About Me


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 graduate 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. After graduating, I spent a year as a Post-Doctoral researcher at the University of Washington studying the foraging behaviors of Canada jays in Denali National Park. Visit the Previous Research and Publications pages to learn more about these projects. Currently, I am a visiting lecturer at the University of Washington where I teach a variety of ornithology and wildlife ecology courses.

No matter what my current or future job titles are though, 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 a part 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.


646 responses to “About Me

  1. Venita Gallaway

    Hello Terrie,
    Would this area be Mill Creek South Portland Maine? I leave a few miles from there and have noticed their behavior around the area when I shop.
    Thank you for sharing any news b/c I love these birds!

    • Silvia

      Hello Dr. Swift
      Saw your fascinating Ted talk and connected one aspect to another interesting talk:

      Apparently our ancestors might also had had sex at wakes… ? Likely when humankind was more instinctual and less “moral” by religious and social norms?
      Thought it might be of interest for further mammal comparisons – if that is true?!
      (It is a beautiful, lyrical talk, as it is.)

  2. Hi Kaeli,

    Wow, what an honour this must be for you. Putting all those hard-working researchers, ecologists, conservationists, naturalist bloggers on the map. More of the same, please.


    Well done, again.

    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

  3. Darlene Salter

    I am glad that you are calling Perisoreus canadensis Canada Jay. Gray Jay was such a drab name for such an intelligent interesting bird. Now that the name has reverted to Canada Jay, hopefully Canada Jays will soon become Canada’s national bird.
    On January 14th I witnessed a Canada Jay putting beef fat from a suet ball feeder into the mouth of another jay’s mouth. A third jay was off to the side. This is a family of three, parents and one of their three young from last season. I suspect that the male was offering food to its mate as part of the courtship ritual. I have observed Black Terns offering food to their mate prior to nesting.
    My feeders attract one pair of Canada Jays at home, 3 pairs at our cabin and 2 pairs on a 6.5 km trail where I have feeders. When hiking the trail, they come to investigate when they hear my dogs barking at squirrels. Sometimes they follow me around the entire trail.

  4. Lynne Fouquette

    Hello, Dr. Swift — I read all your research and your posts here and on IG and Twitter (I swear I’m not as creepy as that sounds). I always hear in your words your affection for the animals you study and encounter. But your deep love of Go is deeply touching. It takes courage to really love anyone, but especially an animal that we know we will outlive. I know there is nothing that can mend your heart for the loss of Go, but I just wanted to add my condolences. She was a really beautiful bird and you two obviously connected in a special way. —Lynne

  5. Lovely blog! Thank you for taking the time to write and maintain this. My family and I have been involved long term (some 25 years now, spanning three countries) in rehabilitation and rescue of birds. Namely Psittacines including Hyacinthine macaws, and extremely rare pheasants and a range of raptors and corvids. Corvids are among our favourites and most of our fondest memories revolve around their antics. Keep up the good work! We love reading this!


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  7. Jennifer Musick

    Hi. I have a crow story that has perplexed me and stuck with me for nearly 15 years. I’ve never been able to make sense of it. It happened in the alleyway behind the old Trader Joe’s on top of Queen Anne hill in Seattle. I’d love to tell you the story if you would like to hear it. Maybe you could shed some light on the strange behavior I witnessed.

  8. Robert Grandmaison

    My spouse and I have a mated pair of ravens that would often visit our water bowl on our deck- and in looking at cameras, have done so for many years. We’ve taken to feeding them raw meat and they seem to enjoy it and fly away with some for their caches. Lately, though, they’ve disappeared and we haven’t had a visit from either of them in many days, if not a couple of weeks. I did see them attempting to build a nest atop a nearby tree recently (that nest never came to fruition).
    I’m assuming they must have another nest nearby. Do ravens behave differently during nesting season, like not straying far form the nest? Do they rely on their cached food more at such times, or is that only for the lean time of the year?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Robert, females do stick tight to the nest while incubating and later brooding nestlings. Males are more mobile, but tend to stay close to the nest tree because extrapair copulations are more of a risk with ravens. I don’t know where you live so can’t really speak to the food availability of your area. But generally speaking no, ravens don’t rely heavily on cached food to support breeding efforts the way other corvids, like Canada jays, do.

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  11. area? Monares

    Hello Ms Swift, have you ever seen a crow with white legs in Seattle erea?

