About me

I’m Kaeli Swift, a PhD candidate at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington.  I have been passionate about animal behavior all my life, but what started as an early love affair with wolves has turned into a fierce ardor for corvids.  Specifically, my area of research is the thanatology of crows.

thanaCrows, like a number of other animals that includes non-human primates, elephants, dolphins and other corvids, appear to respond strongly once they discover a dead member of their own species.  Among these animals the responses can include: tactile investigation, communal gathering, vocalizing, sexual behaviors, or aggression.  For people who live or work closely with animals it’s tempting to anthropomorphize these behaviors based on our opinions of how smart or emotional the animals we care about are.  But as a scientist my job is to separate my personal feelings about animals, and use research techniques that allow me to objectively ask questions about animal behavior.  By conducting field experiments and employing brain scanning techniques developed by our team, I hope to gain insight into the purpose of crow funerals.  Perhaps they play a utilitarian purpose of learning about danger or social opportunities, or perhaps they are akin to the grieving process we experience as humans.  The brain scanning technique we use allows us to peer into the brain of a living, thinking crow, without ever having to euthanize the animal.

Studies that provide bridges from humans to other animals are critical to fostering a culture that respects and protects the natural world, and this is one of the reasons I most enjoy working with crows.   No matter their feelings for them, nearly everyone has a story about crows, even those people who otherwise feel quite separated from nature.  The fact that they are conspicuous and thrive in all kinds of human dominated environments, means that crows are a uniquely accessible animal, and offer a wealth of opportunities to connect people of all interests and backgrounds to science.  It’s my hope that our research will provide a more compassionate lens with which to understand crows, and contribute to a growing movement of corvid enthusiasts.  Feel free to ask questions or share your own stories in the comment section!

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225 responses to “About me

  1. oxxygen

    Hi Kaeli, enjoyed the recent corvid coverage in my local Mercer Island Reporter Newspaper. I raised crows in my youth and have read about them ever since. Some ideas towards future research: 1) Grab a copy of The thing with feathers (Noah Strycker). Start with the last chapter on the albatross then return to the beginning and read sequentially. 2) Compare funeral rites of crows, ravens, and other corvid species 3) Explore neural complexity…is there a greater density of dendritic connections or mylenation compared to other bird species 4) Is there an epigenomic activity bias in corvids towards faster adaption 5) Do corvids experience sleep stages as we do…and do they experience “second sleep”, bimodal or polyphasic sleep and towards what outcome. 6) can corvids of one species adapt to socializing and learning from corvids of another species. 7) Is mating behavior constrained to procreation only, or are there hints of mating behavior towards social cohesion outside of strictly procreational criteria. 8) To the extent that corvids display more adaptable behavior, to what extent could the concept of mindfulness be explored 9) How is migratory outcome for corvids calculated versus other bird species? Best regards! oxygen@hotmail.com Mercer island resident.

    • Hi Oxxygen! Thanks for your thoughtfulness and appreciation of these birds. Your ideas are all very compelling and, if you’re interested, I’ll attempt to address what’s already known about the questions you raised. 1) I haven’t read that but I will. I love a good bird book! 2) Some work has already been done on Scrub-Jays and I can tell you what they do and what I’ve seen the crows do looks indistinguishable during the funeral. What may be very different, however, is how they respond after the fact. I know similar rituals are reported in magpies though these haven’t been a focus of study so far. 3) This would be fascinating and frankly I don’t know what’s already been done to this effect. I can tell you that what I do know is the overall size of corvid and parrot brains compared to other birds are quite different. In addition, the amount of their brain that is dedicated to what we think of as the executive learning part-the prefrontal cortex (aka the nidopallium caudolaterale in birds) is much greater. 4) I have no idea! But sounds like something I should explore. 5) They do not. Birds sleep is still poorly understood but we do know that they sleep the right and left hemispheres separately, i.e the literally sleep with one eye open. 6) There is certainly some of this going on, for instance when crows alarm call around dead crows I’ve seen jays join in and scold also. But if jays will learn to scold the face of a person who harmed crows, I do not know. I’ll ask John Marzluff if this is something he noticed while conducting the face study. 7) Crows are monogamous and maintain their relationships year round. This is even extended to offspring who will often stay on the next year to help raise their siblings. In ravens, these extended pair bonds are important for things like territory and food defense. 8) I’d like you learn more about what you mean by mindfulness. 9) We generally call crows partially migratory. Some may move about but many will stick around all year, especially pairs. Why some leave and where they go remains mysterious but is the object of study for the east coast crowers that include Kevin McGowen, Anne Clark, Ben Eisenkop and Jennifer Campbell-Smith. They recently successfully funded a project to look at just that. You can learn more about them here: https://experiment.com/projects/what-are-the-patterns-and-effects-of-american-crow-movements. Keep thinking about these questions and I’ll keep thinking of ways to tackle them!

    • lhumphre

      Hi Kaeli,
      I live in Kent and have been dealing with a ”crow problem” for the past 5 – 6 years. Three years ago I heard if you leave a dead crow in your yard the crows will leave. I found a dead crow about a mile away and brought it home. It worked! Within a couple days the crow left! I then had 3 years of crowless harrasment. Then this spring a dad and mom crow moved into my yard to raise their young one. The harrasment started all over again. I was looking for another dead crow when my neighbor and I found one in my yard under an azalea bush. I moved it to the backyard and within a couple days the crow family moved about a block away. I can hear their distance caws especially the higher pitched sounds of the young one. But they no longer harrase me. Nice option to bring peace back to the block.

  2. Elizabeth

    I enjoyed reading the article about your research in the Mercer Island Reporter. I once observed a crow ‘funeral’ such as described. A crow literally fell from the trees overhead, dead at my feet. The resulting almost immediate gathering of birds and their cacophony was amazing and rather frightening. I wondered whether the crows held me responsible for the death. I’d not heard of such behaviour before but the huge number of crows that gathered in minutes didn’t seem random.

  3. Hi Kaeli,
    A few days ago, a crow was killed via electrocution (neighborhood power lines etc..) in front of our house. The short story is that I thought that I’d given the other crows enough time to grieve before moving their friend so the kids in the neighborhood didn’t “mess” with it etc.. I moved the bird to one side of our house and essentially made the (really big) mistake by letting them watch me do this. Because in the past, the birds “knew” me as the guy who would hang out in the back yard and toss peanuts out to them, I thought I was “safe” from upsetting them by letting them see me move their friend.
    Needless to say, it’s been close to a week now and while walking to dinner last night two or three of them are still clearly not happy with me. And while they didn’t “dive-bomb” me, they were very vocal in their displeasure about me moving their friend. My question is, (as silly as this may sound) is their a way to get back into their good graces? Any thoughts or recommendations on how to do that, if it’s even possible?

    thanks for your time!

    • Hi Michael! Your experience is fascinating, thank you for sharing it with me. I’ve long wondered if it would be possible for our “dangerous” people to redeem themselves amongst the crows but, alas, I haven’t yet had the time to investigate this. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for you to conduct some citizen science. My advice would be to continue feeding them and perhaps up the quality of food you’re offering. Try eggs, meat, cat food, or tater tots. And then let me know what happens!

      • Thanks for the reply and information, Kaeli! I’ll up the “food-ante” and see what happens. I wonder if because we seem to be in the middle of “nesting-season” if they’re feeling extra vulnerable… They seem to be extra/exceptionally loud and “active” in our Wallingford neighborhood at the moment!
        take care,
        Michael

      • Carole K.

        Hi, Kaeli,
        I wondered if you ever heard back from Michael regarding his success with getting back in the good graces of his neighborhood crows? Also, I just wanted to say how much I love your blog. As a huge corvid fan (I have lots of Ravens and Crows in my neighborhood and enjoy their presence, am fascinated by and feel endeared to them. I have a question about a very bizarre newcomber in our neighborhood, who looks like a cute version of a crow, but I doubt it is a baby due to its odd call. It is all black, has a crowlike beak, but the head seems a little like a “manga” crow, slightly larger and baby faced. It makes a call that sounds like two clicks and then a radar ping. When I first heard its call I thought someone had an electronic device going off at regular intervals in their backyard. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS THIS BIRD? It was sitting with the crows on low wires about the trees in my yard. Which is why I thought it might be adopted by them somehow. Thanks!

      • Hi Carol, no I never did hear back from Michael. Curious about that myself! As for your mystery bird. I’m thinking it’s either a crow with a stunted beak (these birds are rare but very cute because their smaller beak gives them a more baby-like face) or some kind of blackbird. Crows can make a variety of really unusual sounds, so I wouldn’t discount it on the vocalization alone. Did you notice the eye color at all? If the eyes were yellow, or the body was much smaller than a typical crow then we’re probably looking at some kind of blackbird (brewers or maybe a grackle). Flip through the blackbirds in a field-guide and let me know what you come up with!

