibly difficult. We do know that they have some consistent calls, like scolding which means I’m alarmed/upset, but the scolding call given in response to a red-tailed hawk or to an intruder, or to a dead crow has little difference. In other words crows do not have referential (threat-specific) calls the way many primates, prairie dogs etc., do. There’s no funeral call. It seems the main differences among these calls is simply the call rate, which may communicate urgency. If you want to listen to the many sounds crows can make though you can check out the Macaulay library https://search.macaulaylibrary.org/catalog?taxonCode=amecro&mediaType=a&q=American%20Crow%20-%20Corvus%20brachyrhynchos

      Cheers!

  45. Robert

    Dear Mrs. Swift,
    I’m a friend of crows and like to feed them on my balcony in Berlin. When I was on vacation at the Baltic Sea last week, I was happy to spot some crows there on the beach, mingling with the gulls. When one of them approached the ocean in order to drink from it however, I was baffled. I know gulls, pelicans and other marine bird have salt glands to handle the ocean water but I couldn’t find anything on how crows would be able to consume it.
    Is it because of the comparably lower salt content where I was? It’s around 12g/l there due to the sea being brackish, I was near the town Zinnowitz.
    Best wishes

  46. Lou T Lotta Jr

    Hi Kaeli,
    I just heard you on TWIS! Thanks for coming on, I love hearing about how smart these birds are and we keep learning more all the time. I have had a few crow experiences (talking crow followed me home one day when I was a kid) that’s another story. The one I wanted to ask about was this scenario: Three crows, One on their back with the other two above him pecking him hard in the “guts” and the crow on his back letting out a low slow Caw trailing off (almost like us talking with hand over your mouth) that sound is what caught my attention, anyway being a Dad I felt I couldn’t let them bully this crow so I approached them and they all took flight and landed further away from me and resumed the same positions and pecking and poor sad sound, I tried again and same thing so I had to get to work and continued my walk in. this was in the Parking lot of the University of Rochester (where I work in Cancer research). I wondered your thoughts on that (punishing?, stranger? or was he close to death and they wanted to eat him?) It was in the spring-summer but we were not in a drought so I’m guessing they had enough to eat, especially with all the students around. We actually have a large population of crows in Rochester and the city has tried to scare them off with bursts of fireworks and such but since they are essentially flying smart apes they just flew away and came back later lol
    sorry for the long note, Lou Lotta

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