  12. Hello, Dr. Swift/ Kaeli,
    I was wondering if commenters can post videos here. I recorded a pair of very large beautiful ravens who seemed to be scolding a human. I wrote you a while back about the neighbors who have kept a crow in a large cage on their balcony for almost a decade since he was a fledgling, and how this was breaking my heart. Well, the only time my heart is not breaking for him is when other crows visit him. Which seems to happen quite frequently in spring.

    Recently a pair of Ravens visited him and were hanging out on the deck and making a lot of cawing sounds in the direction of the crow’s “owner” as if they were actually scolding him for imprisoning their fellow corvid. Like the ravens, I feel it is wrong and said, but I know they fear if they release him he’ll die or be killed and are there rescue groups who could give him a home with more freedom? I am located in coastal southern California. Any thoughts out there?

  13. Terrie Black

    Well the babies are here! My 2 crows in my apt complex have had 2 babies. One adult trains with 1 baby (fledgling) and the other takes 1 baby. I don’t know how they can put up with the constant nagging for food that the adults handle. A noise only a mother (or father) can love. But I’m happily watching my crow family. They tried to have babies before, but none of them survived, I’m guessing. My crows watch for me and they know my car. They have even come right up to the side of my car and just stood there. They are teaching their kids to look for me too. I just hope the kids don’t think all humans are as nice as me. The adults are getting peanuts and dog food from me, and then washing them in the water bowl I leave out for them. I saw one with a Dorito chip and he washed it before eating it. Why do they do this? I love my crows so much, I’m thinking of a tattoo of a crow.

    • It’s a pretty common behavior. It makes the food softer and is also a good way to get more water!

      • Terrie Black

        Hi All,
        Well, the babies are gone. It’s just back to Ralph and Alice (my crows). I thought that they stayed with the parents for a longer time, like a year? I think the babies must have gone to the lake by the Safeway with the multitude of other crows from around here. Why did they only stay with the parents for about 3 months? Well at least my 2 crows are here to entertain me. Or I guess I entertain them.

  14. Dana Knickerbocker

    Great class at NCI Karli.

    I am now looking at crows and really all birds in a different light now.

    Most animals seem to have intelligence and emotion and are not mindless automatons. I have talked to friends who raised chickens. While they are not considered bright birds, they have said the birds have distinct personalities.

    I love how you imitate crows, especially when they start choking because they are so upset.

  15. Beth Ammons

    Hi. I have been feeding crows for years. The last feeder they had was on the deck and it was messy, so we constructed a feeder using a pole with a baffle to prevent raccoons and a board as a platform where I put their food. Now all my crows have disappeared! I’m so sad. Are they upset with me for moving their feeder? Are they afraid of the new feeder? Please share any ideas you have that might help me bring them back! Thank you!

  16. Hello Dr. Swift,
    Crows must recognize each other as individuals. Do we know how? Also, how well do you, or other researchers, do in recognizing individual crows? I’m assuming much of it is size, shapes, perhaps missing or irregular feather patterns, also behaviors–is there more?

    • We don’t know how Certainly vocalizations play a part by beyond that we really don’t know. I am certainly pretty bad at it myself unless these is some kind of distinctive feature like an injury or white feather.

  17. Keelan

    I’ll be sharing your story with my daughter, Kaleigh (age 12), who loved science and engineering-ish things until a year, or so, ago. Birds (and science) are cool – and for everyone!

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  21. Kirk Cormier

    Hi, my name is Kirk Cormier, a retired Biologist and long time bird watcher. I observed some very unusual bird behavior last year. I was deer hunting in a stand overlooking a food plot of grasses. There were crows feeding in it as usual when a Red-tailed Hawk flew down to a small tree very near the crows. I thought this was unusual as crows and hawks don’t usually get along well. The crows seem completely unafraid. Then three of the crows formed a loose line and began walking down the food plot. The hawk looked on and moved to a better watching branch as they moved on. It was fairly obvious that the crows were attempting to flush up something for the hawk and at the same time pick up some insects. This went on for 15 minutes or so and ended when the hawk flew off after nothing was flushed. It was the most interesting cross species cooperation I have ever witnessed. I thought you might find this interesting.