      • Michael Cotta

        Hello Kaeli AND Carol,
        Apologies for not replying about this sooner. YES! I’m happy to say that our little group ( or crew) is back daily! Usually between 7:45 – 8:00a.m. back on our garage voicing their requests for breakfast. We’re back to watching them and squirrels “duel” for peanuts and putting on a show whilst we sit back and enjoy our coffee!

  4. Why does the corvid grieve? You will never learn with a PET scanner. You will induce such trauma by capturing the bird and sticking it in a machine – you expect to discern the effect of showing it scary pictures under such circumstances?

    And I doubt we should worry about “anthropomorphizing” corvids. We already “anthropomorphize” ourselves because our knowledge of ourselves is largely imaginary. Why do humans grieve? We don’t know. We don’t even know why we go to sleep at night.

    Other than that, it’s nice that you watch corvids. I also find them interesting.

    • rkeller4, you’re absolutely right, I doubt humanity will ever devise a way to fully understand the emotional lives of animals, even with the most sophisticated of techniques. But asking why, or even if, they grieve is not the goal of the research. We are still at the early most stages of approaching that question and for now, we are simply interested in what the workings of their brain might reveal about the neurology of how they are thinking about different “dangerous” things, like dead crows or people or predators. To your other point, whenever I manipulate an animal, either in the lab or field, I think deeply about the costs to the animal vs the benefit of the knowledge. I don’t expect everyone to arrive at the same conclusion in this matter, and I’m glad there are people like you providing a voice of concern and keeping this thought ever present in my mind. Enjoy watching the birds!

  5. Skippy

    Interestingly enough you can hold a crow on your left hand and anger it with your right hand and it will remain angry at the right hand for years while still remaining content to sit on the left hand as it does not see the hand that did not anger it as a threat or recognize that one hand is even connected to the other but rather individual entities with separate actions.

    It would be interesting to know if a crow gets mad at the hand that picks up a dead crows body or the whole human . Anyway to figure that out ? Thanks
    Corvidear

    • Skippy, I’m afraid I can’t speak to their ability to compartmentalize different parts of the body, as you’ve described it. I can tell you that, in our research, the birds are making a connection to the human face specifically. We’ve show that by using masks during the initial dangerous event, and then allowing different people to subsequently wear that mask. Even if the body shape, gender or skin color of the mask wearer changes, the birds will continue to respond to that face for many years. To some extent they are learning conspicuous clothing as well. Cheers,

  6. skippy

    Yep , good stuff .
    Perhaps a false prosthetic arm minus the hand would give a clue , if it did not mater then one could assume with some surety that indeed crows teach people lessons via very directional and intentional corrective criticism.
    That is indeed smart and planing for a long term relationship.
    As is the case , if a crow finds a insect that could normally cause it harm via a sting or a bite with that ability to do injury removed it may very well take advantage and simply eat a insect it otherwise would steer clear of and so comes the question of the hand .
    the poster farther up this chain that asked if there was a way to make peace with the crows he angered for picking up their dead comrade, perhaps he or she should tuck their hand into their coat and see what happens ?

    Sincerely
    Corvidear.

    • Hi Corvidear,

      When I removed the crow I was wearing gloves and used a shovel to move the bird. However, I have noticed a bit of progress in my attempt to winning back my winged buddies or at least a buddy. One of the birds has been coming around both in the mornings and evenings for peanuts and treats. I get the impression that he/she would like to hang around a little long but periodically, some of the other birds start to make a fuss and fly over so he takes off.
      It’s almost like they have to remind my little buddy that our place is “off limits”. Hopefully, things will keep improving.

      mc

  7. Faith

    Two years ago I heard a thump on the side of the house and looked out to see a crow on the lawn, hurt and apparently in great pain. When I went outside to see what I could do for the bird, many other crows were gathered in the trees carrying on loudly. I wrapped the very large crow in a towel and put it in an open box. I then took the bird to PAWS, thinking maybe they could help. However, the bird passed away in my car before I could get there (I heard the very loud “death exhale.” PAWS said it was one of the largest, and healthiest looking crows they had seen. For two years the neighborhood crows completely avoided our yard and surrounding trees, whereas before that crows death they were nested in our back yard. They are back now, and still seem to keep a wary eye on me! What is the average life span of a crow? Just wondering how long I may be remembered as someone who carted away one of their own!

    • If crows make it to breeding age (between 3-4), 17-21 years old is typical based on the work of Dr. Kevin McGowen at Cornell. So, I’m afraid, you may be remembered for a very long time. But keep offering that olive branch!

  8. Murray Brown

    I find your research interesting.
    I’ve watched the corvids for many years, both at home and in the forest where I’ve worked for many years now.
    (Gifford Pinchot National Forest.)
    Their behavior seems different in human populated areas vs. the wilderness, where they are much less anonymous.
    I used to caww and it would usually get a nearby corvid to respond with cawws then fly in to check me out within minutes.
    I got the impression they didn’t like it, me fooling them, as thy would usually fly off without a further word, once I was spotted…and not come back.
    I quit doing this a few years back, and now just say Hi in human language with non-harsh tones, and sometimes they stick around much longer.
    It’s been over thirty years I’ve worked out in the forest, and especially in the Winter, am sometimes the only human within miles. Jays, specifically Canadian Jays ( camp robbers, gray jays) seem to be the most common in Winter).
    The number of birds that visit ‘once a day’ is fairly high.
    I would guess I am well known by now in their communities.
    I don’t hunt or kill anything, and have shown myself to be harmless, yet present all this time.

    Lately, at home in the small town of Carson, WA, where a crow community has been present for many years, I’ve renewed my interest in them, after putting a tree stand up around 80 ft. in a tree on my property.

    A couple were upset when I first went up there and sat.
    After about an hour they seemed to accept me a bit and quit circling and cawwing.
    I plan on leaving some treats next time, as sort of a peace offering.
    I don’t want them moving away.

    A neighbor on a different side of my property, shot some crows about ten years ago, and the whole community moved further North out of certain trees there..they still rarely use those trees, and never nest in them anymore.

    The tree with my stand is on the Southern edge of their newer area.

    –Just some info for your thought, or feel free to ask me questions, or give me ideas for non-crow-stressful experiments.

    I have some concerns over some of your studies, being there seem to be some longer term effects on the behavior of crows, indicating possible stress, from our fooling around with their…emotions?
    There is actually a chance ( however small?) that you are affecting the whole Seattle corvid community in a stressful way, which is additional to their ordinary environmental challenges.
    I have seen it happen in the forest with some of our studies on wildlife… undue stress.
    Please keep in mind, what benefits to humans really are from your studies.
    When you catch and release them later, after the laboratory parts of your studies, it has got to be hard on the families, and well emotional being of the lives you are studying.

    We as humans have a very bad habit of torturing , whether lightly or not, other creatures, while trying to understand them.
    Please don’t take this lightly.
    There are many things to learn, by being as invisible as possible.
    I have learned much more about animals and their communication in the forest, by shutting up and watching, listening, smelling..etc.
    Yes I believe it is probably a multi-species communication network, with some playing larger parts than others.

    Good luck with them city birds.
    As with people, I would guess cultures can vary widely within small areas there.
    ( I was originally raised in Seattle, walking distance from the UW).

    Hope I didn’t bore you greatly.
    Best wishes,

    Murray Brown

    • Murray, I admire your quiet respect for these birds. I hope your relationship with your territorial pair continues into inspire joy and curiosity. As for you concerns, trust that I do not take it lightly. For me, seeing the thousands of crows that are killed across the world simply due to annoying people, is an incredibly compelling reason to understand when and why crows choose to avoid places. If my research stresses a few birds out, but the knowledge can become a tool that less empathic communities can use to get rid of birds without the use of shotguns, I think it’s worth it. Not all will agree and that’s okay. Your voice is an important one-keep sharing it.

  9. Tobin

    Really interesting work. Having been dive-bombed by crows on two separate occasions here in Western Washington state, I still give a nervous look over my shoulder when crows are overhead – but growing up in Iowa, where I feel like there were more crows in general, this never once happened in nearly my 25 years living there.
    Of course, this could be random/coincidence – but in your research, have you observed crows behaving differently in different regions? Is this perhaps a crows response in a more densely populated/urban area?
    Thanks!

    • Oh yes, even within Washington Dr. Marzluff has found differences in their behavior. Iowa is a much more agricultural state, particularly grain crops, and I imagine there’s a plethora of farmers taking shotguns to problem crows. In areas where crows face higher persecution from humans, they’re less likely to take the risk of an ostentatious attack on a person.

  10. kate

    I have found the opposite. We have raised a crow family in our garden for 3 years. The two adults were very close to being hand fed. Last week, we found them dead in the alley across the street. My husband, in full view of one of their children and at least a couple of neighborhood crows, removed the parents. There was no crow funeral and the childrem are now back and happily taking food from us. I think it might have more to do with how familiar they are with you – and they realize that you are doing the decent thing by removing the crows and giving them a ‘human’ funeral, rather than just leaving them there.

    • I have heard accounts like your as well. People who have previously been kind to crows and find no resistance when they approach dead crows or injured birds. Then again I also hear stories of people devastated because the birds they’ve fed for years scolded them over the very same thing. In either case we simply to do not have enough data to know which response is more representative. But how fascinating it would be to find out!

      • kate

        But then aren;t you researching the wrong thing? Shouldn’t you be researching what makes a crow attack versus not attack? Everyone is under the impression that they will attack if you mess with a dead crow, but obviously that isn’t true, I think that looking into a person’s history with a crow and how they interact might be more important. I’m also not a fan of catching the birds and taking them into a lab for testing that might freak them out. If you understand the brain of a crow you would understand that it will be very traumatic. Science is great up to a point.

      • One step at a time. First we have to establish a baseline for the behavior using novel people. I find that they scold people associated with these events much more often then not. With that knowledge in tow, we could then go on to show that, like your experience suggests, they are much less likely to exhibit this behavior if they know the person. This would suggest, scientifically, they have an understanding of human intent. If, on the other hand, we started with people they know, and they didn’t respond during these events it would be easy for someone to claim that the results only show they they simply don’t respond to dead crows and their relationship to the person has nothing to do with it, which I think you can agree wouldn’t be accurate! As far as your concerns, I hear you. I spend 70 hours a week watching these birds and care for them deeply. If any of the birds we’ve tested gave me the impression they were suffering after release I wouldn’t do it. But I understand that for some people, there is no knowledge worth manipulating an animal. I wish more people felt the way you did. Then we wouldn’t have thousands of them shot to control roosts or for fun during hunting season. My hope is that my research provides insight into when and why they avoid places, so hopefully we can use those as non-lethal tools to control them. Alternatively, hopefully seeing some scientific data supporting that crows acknowledge dead crows will persuade some people to stop killing them.

  11. Robert Becken

    I have had some very interesting experiences with crows going back over 15 years. They have more than just facial recognition.They know schedules and have an understanding of time. I have an adversarial relationship with the ones in my neighborhood. I just saw the King 5 story. I will not be home nor do I have access to the email address I gave the form. If you would like the details, contact me after Sunday – going to the ocean for the 4th.

  12. Philly

    I just want to say that these naysayers who berate you for doing lab work with birds are absurd and I hope your team does not take them seriously.

  13. skippy

    I have found over the years that people that hunt crows for blood sport are generally the ones that complain the loudest over any research project that might shed light on just how intelligent and socially structured they are.
    I can only assume they fear that when the evidence is compiled it may very well be determined that killing crows for blood sport is somewhat like hunting in a nursery and those that did it considered less then , shall we say well adjusted by human standards ?

    Corvidear

  14. kate

    I wasn’t berating anyone and I am certainly not a crow murderer. I do wonder why, when the UW has already researched crows over and over again, yet another study has to happen.

  15. Nancy Mizrahi

    Good for you! Very interesting. I especially think your research can affect the negative opinion many of us have thinking they are such a nusance…I had forgotten how intelligent they are. Good luck to you!

  16. Kathy Meszler

    Hi, Loving your research. Living in rural upstate NY i have been living alongside the crow population a very long time. Not always joyfully ! I remember how they use to irritate me with their early morning chatter. Took a very long time but now they are one of my greatest joys of the day. Why?
    Two years ago I witnessed a “crow funeral”. Yes ! changed my perspective of the bird dramatically. Still brings chills and goosebumps to me to talk of it. People think I have lost my Mind. Living on a secluded mostly wooded 7.5 acre lot the crows have always been here. One morning saw a dead crow in lower yard ????? And as quick as i noticed it, the funeral began. It was sudden. Annoyed birds calling out. Coming in in droves of 3-4 at a time. Sitting in nearby tree tops, a few landing near deceased. Last maybe 10 minutes. Spin tingling as I watched from the deck door in awe! And as abruptly as it started in ended. It was very clear to me that they felt the death !!! Crows being emotional. Having feelings. Eye opener !! When they all seemed to disperse i gathered up the deceased and buried it near the flag pole. My place has been called Corvus Lodge ever since. I have been feeding the crows and trying to bond. It has taken close to two years to really acquire their trust. Last winter they roosted nearby. How amazing! Droves of them flying over a 1 1/2 period of time. Treetops covered with crows. I would video them trying to capture the true splendor of it. An now my local family is sharing their young with us. We have two juveniles feeding in the yard daily. Oh how they do carry on. Noisy little whiners. Have a few short clips of parents feeding them. Thanks for doing what you do ! Kathy

    • How fun to have a family you feel bonded with! I understand why you could feel they were a annoyance. They can be loud, messy and destructive. In other words: not unlike ourselves! I’ve always felt that if people were able see these ‘nuisance’ behaviors under the lens of them coming from a place we can really relate to, meaning an intelligent social animal, they could begin to really appreciate the behavior and what drives it. I’m glad you were able to experience this shift for yourself.

  17. Sandra

    Hi Kaeli, I came across a link to your blog while researching what to do about a dead crow in our yard. Late yesterday we found a dead crow in our yard. Well, we didn’t find it; the dog did. As my husband and I were on the other side of the house, we heard crows making quite a commotion, with more gathering. When we went to see what was going on, we saw that the dog was investigating a dead crow in the yard. After a while, the crows disbursed , but sounded an alarm every time that we exited the house except in the evening. I wasn’t sure what to do about the body. Remove it at night or during the day. We did remove it this morning, while crows gathered to yell at us. I hope that we didn’t do the wrong thing. I don’t want the crows as our enemies. From your research, what should we expect? How long will they sound the alarm that we are exiting the house? Will it be over soon, now that the body of the dead bird is gone?

    • Sandra, I’m afraid the prognosis isn’t great. It would have been much better to remove it under the cover of darkness. I can’t tell you exactly what you’re in for since your particular scenario is, as you might expect, not identical to the format of my study. I know for us, some birds continue to scold the associated people for 6 weeks (I don’t test longer then that). Importantly, they don’t see the faces everyday, however, and it’s very possible the birds will experience what we can ‘fear extinction’ faster in your case, since they’re seeing you more often and you’re not reinforcing the negative association. There’s also a lot of individual variation between birds, and you may just get lucky and have a pair that just gets over it faster. Worst case though, you’re in for a good number of days or weeks of regular scolding. Try feeding the birds and see if that gets you back in their good graces. Good luck and, please, let me know when they stop.

  18. Karrie Bloomer

    It is such a difficult subject to navigate in general. I am known as the” bird lady by many people who know me, and probably thought a bit “off” by many who don’t know me! I absolutely adore birds, yet have a special connection to Ravens and Crows. I was informed by a Native American Spiritualist that my Spirit guide was a Raven and was of course quite honoured if this were true! I tattooed a lovely little image of one in a tree on a moonlit night that actually seems to have small changes in its eyes and feathers, etc. that are almost uncanny! But back to the original point, I think much knowledge can be gleaned simply visually studying them. A place could be built in an area ( or ideally several places where the population is good.) Where the birds will feel less stressed. It would take people that would be willing to devote much time to”hanging out” on the sidelines, as well as interacting with these beautiful and fascinating creatures. I already spend time doing just that in two distinct are areas. One being my back yard. A large, relatively quiet safe zone. Inhabited mainly with other birds, squirrels, rabbits and the regular suburban type night creatures of the American Midwest. The occasional tame housecats( obviously still a threat to birds!) A dog put out for potty purposes here and there are the main events of excitement in this environment! So I learn quite a lot with my interactions with them.The other place is a somewhat blighted Urban City area. They are very active there as well. I do notice differences in many areas between the two groups. The city birds are less relaxed, more vocal ( possibly warning one another of dangers or food opportunities. I breakout treats, and oh my! Here they come! I can identify many. They have individual personalities and likes as well as dislikes. I have seen group mourning over a fallen comrade. I have seen courtship, mating rituals, bickering, bullying, playing, and many, MANY more behaviors that are never boring to watch. I understand the reasons behind your more “medical approach”, but as another person mentioned, wouldn’t it be a bit hard to differentiate between the stress of capture and testing and the true emotion the bird would be feeling? I am not a scientist or biologist or have a degree in anything concerning this area. But I am a hardcore crow lover. And just want what is best for the birds!