  22. Bill Clarkson

    Nice picture on the Corvid Research page of you and a handsome bird! Tell us a little more about him/her. I assume it’s a wild corvid who become your friend! As you might remember, I had a crow who was a member of my family, but was never caged or confined. Had a good deal and knew it! There are many crows where I live, and I’m a big fan of them. Bill Clarkson

  23. Terrie Black

    Hi All,
    I just love that this is a place where we can share about corvids (especially about crows). They get a bad rap because they are successful. People just don’t realize how wonderful they are, especially when you have the privilege of getting to know them. I also have several Jays that feed on peanuts from my patio (although they make quite a racket when they land on the rail). I am looking forward to going to England where I hope to meet some Rooks and Jack-daws. I want to see the ravens at the Tower of London, where the ravenmaster keeps his flock that fly freely during the day. How exciting. Anyone been there? They say that if the ravens go away the crown will fall and they have been there for quite a long time.

  24. Roberta Purves

    Hello, I don’t know if you’ll get this message. You wrote in an article that crows killing off bird species is “undeserving” I was born and raised in Torrance California lived there my whole life now 58 and raised my children there. I grew up with a bird and animal loving family. Every spring our neighborhood would explode in happy sparrows and many other birds getting the nesting together ready for the babies. You would see bird all year long all kinds everywhere. In the early 2000s I noticed more crow. Notice how they where starting to call out in very early mornings. Sit on top of high points. I had seen many raiding nests in trees. One time seen a crow upside down yanking a baby bird out of a street light cover. Fast forward 15 years. Miss, there are no birds other than seagull, pigeon and the crow in my neighborhood and all surrounding cities. The crow walk around and pick through the grasses for bugs. There are hundreds on golf courses, college campuses all over Palous Verdes. They have decimated the song bird. It has caused me great sadness that animal control never did anything about it. So the crow is I feel a flying pestilence. If it is legal to kill them then this will be my new sport. I love animals of all kinds love birds but the crow population needs to be considered and controlled. Thank you hope I get to read your views.

    • Hi Roberta. Well, as you saw in my article, my view is that your assessment of cause and effect are not supported by science. Most outdoor cat lovers don’t believe cats are responsible for the global decimation of birds, but unfortunately for their feelings and intuition, the data shows us they are also incorrect. I give that example because, as a self identified bird lover, I assume you appreciate the impacts of cats on birds. Can you consider that your attitude here is no different than someone supporting cat colonies? Or denying climate change? For a moment, consider what it might mean to your feelings about crows if you opened yourself up to the reality that study after study shows they are not responsibly for the general decline of other songbirds. Ask yourself what would the data be that could convince you of that and how is it really different from what is already available. If the answer in your heart of hearts is “nothing, you’re sure you’re correct, crows are awful, the science be damned” then there’s not much I can offer you. If that’s the case, all I can say is it’s a real shame that a that a self described animal lover chooses to hate and kill particular wildlife because of their misplaced feelings.

      • Excellent answer, Dr. Swift. If convenient, could you share some of the studies with us–assuming they are publicly available? I ask because I’m interested both in songbird decline and crows, particularly corvid intelligence. (I’m currently reading “The Genius of Birds.”)

      • Bill Clarkson

        This reply relates to the “dialog” between Roberta and Kaeli:
        Kaeli is right on. Science beats emotion, opinion, politics, … . I live in Manhattan Beach CA where we have many crows and songbirds. (BTW, crows are classified as songbirds, so it’s illegal to trap or kill them.) The species peacefully coexist. As for feral cats …

  25. Andrew

    Hi! I live in Portland and have a great relationship with the three crows near my house…they come when I whistle, and follow me home from the nearby coffee shop (and I feed them nuts).

    Lately however, it’s been disrupted by a pair of doves who witnessed the feeding, and and have taken up post on my roof and nearby phone poles for the past month. They’re around all the time and chase the crows away when they approach. I’ve taken to chasing off the doves when feeding, and the crows are now content to eat right next to me as I keep watch on the doves, who sit on my roof staring at us all.

    So, what’s the deal with these doves…is this common? I don’t really like these doves, but I respect their right to their roost and have no interest in getting rid of them (though I wish the crows would). Just wondering if you have any more info on this sort of behavior, and why the crows can’t defend themselves against these guys. Thanks!