    • Karrie, I understand your concerns. First off, let me clarify that there are two components to this research: a field and lab component. Both this summer and last I spent 10-14 hours every day of the week from April-September mostly just watching the birds. Obviously, it would be futile to just wait and hope I catch a spontaneous funeral, so I do initiate the ritual using a taxidermied bird, but the funeral goers themselves are truly and completely wild birds. This gives us the best possible look at their natural behavioral response to these events. Outside of the 30min exposure period, the rest of my day is simply spent watching. And yes, it’s a fantastic way to see the extra behaviors you described! In addition to the funerals I’m also looking at how they respond to a different kind of threat: a predator. I can tell you having already done these exposures over 100 times, how they respond to a hawk or a dead crow looks almost the same. However, I’m sure you can relate to the fact that while you may respond to two different things the same way (say, running away screaming) you may be feeling very different things on the inside. This is where the lab component comes in. I want to know if, even though their funerals look nearly the same as predator mobbing (the key difference is dive bombing), is what’s going on in their brain the same too? The answer to this will give us the best scientific evidence that their funerals may be something more than just a danger response. Once in the lab, your concern over teasing out the stress response to the situation is critical, and the way we deal with this in science is controls. First off the birds are given time in out aviaries to adjust to their temporary captive life. Once in the lab we’ll expose the birds to different things and compare how their brains responded. If looking at an empty room produces the same results as the hawk and dead crow, we know that we’ve failed to control for the stress to the situation. We’ve already shown, though, that that’s not the case. Which means that once we move on to the lab component this year, and really have an opportunity to bulk up our numbers, there’s a really good chance we could provide some hard evidence that there’s more to these funeral behaviors than meets the eye. I understand that for some, they don’t need this shown scientifically, they already feel it to be true in their hearts. As a scientist, though, my task is to validate these observations with rigorous testing. You certainly don’t have to change your attitude about the merits and ethics of the research, but I at least hope that my explanation helped clarify why we’re doing things in this particular way. These birds are amazing and I’m just grateful that so many people such as yourself, already know this to be true. Cheers,

      • Karrie Bloomer

        Thanks for clarifying a few points. I too, normally use a scientific mindset in my studies. However, these wonderful rascals have entangled my heartstrings! Therefore it is a bit harder to see the whole picture. I can only hope that your research brings more people back to the glory of these beautiful birds and their very complex psychological minds. I certainly never meant to undermine your research in any way. I only worried about the comfort of the birds! Best of Luck.

  19. skippy

    We co-evolved with crows . Long before there were any laws extending farther then individual villages and nomadic tribes, peoples were picking up downed crow and raven chicks and rearing them making them a part of their social strata .
    Over the years that element of human corvid social structure has changed significantly yet the crows , they remember. Just as it has been proven that we each carry the memories of our ancestors to a degree, so does it go with the crow and the raven , arguable but not very , the corvids remembrance of what was once a common bonding of humans and crows is much much more deeply ingrained as to human corvid relationships then our own,
    When people decry any direct interactions between crows and humans they almost always present the wild factor as an example of reasoning for segregation. They simply are not aware of their own ancient past , what could become their own future if they would be so daring as to see , to investigate what I have just written.
    To anyone that doubts what I have said I would say start your investigation in the mountains of Tibet and the logs of the first early explorers that ventured there..
    The logs depictions of the monks with their un-caged brother and sister ravens at their sides 24/7/12 . Visit the temple of the hat , the background of the first Dalia lama .
    The one on one interactions relayed.
    Then on to the Hawaiian islands and the story of Cook and the Mariana crow he wished to take. Then come home and check out the coastal first peoples of this country , the shamans of many tribes and their dealings with crows and ravens .
    When you are done , then ask the question if you still have the nerve , why work with crows and ravens at all .
    Corvidear / Raven daddy

  20. kate

    Oh my goodness. If you are talking to me skippy, then please read all my posts. I have been raising a single crow family for 3 years in my garden. I think that qualifies me as somewhat knowledgeable about them. I really didn’t intend to get into an argument with anybody, and I apologize corvidresearch.

  21. skippy

    No argument Kate , more a sharing of what my years of research have gleaned . Know your crows as no other , they are just one of many windows into your own past and The paths into a better future for us all if we dare seek .
    Unlike most other creatures ,over the years , we humans have put blinders upon ourselves when faced with that which we did not understand and stumble where we should run.
    We can know what they eat , what they need to survive but so few actually know of their history with us beyond physical requirements etc. Its all out there on line and in scientific publications these days if we just dig it up .
    The very thing we respect some corvidae for are their intelligence and it is based often times on the ability to collect and maintain a meaningful societal and individual memory.
    You , me , all of us are very large part of the crow and raven I.D .
    We apologize when we intentionally do the wrong thing , you have not a wicked bone in your body for what i read , only the discipline inflicted by the blinders of humanity and the laws of the migratory bird act of 1918 . That law was a fantastic peace of legislation in its day and it continues to save species even today .
    Unfortunately at the time it was written little next to nothing was known or understood about corvidae interactions with people and when it went into effect it slammed the door firmly shut on a relationship that had been going on for thousands of years between our species. Contrary to governmental inflicted beliefs based on ninety year old conceptions today’s thoughts regarding human-corvid interactions are changing quickly , crows and ravens should be reconsidered when it comes to hands to wings interactions with humans .
    ninety plus years ago we simply did not know what we know now about our crows and ravens , In a way , they are us . They learn from what we do , what we teach them. Some place not to long ago , we simply stopped telling them what we require and left them to guess .

    Corvidear

  22. E McCown

    Hi Kaeli,

    I too live in Montlake near a large wooded area – a couple years ago a crow sadly flew into a window of our home and fell to the lawn and was – it appeared – instantly dead. I was on my way out to an appointment but could hear and see a number of crows nearby caawing aware of this unfortunate accident of one of their family. I remember telling my husband – the crows are outdoors mourning. My instinct was to cover the crow – so as a seamstress – I fetched a very calm, thin piece of scrap cloth and gently covered the crow completely before, then, departing. When I returned to my great surprise the crows body was still there covered except the face had been gently unveiled – exposed. My husband said the he had not touched the crow – cloth – I didn’t see crows nearby making noise any longer. Using a shovel I buried the crow in the woods.

    Ellen

    • Very interesting! One thing I wonder about our study is that we use the same dead bird over and over again, and assume that it’s a stranger bird to those that encounter it. We wonder though, if the response would be different if it’s a bird they are familiar with. Perhaps identifying whether or not its a familiar or stranger bird is part of the ritual. Alternatively, it could have been a scavenger (including an ignorant crow who was not present during the initial response and covering) who un-covered the dead body. After seeing it was too fresh to tear open or interrupted by another human or animal perhaps the scavenger abandoned its efforts. Would have loved to be a fly on the wall to find out what really happened…

  23. skippy

    Who it is definitely makes a difference with common ravens. I saw one funeral of an old monarch female that was killed on a power transformer years ago that drew over six hundred other common ravens from around her hold.
    Even so I have seen a lot of ravens go down over the years that drew little attention from their neighbors territorial holds regardless of the time of year.
    I feel pretty sure crows would be the same way .
    They have their favorites and they do do play the seniority card for older birds that have proven themselves worthy .

    seeing some one Else’s cat ironed out in the road never raises the feelings one gets when they see their own let alone a family member that has been compromised so .

  24. Glen Mann

    Hi Kaeli,

    I was forwarded the link to your King 5 story by many friends that know of my affinity for crows (and corvids in general). I wish you nothing but the best of science “luck” with your research, and although I share the concerns of others here regarding the impact and stress of capturing individual crows; I also can hope that with more information on crow “intelligence” and how their brains are wired, that ultimately more and more people will come to respect and recognize the crow for its value to society, and the world in general.

    I have witnessed three crow funerals, the first was the apparent death of one of the largest and more dominant crows in our Montlake neighborhood. The crows were indeed using extremely loud & short vocalizations that suggested distress to myself and three other neighbors who had gone outside to see what was happening. They were also circling in the sky, and then taking off in various directions, before again circling in the sky. I do not know why this dominant crow was killed, but had known its personality and presence for a long time prior to his death, and having seen it the day before it died, it did not appear unhealthy in any way. The crows overhead remained calamitous for at least 25 minutes before dispersing.

    The second crow funeral I witnessed was very different. This “funeral” involved a dying fledgling that was dying as it lay under the chassis of my car. I became aware of this bird only because the other crows suddenly became agitated and again vocalizing what seemed to be types of distress calls; but this time they did not take flight at all, but instead all of the crows congregated on the above-ground utility cables. The young bird possibly had been hit by a car on our busy street and only made it to the “safety” of my car parked on the street before collapsing. Even though I know crows often are unappreciative of people touching their young, I was able to retrieve this dying crow (with the hopes of taking it to PAWS), and wrapped him in a towel as he took his last exhalation in this world. The overhead crows sat and witnessed all of this, never once making a sound after I had found the bird. They remained quiet for some time, and I chose to place the young crow wrapped in the towel (with the towel opened) onto the sidewalk where any crows could “inspect” this fallen animal. The crows began to leave the wires and to one-by-one fly away, all in complete silence, save for one crow which remained on the wire for over an hour after the young bird had died. I buried the young crow in our backyard and I never experienced any “negative” crow after-effects from handling this dying bird. I do wonder what likely relationship that solitary crow had with the one that died, and can only speculate that it was a parent.

    The third crow “funeral” I witnessed was similar to the first, with many birds extremely agitated and unwilling to land at all as they expressed their distress. Again, this bird was an adult bird, and one that was very healthy from all appearances. The bird that died had actually been killed and was hanged in effigy off the deck of a nearby house. The crows were agitated for hours, and even crows that were not part of our normal neighborhood crows also came and voiced their distress as they flew & circled over this dead bird hanging upside down by its leg. I learned from the Washington State of Fish & enforcement officer who came to fine the person that had the dead crow, that from his experiences, hanging a crow in effigy attracts ALL of the area crows to investigate what has happened, creating similar calamitous distress for as long as the bird remains hanging in effigy.

    Having closely watched these amazing birds daily for some time now, I am repeatedly impressed by both their intelligence and fortitude. It is sad when so many in society have come to see the crow as a “nuisance bird” versus their more revered standing held by many cultures, including the native peoples of this land. I read on Kevin McGowan’s website that we should “try to get people to understand that it is not a “gang” of crows in their backyard, but a family”, and to “try to appreciate the crows for the fascinating creatures they are. If you get over that hurdle, the annoying habits become much less annoying”. I hope that with more research like yours society will be compelled to expand our awareness of the intelligent & emotional lives of these animals; and that our society will start to adopt more of the reverence view of this amazing species.

    As a total aside, I have talked with an Avian veterinarian as well as a nutritional veterinarian, both of whom that stated that all birds are LACTOSE INTOLERANT. Having also previously fed Cheetos to the crows, I have seen the stool changes that Cheetos seem to create, and would suggest your finding an alternative food that would attract them equally as well for your study. In my experience, they LOVE raw cashews, and raw cashews are quite easy to carry around, and also do not make your hands messy from touching them!! 🙂

    All the best with your research endeavors! I would love to learn more about how citizen scientists can assist you (if at all), as well as how one can go about helping to fund research like yours.

    Glen

    • Glen, thanks for sharing your experiences. Reading through everyone’s stories helps underline how variable the birds can be, but also the emerging trends. And thanks for the Cheetos tip. I didn’t know they were lactose intolerant, but it makes total sense. While it’s too late to change my food provisioning now I’ll certainly keep that in mind for all future research endeavors. They don’t get very much, so hopefully no one is getting the runs too badly :/

  25. skippy

    Eventually they will develop the enzymes needed to digest lactose laced products . Fact is if you checked you would find that some have already achieved it . Particularly in northern ravens .
    Chicken patties , eggs , french toast , it’s all good for them . Cheetos are a natural progression of feeding around humans . Ham does the same thing to them as does beef hot dogs and bologna heavy with sulfates . Yet they accept those foods readily and adjust their own intakes accordingly.
    When they come up against a food that causes them great discomfort such as taglia beef and pressed turkey and highly processed pressed pork products they simply don’t eat them after the first try .

    glutenous Fools they are not .

  26. Rita Miles

    I was extremely lucky to “attend” a magpie funeral shortly after moving to LIvingston MT about 10 years ago. The event was two-fold, the main event with many birds in the evening and a return of the two senior birds at dawn for another short ritual. If I had known what was about to happen, I would have grabbed our Hi-8 camera but I was so stunned and intrigued it never crossed my mind. The hierarchy and positioning of birds on the ground, the two senior leaders, the various roles in the funeral “discussion” among the living, the vocalizations changing from evening to dawn, the attempts at reviving the dead bird both evening and in the morning. Fascinating stuff and certainly one of the highpoints of wildlife viewing in my life.

    • Rite, as far as looks go I must say magpies are certainly my favorite. Witnessing such a big gathering would indeed be something to behold. I’m wondering if you could elaborate on their attempts to “revive the bird”?

      • Rita Miles

        During the evening main funeral event, the senior lead bird and two helper birds literally dragged the dead bird several feet into the shade. One stood by the dead bird, perioidically pushing it a bit, pecking at it a bit, then standing back as if waiting for a result. I felt they were trying to get it back to life. Meanwhile, the senior bird led the eulogies — there is no other way to describe that other than it was much like a people funeral where people make their own last parting remarks. Many birds spoke. I joked with my husband that night about how perhaps they would come for the body in the morning. As it turned out, the senior bird and one other returned just moments before daybreak and again pulled, picked lightly at, and pushed the dead bird, moving it another couple of feet. They then stood back and looked at it, made some comments, and left. This was one of the years where bird flu was in the headlines and I called Fish, Wildflife and Parks to see if they wanted it; they didn’t. We have many magpies here, but never have had another dead one. Our yard trees are training areas for magpie babies in the spring, there are two nests directly across the street.

      • Fascinating. Someone recently shared a video they took of a crow ripping all the breast feathers from another dead one, and after it had plucked it clean just left it there. I can only speculate what all these different accounts might tell us about their behaviors but I love learning about the unique experiences people have had witnessing corvid funerals. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Abul Nazeer

    Great research! Really curious about the results you are going to get, and further research on this topic. But on a personal note, I have a weird fear of crows ( I’m not scared, but very wary), because when I was younger I was attacked by a few in a funeral scenario. I was walking home, and on my way I saw a dead crow on the road, as I kept walking something hit me on the back my head, I turned around and saw nothing. I panicked and started running as fast as I could, and when I finally reached home. I realized there were a ton of crows sitting around our house and realized I was attacked by a crow. I figured they probably thought I was the threat that killed the crow, and swooped in to attack me? ( this was when I was 7-8, so I was pretty small, this was also in India)

    • I’m really surprised in the hundreds of times I’ve sent volunteers out to stand with, near, or following exposure to a hawk or dead crow, I’ve never once had someone get hit. I hear and read accounts of it all the time! I don’t have much firsthand experience with the house crows, but perhaps they are more aggressive, or you just got a particularly bold bird, or indeed your size made you a seemingly safer target to get physical with. If the fear still plagues you remember to avoid areas where you here their harsh scold sounds during the summer (kids are likely lurking in hidden areas), move away from dead crows, and walk backwards away from scolding birds. The rarely if never attack from the front.

  28. skippy

    Of all the corvidae family, black billed magpies are perhaps the most intelligent . It gets them into a lot of trouble even today as present and past via history proves as can be noted when reviewing notes associated with the bounty on them in the Columbia basin of eastern Washington years ago .
    You Rita are not the first to give note to magpie funerals in my collection of observations regarding magpie deaths and apparent tribute’s to the fallen.
    Little is actually known about the black billed magpies of our state to date.
    It was noted by Marzluff and others some years ago that of all the corvidae
    black billed magpies seem to be naturally more self aware without introductions to stimulus encouraging the event . Red dot tech, mirrors . Thank you for adding to my collection of pica observations .

    Corvidear/skippy/raven daddy/magpie sleeper/ JR.Inghram

  29. skippy

    crows in different parts of the world have experienced different human behaviors and reactions based on cultural social enigmas . For that reason as you travel the world learning of crow funerals you will hear a diversity of observations .
    India is a awesome place to study corvidae- human interactions . Because of the diversity of faiths and beliefs in regions of India the corvids there have reciprocated in varying ways to human interventions and interactions.
    It seems the greater the religious and social diversity found in any one geographical area in humans, the greater the diversity of reactions of the local corvidae populations to interference or precieved disruptions of their social activities including group dealings with death of a fallen bird of their social order.
    It is all relevant and of great importance in determining the extent of adaptability and insight.

    Sincerely
    Corvidear

  30. Dawn Atkinson

    Hi Kaeli, While most of my neighbors dislike these birds I find them interesting to watch. Years ago I was feeding my horses around 6;00am and could hear a large gathering of crows somewhere in front of my house. I didn’t pay to much attention but 30 minutes later when I was walking back to the house they were still squawking. I went out front to see what was going on and saw that one of them had become tangled in the strings of a kitchen type garbage bag at the neighbors. I went over to see what I could do and the crow stood very still while I untangled it. Once I had released it they all flew away. Now every time I hear a large gathering I wonder if they have a partner in distress.
    I also have a breeding pair that are fun to watch during nest building time. They walk around together picking up potential nesting material and then show the other crow. It seems like they communicate to each other whether or not a particular material is good for the nest as many times they will toss whatever they showed the other crow and keep looking.
    Keep up the interesting work.