  26. Hi, Dr. Swift and Roberta,
    Here is a CNN article about the North American bird extinction that is happening due to climate change. This was published today.
    And a quote from the article:
    “And more alarming than the loss of songs and flashes of color at the backyard feeder is what birds like the American robin tell us about the speed of the changes.”
    And here is another article from a major Canadian newspaper in 2016:
    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/report-finds-north-american-skies-quieter-by-15-billion-fewer-birds/article31876053/ And quote:
    “North America has more than a billion fewer birds than it did 40 years ago, with the snowy owl and the chimney swift just two of the better-known species in dramatic decline across the continent, a recent survey has found.”
    Dr. Swift, your response was spot on. The evidence has been growing for a long time. But we live in strange times, with epidemic levels of Americans adverse to scientific fact or inquiry – especially if those facts point to a need to alter their lifestyle and thinking. Even a little curiosity would help – step outside the comfort zone and reflect on what is going on, the long term effects of technology, chemicals, and destruction of habitat, etc. Oh well, let’s blame the crows because that’s easier. Crows have been around a long time, and yes, I have seen them stealing mockingbird babies, even blue jay babies from their nests near my house in San Pedro. (These were ravens actually, but Crows, and other animals have been known to do this). But this has been going on for millenia, and according to studies, the impact of crows on bird populations is small. The real culprit is human activity and the domino effect of our negative impact on ecosystems. Hello!
    I love all nature, and yet that love is so tinged with sadness now due to the knowledge of what is happening in front of our eyes. And a sense of helplessness and as those in power entrenched in stubborn ignorance, anthrocentricity, are not only ignoring this imminent calamity for even willfully pushing for further destruction – guaranteeing mass extinction.
    Once gone, these wonders of millions of years of evolution will never return and our planet will be a poor (uninhabitable) substitute of what it was before humans became so disconnected from nature and themselves.

  27. Clara Lebow

    Hi Kaeli,

    I caught your talk about Canada Jays at AOS this year, it was great! Your research is so cool; thanks for sharing it and your corvid photos with us! I’ve been wondering for awhile, do you ever let artists use your corvid photos for inspiration or reference?

    • Hi Clara! Sorry we didn’t make a formal introduction at AOS. Next time! Yes, I’m always happy to let folks use my photos for art. Do you want one?

      • Clara Lebow

        Hi Kaeli,

        I think AOS was insanely busy for everyone, and I remember how popular the Canada Jay talks were :). And, if you wouldn’t mind, I would love to paint one of your photos! I’ve seen some of them on Instagram, and I like how expressive the crows are.

  28. Dumbo

    Dr. Swift, you are hilarious! Enjoyed reading your replies here more than some of the comments!

    In May I was blessed with a crow fledging in my front yard. Initially the parents were ticked – every single time I walked out of my house, they were there screaming at me. It was funny – they didn’t acknowledge my boyfriend, or my neighbors, but I’m pretty sure they were planning on making me their next murder…. Which, as the hours wore on, it became less funny.

    I found their baby in a bush in my neighbor’s yard, right next to the sidewalk. I made sure his parents were watching and I got the little guy perched on my finger and put him “in” a large planter box against my house. (Technically, by definition, he was “in” but it’s a huge brick thing, full of dirt, so the “in” was all of maybe 4 inches) I also took all the palm fronds out of the neighbor’s yard and made a bit of a “fort” so the baby would be less noticeable to cats – but he climbed around exploring all the perches. It was darling! I have security cameras all around the house so I kept an eye on him all of the next day. Literally. ALL! Every time he screamed a parent was there immediately to tend to whatever he was screaming about – and during his screaming, the parents stopped threatening to kill me, which was especially cool. Little dude wandered off a couple times – once toward my driveway, so I’d get him back on my finger and move him back to his jungle (I understand the dangers of a bird staying in one place, but little dude wasn’t too quick and with the cats and cars he was safer against the house instead of roaming the concrete) Every time he wrapped his razor sharp baby talons around my finger, and he’d stare at me with those serial killer blue eyes, I’d just turn to mush! But I promise, I touched him as little as possible. I wouldn’t want him to think all humans would be not-mean to him….

    Six months later I have three crows hanging around. I do hope it’s the baby and his parents – I’d like to know he made it – but there are several clusters of three in the area so… who knows. But while two will keep their distance, one of them still bangs his beak on a branch whenever he sees me (he’s a real archie bunker!) The one will wander all the way up to the porch – or the patio table in the back. I’ve put out grapes and blueberries but there is no question that peanuts are the favorite! They will all sit on the overhead wire Sunday morning squawking to let me know they need more nuts – they are quite demanding, never letting me sleep in! But every so often I’ll be in the veg garden and one will sit up on the line and watch. Sometimes he gives me a caw that sounds different than the demands of food. Sometimes I can hear one in the tree doing a clickety thing – which I’ve already read here you can’t tell me what it means.. . But I’ve really become quite fond of my little trio of manslaughters – and I’m happy that I found your page… makes me feel just a tiny bit less crazy. But only a smidge 😉 Now i’m off to find your social handles for the photos!