  31. Kevin

    I discovered the body of a crow at 9:45am on Thursday July 17, 2014; it appeared to be dead only a few hours, based upon people seeing it and road traffic. It was a small crow and oddly enough the eyes were missing. Another crow was defending it, it would caw fiercely when I approached the body. A third crow was also in the area and would also caw at me occasionally, it then left and was replaced by what appeared to be a yet another crow. At 12:10PM I went out again and was warned off by the crow that had been guarding the body from the beginning. At 1:25PM I sent my sister out to make sure my past work with the local crows was not a factor in the current behavior I was observing. The guard crow reacted in the same way, cawing aggressively at her. At 4:30PM I went out to observe the crows again and found that the body of the small crow had been run over by a car. The crow that had been guarding the body was not heard and was nowhere in sight.
    I hope this helps in your research.
    -Kevin

    • Kevin, thank you for your account. My guess, based on the information you provided, is that your found a dead juvenile. The defending crow was likely a parent or older sibling. Prior to graduate school, I worked two field seasons conducting carcass surveys and can tell you that they eyes are always first to go (unless the flesh has been torn open) because the tissue is softest and most accessible to scavengers. It’s interesting to know how long you observed a crow responding to the body. In our experiments the birds only receive a 30min exposure, but in most cases the majority of them leave before it’s over anyway. Usually it’s only the territorial pair that sticks around the whole time (if they even do) and I’m not sure how long they would if we didn’t remove it. A sample size of one isn’t very biologically useful, but it does begin to provide a frame a reference. Thank you!

  32. skippy

    Question Kaeli ?

    It is well documented that at rare times large groups of crows actually execute other crows that have violated the social structure . With that in mind I have a question perhaps you can answer for me .
    After the execution of such a violator by the majority of a particular individual within a social hold of crows is the gift of a funeral extended to the offender or is it tabu ?

    Thanks in advance

    Corvidear

    • Hi Corvidear! Thanks for your question. While I wouldn’t say that this has never happened, I would argue that it’s not well documented. Crow on crow scuffles can turn violent, certainly, but killing one another is rare (as you suggest) and unless the group is a large single family of birds, I have never seen any evidence that a group of unrelated birds collectively attacked and killed another. I would love to if you could provide an account! In the one case I have read about, a large group was present and a human witness saw a bird fall from a wire. He suspected that it had been killed by another (there was no evidence of electrocution or harm by a predator) but didn’t witness the attack in time to know for sure. Even if it had, it wasn’t by the collective group but rather a few individuals (based on the size of the blur the witness saw before turning to see the bird fall to the ground). After the bird fell to the ground the others left silently. Since my research indicates that crows are using funerals at least in part as a mechanism of danger learning, my guess that any birds present during an execution would not respond with a funeral since they know the danger and thus there’s nothing to learn, and if they are experiencing an emotional component they probably wouldn’t hold a funeral for this reason because, well they’re the killers. If, however, the body was later discovered by birds ignorant to the cause of death I would be very surprised and extremely fascinated if they didn’t hold a funeral. But the short answer is, I don’t know! There’s simply not enough accounts of this behavior to say for sure.

      • Carl Haynie

        Hi Kaeli,

        During a “Birding by Bus” (public transportation) Big Day in the Seattle area yesterday, 5 of us witnessed an amazing and gruesome bit of crow behavior. At Magnuson Park, we came upon a flock of more than a dozen American Crows exhibiting mobbing behavior. We expected that they happened upon an owl or hawk in “their area”. However, as we slowed the car to park, we were amazed to see two crows embroiled in an intense struggle with one another and that was the center of attention.

        The two crows battled one another locking claws and rolling around on top of one another on the edge of a paved parking lot for what seemed like 5 minutes. One crow was clearly stronger, and it seemed that the mob was favoring the stronger one. All the while, the surrounding crows were very engaged in the battle cawing and sometimes approaching the two combatants, sometimes pecking the weaker one themselves. Eventually, the weaker of the two crows succumbed to the pecks of the stronger one and lay on the pavement unconscious. But it did not end there! The victor continued to peck heavily at the head of the victim for another several minutes, sometimes plucking off feathers, sometimes appearing to consume it. By this time, the surrounding mob had lost interest and dispersed.

        Scott Ramos recorded video shortly after we arrived on the scene including the actual “murder” (Warning: may be disturbing to some viewers!):

        So, I wonder how big is “big” in terms of a family of crows? The victim must have committed some major egregious act in the social order.

        Carl Haynie

      • Wow Carl, thank you for sharing this. Because crow “executions” are so rare, for us to start to better understand them we really rely on accounts from folks who have seen them, and the fact that you have video is even more powerful. John Marzluff talks briefly about crow executions in his book, In the Company of Crows and Ravens, but as I said before, at this stage we can really only give educated musing at why this happens. Perhaps it’s a simple dominance display that turns deadly once enough crows join, and the level of aggression starts to snowball out of control, or maybe this bird did do something that warranted harsh crow justice! To answer your question, my GUESS is that the individuals you see in the video are not all part of the same family, because families don’t typically get that large, though they can have as many as 12 individuals. I’ve spent a lot of time in Magnuson Park though, and I’ve never seen a family group that big.

  33. Skippy

    Agreed ; >

    I have heard many accounts of executions via crow on crow over the years and yet not one account of any birds exhibiting the funeral behavior even days after the occurrence.
    I witnessed one of the most diabolical methods of execution I have ever seen with common ravens years ago and even then no funeral over the fallowing days.
    Other ravens from outside the territory of the downed bird came in a few times and examined the carcass , tugged on wing feathers a few times but only out of curiosity , no large gatherings or circling of the carcass as they do when performing the funeral behavior.
    Status , family and strength seem to be key in earning the right .

    • While I think status, strength and family may play an incredibly fascinating role in the size, length or other nuanced aspects of the funeral, I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re key. In all our experiments we use a “stranger” crow and it almost never fails to produce to a funeral. I suspect how the bird dies plays the greatest role in whether or not the funeral takes place, but the details you suggested may inform important aspects about the funeral itself. This is certainly something worth investigating, although doing so would obviously raise some clear ethical issues which will likely preclude us from doing so until we can identify a way that doesn’t involve shooting family members!

  34. skippy

    Most of my observations are of extended family members in raven holds in eastern Washington . No trees to speak of where I live and most days the ability to observe them several miles out . For that reason I get to know the individuals very well and their daily rounds , friends etc .
    As you know , the differences between common ravens and crows are really rather obvious . I have never seen a funeral for an outside bird here . Only curious onlookers .
    I have however seen some very large in detailed funerals for fallen family members neighbors etc . one that even involved a loner coyote in a breeding pair of ravens territory when one of the pair died. Coyotes generally eat such things as dead birds but it did not happen . Then again , a lone coyote is no match for a few hundred ravens holding funeral rights during viewing .
    Ever watch coyotes tumble ravens ? Their good at it.
    No shooting required here , plenty of them go down every year to power lines rodent baits poachers and such . With nothing obstructing my view I see a lot . spotting scopes in open country are worth their weight in eggs .

    Skippy

    • skippy

      It should have been ravens tumble coyotes . Even my neighbors have seen that here in the winter . No room to repair and edit here .

  35. Sarah M.

    Hi Kaeli:

    We’ve got something unusual here, and I would love your thoughts. We live in coastal Maine, and have many crows nearby — every morning for the last six months, I leave a family of crows a big handful of unsalted peanuts. Last week, we noticed a dead crow in the yard, around supper–it was unattended. The next morning, a second dead crow lay near by. It bothered me, having them in the sun like that (how I wish I had read this first!) so I took a shovel and moved them into the woods, about 20 yards away. They scolded me and (don’t laugh) I actually took a knee, hoping that they’d get that I wasn’t the one who hurt the crows. Three days later, the same dead crows were BACK ON THE LAWN, pretty much in the same spot. I’m both baffled and creeped out — could it have been a fox, or a coyote, or even the many bald eagles around here? But wouldn’t they have eaten the carcasses? Would the crows move them, and if so, why? My husband went close to investigate, and the crows screamed at him–and instead of just the usual family, there were hundreds of them (I assume that is migration and not death related?)

    And what should we do … just leave them there to decompose?

    • Sarah, that seems like a very spooky experience indeed! Based on my experience I see there being 4 possible explanations: 1) Crows have very sophisticated funeral rites and were disturbed by your removal of the bodies 2) a scavenger (incl. a naive crow) was in the process of making off with the bodies for consumption and was interrupted, coincidentally, in the same area you found them previously, 3) someone is pulling a pre-Halloween trick on you, or 4) a family or neighbor’s pet, likely a dog, is leaving you a “gift”. My money is on the pet, but you know your neighborhood dogs and cats better than I. If you’d like to get rid of the bodies, just wait till you have the cover of darkness and, of course, try and bury them a little deeper this time 😉 If it happens again please let me know, and perhaps invest in a little nanny cam. Cheers,
      Kaeli

  36. Shannon H.

    I have three crow “funeral” stories, two which happened recently. The first was my grandmother who died in the early 1960’s before I was born. After my granddad died, she had moved into a little house next to a sons’ house. A bell system had been setup so she could ring the main house if she needed anything. One morning my Uncle noticed hundreds of crows circling the little house, agitated and vocalizing. He checked on my grandmother, and found she had died in the little house…peacefully by appearances.

    Recently, my mother-in law died and we brought her cat, an 18 year old Persian, to live with us. I had known the cat for 12 years or so since she came with my Mother-in-law from Russia. She had been one mean cat (even recently she had flayed the arm of an unwary Vet assistant so that blood flowed freely) but she and I had learned to get along and she liked to hang out with me in a screened pool area in the back of the house. Well. she got sick, and we took her to an emergency vet clinic. It turned out she had congestive heart failure, bad kidneys and a bad liver and there wasn’t anything to do but to have her put to sleep. That happened at 2 in the morning. We went home and fell into bed thankful that it was Saturday night and we could sleep in.

    The next morning at daylight my wife and I were awoken by hundreds of agitated crows in the trees overhanging the screen porch. It was the first time in the 8 years we have lived in the house that this had happened. I thought that they were mobbing a predator and went outside to see, but I didn’t see anything but the crows in the trees or circling around the area. I went ahead and got up and went for a run. The crows kept at it. I noticed the crows were gathered at our house, not in other places in the community. When I finished my run I went to the screen porch area and sat down to cool off in the chair where I had usually sat with the cat. After a few minutes, the crows became quiet and flew off. They had been gathered for over 2 hours.

    That was a little odd, but it became odder still. My wife’s sister who lives 800 miles away in another state called to tell my wife about their unusual experience….they had been awoken by hundreds of crows in the trees in their backyard doing exactly the same thing as we had observed. This was also the first time for them to have such a visit from crows.

    Later I googled regarding the crow’s behavior and came across crow funerals and your website and interests. Videos I found of crow funerals that I found looked like the behavior of the crows we observed. I thought you might be interested in the stories.

    • Hi Shannon, thank you for your message! Although I cannot offer a precise explanation for your stories, they are wonderful to hear. Crows gathering around the homes of the recently deceased is a common tale, and one that is often explained (especially back in the day when dead were buried at home) by crow’s ability to pick up on context clues (doctor’s car etc.) that were learned to be a good indication of a coming meal-a little morbid I know. But certainly this isn’t always that case and often these things remain a mystery. As for the gathering around the house more recently, it may very well have been a predator was in the area but fled before you saw it, or a crow or other bird died. Or something else entirely! Anecdotes like yours are both a blessing and a curse because often they reveal what might be nuanced and fascinating behaviors that require precise and unique situations to occur, but for those same reasons are nearly impossible to test in a controlled manner and tease out from random silly flukes. Keep watching and sharing.

      • RX

        I didn’t know that was a common tale until I read it here. But it happened to us. There is a flock in my neighborhood and we usually saw them in twos and threes, but in December, we hadn’t seen any of them in a while. We were friendly with them – gave them water and peanuts. My husband died quietly in a closed garage in the middle of the night. When I went to look for him in the morning, there was a huge gathering of crows on the roof and trees by my front door, screaming and circling and calling out. They were cawing at me and circling above me as I stepped outside. It was so shocking and unusual, and in that moment, I knew he was gone, though I couldn’t tell you how I knew. I assume the crows knew.

      • I’m so sorry for your loss, RX. I imagine that the association between crows and the passing of a loved one is either comforting in its strange way, or would make their presence a painful reminder of a tragic day. I hope discovering that others have posted similar experiences is reassuring.
        Warmly,
        Kaeli

  37. D.N.

    I learned about your research through a podcast talking about crows mourning their dead. About 20 years ago I raised a baby crow, and in doing so I had some expereinces with the wild crows that may shed some light on some of the behavior you are wondering about.

    I live on Salt Spring Island in Canada and the baby crow was given to me by a vetrinarian in Vancouver BC. It was just getting it’s feathers when I adopted it and also needed antibiotics as it had a badly mangled foot. It needed to be fed every 15 minutes, and the vet did not have the time. I took it with me most places, but sometimes i would leave it for a short time in a chicken wire pen out on the porch, which was open to the air and easily seen by any crows passing by. There is not a lot of crows that hang around this particular area. Probably there is not a lot of food resources and as it is mostly forested and hawks tried to eat baby crow, (only name it ever got) I am guessing crows prefer more open areas because they can see what is coming.

    So first thing i saw that surprised me was once when Baby Crow was old enough to eat on it’s own, but still wanted me to feed it and would call for me and food, i left it for an hour alone in the chicken wire pen, and went off to town which is a few miles away. When i came back i was surprised to see chunks of white bread had been shoved into the chicken wire pen, and some of it had jamed in the wire at the top. This was an area only a bird could reach. My neighbour told me crows would come to her compost and get the scraps of bread she threw out, and had been there earlier that day. So that is where the bread came from. The wild crows, who had no family relationship to Baby Crow had heard his cries when I was away and had tried to get some food to him. Which I thought was interesting. They had their own families to take care of, but apparently crows also have social sevices. It made me think there may be more than survial of the fitest, for crows, survial of the most co-operative is also a factor.

    But the thing that really made me stop and think, was this….

    After Baby Crow could fly, I took him to the beach just across the road and while we we there these 2 wild crows saw us and they got quite upset with the whole situation. I am sure various crows had seen me and Baby Crow in my yard and on the porch, but, except for the bread incident, they didn’t seem to care. But these 2crows we met on the beach began scolding me. I went home with Baby Crow, and when it got dark put Baby Crow in the chicken wire pen where he slept. That morning when I got up, as soon as i walked out of the door i was greated by 20 -30 scolding crows that had been silently gathered in the trees around my house just waiting for me to walk out the door. If i recall correctly they began scolding as soon as i walked out the door, before i even went to get Baby Crow and give him breakfast. I have lived here a few decades now and i have never seen more than a couple crows briefly passing by my home. I have heard larger groups of them scolding something that probably did something like eat one of their babies, but that has always been a block or so away. My own impression is that the crows in the trees around my house that day were there to scold and lecture me. ( the crow funeral behavior) I am sure the 2 crows who saw us on the beach must have told every crow in the area what was going on, where i lived, and what time everyone should be there to tell me i was a crappy parent to a crow!!! There is just no other explanation for what happened. And that would involve extremely sophisticated communication and a deep sense of social responsibility. And they only did this once. It is not like every time they saw me with Baby Crow they got all triggered and went off the deep end. Their response seemed very well timed and deliberate.

    The wild crows only came back one more tiime. This was a couple months later in late summer early fall. Baby could fly well and was often out and about doing his own thing. Being raised by me from a young age he did not even move like a proper crow. And hawks had tried to eat him a couple times. He didn’t seem to understand this was dangerous. These 2 crows with one baby came and spent about an hour on the porch with him, feeding their baby 3 feet away from him, eying him, seeming to invite him to be a part of their small family. ( I have never seen wild crows landed on my porch, and that the 3 of them spent so long so close seemed to be because they were really trying to make friends with Baby Crow.) But he did not even look at them. I don’ t think he even knew he was a crow. At last they gave up and left.

    And one day Baby Crow did not come home. He was probably eaten by a hawk. The wild crows were right. I was not a fit parent for a crow.

    But i have a lot more respect for crow society having tried to raise one.

    • Great story, D.N. Stories like yours go a long way to bring personal connections to an animal many people have come to ignore or resent. I’m glad your experience made you more appreciative of crow behavior and intelligence and, frankly, it makes me wonder if outlawing crows as pets has been a mistake. I know many crow lovers will protest the idea that crows can be pets, but I think if more people had the same kind of opportunity you had there would be less vitriol directed at these wonderful birds. Something to think about! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  38. D.N.

    I think the laws prohibiting crows as pets were, or are different in Canada, as the vet who gave me this baby had found homes for a number of crows that could not make it in the wild because of injuries. Maybe this has now been replaced by more professional wild life rehabilitation facilities. I would not recommend anyone raise a baby crow the same way I did. I am reasonably sure when it suddenly did not come home, it is because it was killed by a predator and that it did not live very long without the support of a flock. Although once it matured it was free to come and go as it pleased, it was very attached to me and very regular about showing up and coming into the house to hang with me, several times a day.

    If I was doing this again, I would make sure the wild crows had every opportunity to feed and form a bond with the injured orphan baby. Maybe even leave food out so they had an abundance of resources to share.