    ~Feeling like Maleficent, Lookin like Dumbo

  29. Nate

    Hello Dr. Swift! I’ve followed you on Twitter for a while, and this seemed like as good a place as any to let you know this: I think what you’re doing (using social media as a platform for science, especially when it results in the spread of squid facts) is absolutely amazing. Thank you for doing what you do.

  30. Daniele Mozzi

    Hi Kaeli
    in the last 15 years I spent a lot of time in training many dogs with Mountain Rescue in Italy for searching pepole that are missing in woods or under avalches or buidings collapsed.
    I read about the “intelligence” of corvids years ago and I ask you an opinion about training corvids in searcing people lost in woods, or if you knowledge of someone that has studied for this or for others purposes.
    At the biginning I tought to ravens (Heinrich). May be that they are too shy?

    • Hi Daniele. So that was part of the motivation for the original facial recognition study. If you had hand reared birds I think it would be possible, but probably very difficult to train. And I think dogs still would have the advantage because they can recover people who are, for whatever reason, concealed.

  31. Ed Roberts

    Hi, I live in San Diego, CA. I’ve been observing a family of American Crows for 7-8 years and providing food for about 5 years. In my observations I’ve noticed each animal has a very specific “signature” call. These signature calls vary significantly from each other in pitch, frequency and number of caws, and probably other variables I can’t measure with my “old” ears. We have “Five Call” who has 5 short, quick, medium pitched caws. “Edgar” (of course) has 2 medium length, medium pitched caws, a short pause and then a short, medium pitched caw.

    My question is, how does each animal come up with its specific signature call? Are they linked somehow to the personality of the animal? Is there any research in this area?

    Thanks, Ed

    • Hi Ed! As far as I know there’s not much work in this area. I have a colleague though that would be better suited for this question. You can find his website here… https://www.lomapendergraft.com

      • Ed Roberts

        Kaeli, Thank you for your response. I contacted Loma and he provided a technical (very technical) paper on a subject close to my question, I think. It’ll take awhile to digest the paper, of course but it may lead me to additional avenues of information. Thank you.

  32. Lou brodnik

    My wife and I heard you at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History last February and we both enjoyed your presenation. I decided to try crow feeding with peanuts, but only got blue jays. I think I have identified individuals by the white splotches which form different L patterns. One is a reverse L and that one folds the left over the right wing. The other L’s are right over left. I remember you saying birds are right/left dominant as we are and I need to be sure that applies to wing folding. My system only works if they are consistent. Can I count on the right/left dominance to be consistent?

    • Hmm Lou, you know I have never heard of whether or not wing folding is dominant! But after folding my arms a few times I realize that I would only do it one way. So I bet it’s consistent for birds too!

  33. Jessie Dye

    Do you have any Zoom classes or ways to follow your work?

  34. Vaishnavi

    Hi Kaeli
    Two weeks back, I found a hurt baby crow, and other adult crows were cawing around it. I was in my yard and tried to feed it some water, but it looks like the adult crows perceived me as a threat. I initially thought the baby crow went away, but it had taken shelter under the bushes and the next morning came to the front door and kept cawing and I fed it some food for two days. In a few days recovered and finally learned to fly. But every time any of us come out the crows would dive bomb us and not let us in the yard. Now the baby crow finally learned to fly and I notice that I unconsciously sing (being a musician) whenever I water my plants and though the crows have flown away, every time I am in the yard singing, the adult crows recognize my voice and divebombs close to me aggressively. Can crows recognize human singing and voices? It might seem like a strange and silly question, but it seems to recognize me from my voice every time I go to my yard.

    • Hi Viasnavi, I know that crows can learn human accents so it stands to reason they could learn specific voices as well, though I don’t believe anyone as looked into this! Interested question in any case and I hope they make peace soon.

  35. Simon Haddow

    Hi there, today I was working in my yard and a large adult Rook approached me almost like a cat would. It was open to a little stroke then I realised it couldn’t fly.
    It was trying to take flight every so often and failed.
    Some common crows where flying above it and every time they called the Rook hunkered down and buried it’s head down so I scooped it up and placed it into the footwell of my van where it just sat.

    I kept checking on it and it kept sprawling its wings out and tucking it’s head down, almost like it just wanted to go to sleep.

    I tried feeding it but it wasn’t interested, it was happy just getting a stroke.

    Sadly within the hour it lied on its side, made a few gasps and passed away.

    I though all of this behaviour was strange and Rooks are rarely seen alone, could this maybe just an old bird that didn’t want to die alone as crazy as this may sound?


    • Hi Simon, animals do sometimes very strange things when they die. I won’t speculate as to its motivations because there’s really no way to know what was going through its mind. But I encourage you to hold on to this as an incredibly unique moment with a wild animal.

      • John O.

        Some day I’m going to write a long story abut my experience with my neighbor crows (and squirrels and jays and house finches, some of whom know to knock on my kitchen window when they need a peanut.) But re your experience:

        The old daddy crow who lived in the big firs southwest of my house–at least I think it was him; of the three dozen crows that come to food in the winter, I can tell exactly one, who has a big gray scar on his breast, from the others–old daddy crow, whom I’ve been feeding for 20 years, and who had come to trust me within about seven feet, was in my yard last summer, and acting sick or injured, not flying more than a few feet. I left peanuts, meat, and water for him; he let me within about four feet then. Later in the day I thought about catching him to see if I could help, and when he climbed into a planter and hid under the peppers, I came within about two feet. He climbed out again, obviously not wanting to be caught, and he would have taken my forcing the issue as a betrayal and never trusted me again, so I thought better of it.

        I doubt that any animal less brainy than a cetacean, elephant, or human “knows it’s about to die,” but I have seen odd behavior from sick animals on the brink. But I think it’s very rare for an ill or injured wild animal to solicit help from a human, unless it’s had human contact or otherwise learned to trust. We’re the enemy–even when we’re not–and they know it.

        My neighbors found old crow dead in their back yard a day or two later. I think he just died of old age. I rescued him from their trash, put him in a bucket of dirt to decompose, and I have his skull; his beak is much longer, and his (amazing) brain case larger, than a young-of-the-year crow I found apparently hit by a car a couple of years ago.

        I think one of old crow’s young has inherited his territory and nesting tree; he and a female are raising two chicks this summer. IF this is the same crow, he “sings” to himself on occasion, crow family talk when there are no other crows around, poorly imitating the neighbor’s chickens, and he puffs his head feathers in a pompador when it’s cold, so I call him Elvis. He will come to within six or seven feet of me, sit on the hops hedge, and caw loudly to let me know he’s there, demanding peanuts. And when there’s food on the compost heap, or I dig in the garden with the broadfork, he’ll come to within about five feet of me to hunt bugs and worms in the turned soil. Sometimes he’ll stray to within four feet, remember that I’m a human, and jump back a foot or so. I move over and dig a different patch to give him room to hunt.

        If that rook let you pet him, he was used to humans. I’ve seen crows raised by people learn to trust most people: wild crows like Elvis may learn to trust one human (to within five feet; the one with the gray scar will come to within four feet when I have food for him, and some years back, he absolutely hated me for handling (rescuing) one of his chicks, so they can forgive, but it takes a while), but that doesn’t mean they trust anyone else. They’re smarter than that.


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  37. Carol

    Hi corvid lovers, I wonder how corvids worldwide are dealing with the lack of snacks during the corona virus lock down. I live behind a highschool with busy athletic fields. Most weekends there are games, people in the stands, and lots of tasty food left behind. Now that we are all hiding at home, the early morning gang of crows doesn’t stop by the school parking lot to forge. I have heard about rats starving due to lack of available food in cities. i wonder how crows are doing.

    • I wonder hat too, Carol. Fortunately, crows still have lots of other resources right now in the form of insects, eggs/baby birds, and and the ability to travel to places where people are hanging out. I wish I was in a better position to test this though!

  38. Mark Mason

    We’ve been watching a pair of crows over the last few days and are intrigued by their behaviour and were wondering if you could shed some light on what they are doing.
    One of the crows appears detached, remote and not very alert, unless it hears a distant call of another crow and then it seems distressed and calls back a lot. Otherwise it is relatively still, almost sleepy. The other crow, who is always near the first is very alert and active, gathering lots of food. We’ve watched the alert crow gently appearing to groom or nibble the first crow around the neck and shoulder. The ‘slow crow’ doesn’t really respond.
    We’re intrigued by this relationship. It looks, though our human eyes to be one crow caring for another crow with some kind of neurological condition. The slow crow can fly, but does very little else. I’m trying to video them but we’re only visiting the area for another day.
    Any thoughts would be very welcome.
    Thanks for your informative blog.

    Kind regards,

  39. Andrew Raines

    Hey I saw you on a brain time YouTube video and I saw you where in Washington and looked you up because you researched corvids. I work outside trimming trees and in south Seattle I saw goldish/brown to off white coloration on a juvenile crows. Yes, there was more than one. To confirm it I have pics. One even flew over to a friend or mom. Have that pic too. I can tell you the address if your interested.

    • Very cool Andrew! You saw some caramel crows!

      • Carol

        We live in south seattle, and my daughter’s boyfriend spent a couple of days creeping around the south end of lake washington and found the caramel crows. He was super excited about it!

      • hahaah, funny about that. I never saw a reaction like it. “my” crows would often leave their molten feathers in my yard and I would gather them and stick them into the frame of the outside door. they never complained. maybe they thought I was just confirming their clubhouse. 🙂

      • Christine

        Try holding one of their feathers up for them to see. It will be interesting to see if your crows react the same.

      • Venita Anne

        I use to have one (1/2 breed Raven? Its tail is pointed) and its mate, a crow (Its tail is flat) come by all winter here in Maine. I too picked up the huge feather and waved it at them as if to say TY!, now they rarely return! 😐

      • Hi Venita, one feather wave probably wouldn’t do enough damage to keep them away like that. So I wouldn’t blame yourself for their change in scenery. Lots of things can influence moves like that!

      • I never had that experience, even showing them the feathers they left behind. I just said “thank you” and then left them some more food. They left me a lot of feathers. 🙂

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  41. Christine Keating

    Ms. Swift, we have a wonderful family of crows that bring their young to our yard for generations. I was in the yard with 8-10 around me today and held up a crow feather to show them. They went insane with alarm calls and eventually flew of. I was unsure it was really me and the feather but just repeated it and the same thing happened. Same reaction as if I was holding a dead crow I feel, but it was one lone crow feather.
    Could me holding one lone feather really cause this much distress?
    I was stunned and hope I can rebuild trust.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Christine. It’s a bit shocking but yes, it can. I’ve made that mistake too. Same thing when I picked up a nest that had blown out of a tree. With time they’ll get over it though, don’t worry!

  42. Hi,
    Thank you for this blog. It was exciting to find other people who love crows. I do have a question for you – we have crows who hang out by our house and who follow us on neighborhood walks when we take the dog out. That is because we drop peanuts along the way. My question is this, sometimes they vocalize when they see us, and sometimes they just fly along with us and land on the wires as they go. I want to be able to vocalize appropriately back, say hello, let them know we have peanuts, whatever, so… is there a resource to learn the appropriate vocalizations? I am curious as to why they vocalize sometimes and not others, etc… Sorry if this is an odd question, but we have spent years getting to know the crows, and if I can learn to communicate better, it would be great. Thank you in advance for your time.

    • I wish there was something like a “guide to crows vocalizations” that was actually legit. I have a few blogposts on crow communication you can look for but unfortunately there is still so much we don’t know about their calls. So I say just keep watching and looking for patterns in when and how they call. In that way we are all corvid researchers!

  43. Bonnie Carroll

    About 10 years ago I was fortunate to witness crows (a flock?) perform a sort of ritual or socal event. I woke early morning to an unusual cocaphony of cawing. I live in the woods and often see or hear crows. I looked out and saw the trees skirting the yard FULL of crows. The noise was intense. Then three crows flew to the center of the clearing. They seem smallish. They stood in a triangle facing each other and did a little foot stomping dance. I recall the others were subdued. After a bit, (a few minutes?) there was a very loud single crow cawing. The three crows flew up and all the crows flew off in the same direction (south) making a lot of fluttering and calling. I was in awe. The usual number of crows were around after that. Any idea what that was?! Bonnie

  44. I live in Richmond CA. When I was in elementary school in Arkansas in the 1950s I raised three crows, one one year, and two the next. They came from nests removed from power poles by a lineman. After staying around all summer, they left in September after increasing absences. I believe they joined the wild crows.

    This past summer, I raised a crow given to me by the person who picked it up. https://richmondstandard.com/community-views/2020/09/10/covid-the-corvid-free-as-a-bird/.

    Like my Arkansas crows, this one got into the pattern of increasing absences. It has been gone for a week, and I don’t expect to see it again.

    Because I wrote about my experience, several rehab center volunteers have been shaming me and predictions the crow will not assimilate and will come to no good end.

    There are plenty of wild urban crows around here, and he/she has been seen with them.

    What do you think?

    • Hi Tom, generally speaking I side with the rehab folks on this. There’s obviously a chance it will assimilate, but many do not, or even if they do, are killed by because because they are too habituated. No sense shaming you though. You were trying to do the right thing. But it’s something I try and discourage before it starts.

      • John O.

        I kinda disagree. If the animal is too young to survive without help, and you truly watched long enough to be certain its parents aren’t around, you’re saving it from likely death and at least giving it a chance. I did exactly the same thing with a kestrel my sisters brought back from a horseback ride one summer: I volunteered to take care of it, reached for it—and it sank one claw’s talons into the ball of my thumb. Kill it and cut the claw off? Hurt like…. Or let it hang upside down over the shop bench until it decided to let go, which it did after 20 or 30 minutes? I put meat and water where it could reach them, closed it in the shop overnight, and fed it again the next morning, after which it walked to me at the other end of the work bench to see what I was doing. It bonded with me that fast, and from then on, trusted me implicitly, liked having its head scratched, fed from my hand, seemed to like hanging around with me and was always curious about what I was doing. It would let no one else handle it–I did not “habituate it to humans.” I habituated it to me.
        I helped it learn to fly by having it fly across the shop to food in my (gloved!) hand. When it could fly well I started letting it out, after its breakfast; It would came back after a couple of hours, beg for food, and let me put it back in the big, open (40 x 40 foot) shop building. It stayed away longer every day, and was obviously not as hungry when it returned; it was teaching itself to hunt, probably starting on grasshoppers. When a neighbor left the big shop door open one day, it flew off and did not return. If it was hungry, it would have. Falconers often do that, get a young bird through its first, hardest winter, make sure it knows how to feed itself, then free it. I don’t see a problem with that, or with having friendships with wildlife. I am wildlife, part of nature, too. Being friends with animals makes me more human.
        I’m “friends” with a couple of the neighbor crows, which means they trust me within four (Gray Crow) or five (Elvis) feet, when I have food for them, or (Elvis—he thinks he’s a singer–) when I’m turning the soil with the broadfork, and turning up tasty grubs and such. I watch; he doesn’t show any of my neighbors that much trust. Corvids are very much smart enough to figure out who is a friend—although it can take them years–and who is otherwise just one of those pesky humans best avoided. I know of crows that were trusting of multiple people, but those were raised by humans from very young.
        I had Elvis coming to my kitchen window for food, last spring, but I’ve been putting it farther into the back yard this summer. I think it’s Elvis; I can’t tell most crows one from another. I have scrub jays at the window sill, but they grab a peanut and jet; a couple of them will hang around long enough to grab two. Most of the squirrels also grab a peanut and run–I think they and the jays stash more than they eat–but the littlest squirrel will sit on the window sill and eat peanuts. But they all know the difference between window open, and window closed, and few of them will come to food with the window open. They don’t so much trust me, as they know I’m a crazy person who leaves his peanuts where they’re easy to steal. But that works for me, too.

  45. Pingback: In Conversation With: Dr Kaeli Swift – Stunning art created by, with and for women, trans and non-binary people.

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  47. David

    Curious if you have seen corvids and crows interacting. I have been feeding a family of crows for a little over a year and lately have noticed that a red tail hawk not infrequently will drop in on their meal time. The crows will defer, but do not chase or harry the hawk.

  48. Eliaz Ruis

    You are beautiful! Congratulations on your Ph.D.

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  50. Julia

    Dear Kaeli, your blog is one of the best things that happened to me in the last months, since I am working on my masters thesis about relationships between corvids and humans (my discipline is cultural anthropology, in which I’d love to do my PhD about human-bird-relationships, too). Being only a hobby ornithologist ethological papers normally aren’t really my business, they are quite hard to understand and above all I am busy enough with practicing my english skills again. 😀 Your blog is rich but at the same time good to read and easy to understand. AND at the moment you seem to bring up exactly the topics I’m curious about. THANK YOU! And all the best from Germany – Julia

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