    It would also be interesting because if a baby crow (or crows) were raised in this way, they would have the benefits of having family, cultural connections and life lessons, in both the human and crow worlds. One of the things I realized seeing how completely uninterested this baby crow was in the 2 wild crows that looked like they were trying to adopt it, is that crows are largely about food and family (not necessarily in that order) And based on who feeds them, they decide who is family at a young age. As humans often share a bit with crows, we probably are already on their mental “friends and family” map, to some degree. But as most humans do not make it onto that special trusted family list, there is maybe some intelligent cultural responses and interactions we never get to see. Raising some bi-cultural crows might open some doors to further respectful research and observation, that would otherwise be closed to humans.

    • Marilyn

      What an absolutely riveting story, I was enthralled.
      This baby crow obviously had an enormous impact upon your psyche as you seem to have total recall of the events from 20 years ago. I learned a lot from you, I would love to know the link to the podcast you listened to. I only just learned this year…from personal experience… that once you have looked into the eyes of a crow, you immediately know they are not like other birds. I have had the most fascinating 3 months getting to know “my crow”, but must remember he IS a crow, and most definitely not mine. Thank you for your insight, and bless you for the courage to take on raising a baby crow, I have read that it is exhausting. You did all you could, so kudos to you.
      Marilyn

  39. Susie

    Dear Kaeli: I saw a short piece on TV last week about the crow “funeral” experiments you and your associates conducted. I also skimmed some online articles about same…here’s my question:
    Doesn’t introducing several factors at one time (human, hawk, dead crow) muddy the waters? I mean, isn’t it possible that crows viewing a dead fellow crow just lying in the grass might interpret a very different story than if they see a human holding a “dead” crow or a dead crow in close proximity to a predator?

    • Hi Susie, good questions. It may muddy the waters if we were trying to test grief, since the presence of a predator would confound and probably overwhelm that response. However, since we were asking questions about danger learning specifically, it was important for us to include the “manner of death” so that we knew we were offering something that they could learn from, as opposed to simply a body that died from unidentified causes and would offer less of a learning opportunity. This summer however, we’ll be doing just what you propose and comparing that against some other kinds of animals.

  40. Is it possible to teach corvids to respond to sound in order to teach them geographical areas where they can live in safety and where they are welcomed as apposed to areas where they present a problem to humans ?

    • Corvidear, using noise deterrents to try and get rid of problematic crow roosts is a very ‘sound’ idea in theory, and one that may local governments have tried. Unfortunately, most animals, even those much less intelligent than crows, are pretty good at habituating to sounds or visuals which prove themselves to be harmless over time. Basically, noise deterrents have the same problem scarecrows do. Maybe the first time they work, but then nothing bad actually happens and after a while the crows learn to ignore them.

      • frankster

        Perhaps a box with a dead stuffed crow in it automatically being opened for viewing for a few moments when the sound is made will do the trick. Or even a series of box’s opening at random during the sound being made . exposure time may be calculated to interfere with the thought processing and another distraction presented to alter their focal point intermittently.

  41. Roz

    Hi Kaeli, I’d love to send you an email about your work. I can’t seem to find your address, maybe I’m overlooking it. It would be great if you could send me an email so I have yours and can explain! roz.evans@biospheremagazine.co.uk

  42. I’ve been feeding the small group of hooded crows (maybe 2 to 4) near my university department, a few times a week for 5 months. Previously they were mischievous opportunists: emptying the outdoor garbage bins (when they thought nobody was watching), or they’d scavenge after an older woman who feeds feral cats nearby. Because the crows seem wary of the cats, I decided to place snacks onto tree branches, fences, or railings that only a bird or person can reach. If I introduce a new type of food, I let the crows see me eat a piece, then I throw bits onto the ground or onto a platform. The crows act most enthusiastically (with vocalisations) when the snack is meat. They seem quietly satisfied with cheese or crackers; collecting every piece available. They’ll investigate hard pretzels, but never ingest.

    In the earlier encounters, the crows would fly down (from a tree) and take the offerings when I retreated back a few metres. Recently, at least one crow became tame enough to accept food within my arm’s reach (but not from my hand directly). I pose puzzles for the crows, by placing snacks on platforms where the surroundings obstruct direct flight. The crows discover how to reach these places by jumping up stairs or from one perch to another. Normally, when I approach the department, one or two crows will descend to a low branch and watch me expectantly. On rare occasions, a crow has peeked through my office window during the day, or visited while I sat with colleagues outdoors.

    Now there may be a problem.

    A crow died on the weekend. Funeral time? I saw the ant-covered body in the same garden / car-park where I normally arrange the feeding puzzles. I couldn’t see any obvious signs of trauma from a predator or car. I didn’t touch the body. When I arrived (at dawn today) two surviving crows landed on higher branches of the trees, and started squawking angrily. Do they blame me, or are they delivering a “danger” warning for my benefit? Over ~20min, I gave eye contact to each of the yelling crows, then faced the body respectfully, then turned back to face the crows. I repeated this cycle, and stayed >1m away from the body. When the crows quietened, I laid a few snacks (turkey; crackers) on the ground (away from the body) and in the regular “puzzle” locations.

    After a few minutes’ waiting, both crows took turns to descend and collect the offerings. They performed the learned stunts of hopping between stairs and railings. But they didn’t begin until I’d backed away 20m — a larger safety range than before the death. This afternoon, someone (a gardener?) removed the body while I was working. I don’t yet know whether the living crows will revisit the site. If they do return, I’ll continue offering food and puzzles, and watch whether the “trust” distance ever shortens to the previous familiar range.

    • PS: Many thanks for the hours of fascinating articles here. After today’s drama over the death of one of my campus’ crows, I went googling for similar stories. Your blog is the most informative and reassuring source I found.

      • Curtis, thank you for your kind words. It’s always wonderful to receive feedback but, needless to say, it’s especially gratifying when it’s so positive! I’m sorry about the crow death. I have a crows near my office that I regularly feed and I understand the sense of bondedness that forms once the birds make a habit of approaching you. Alas, such death is part of life! I think the fact that they fed today is a good indication things will return to normal after a few days or so. If they don’t, I suggest moving your efforts. Nothing major, around 40-50 meters or so. I’d be interested to learn if this turns out to be the case, so please feel free to post updates as things progress.
        Warmly,
        Kaeli

      • [Third attempt to post this!] Thanks for the suggestion about moving the feeding location. You were right about that. From the crow’s death until the 19th, the surviving crows stopped visiting the carpark where I’d been feeding them. I pass that area at least twice daily, and I only glimpsed a bird’s shadow once.

        On the 13th, I tried walking home along a different direction: downhill from the car-park, but visible from the same garden. Two crows quickly flew down onto low branches, just like they’d done in our original site. Now, whenever I go that way, one or both crows will fly down and wait for food.

        My old game continues: I place snacks on tree branches, rocks, or railings, but also a few bits on the ground. One crow prefers taking food off the ground. The partner seems more confident about swooping and plucking food off branches or complicated elevated spots. When there’s food on the ground, they snatch the bits from the garden before any other bits that fell on pavement.

        “My” crows remain shy. I need to step a few paces away from the food before they’ll collect anything. If I leave bits of turkey and cheese, they collect the cheese first. If I nibble a bit of the food before placing the rest, the crows twitch and stare alertly (because I’ve confirmed that the material is fresh?). If I walk around the feeding area and point out each of the available pieces of food, they watch me and (learn?) the targets. (Can hooded crows learn hand gestures?) Sometimes they fly down to reach the food; other times they hop and jump upwards off objects. I haven’t been experimentally systematic, but I try to photograph these acrobatics when possible.

        On the 19th, these crows resumed feeding at the original parking area, as well as the new place.

        This weekend, the adults kept two clumsy but well-feathered youngsters nearby. Most times, the offspring stayed in the trees (hidden and sleeping or else screaming hungrily). Twice, the youngsters landed on the ground alongside the adults. They didn’t grab any of the cheese themselves, but cried and waved their wings till fed down the throat. The young crows keep further away from me.

        In the meantime, I’ve interacted with bolder youngsters, instigated by the crows themselves, elsewhere campus (at a gatehouse, and near the Student Union building). On Wed, one scruffy newcomer climbed onto my shoulder. Maybe there are several unrelated groups of crows, with different attitudes? Do the unfamiliar crows approach me because they smell the food I carry, because I’ve acquired a “reputation,” or because they’ve somehow seen my regular crows being fed? This afternoon, while I was disbursing cheese blobs, the regular couple yelled and chased two outsider adults away from the car-park. They were angry enough to leave the youngsters unattended.

        Anyway, to shorten my long story, the crow funeral (in early May) seems to have tainted the carpark more than me. Fortunately, “my” regular crows seem to have forgotten or forgiven the fatality now.

  43. Jenn Barnhill

    Hello, a brief history before my question. For the last 2 1/2 years a crow has visited me everyday at work. He greets me in the morning, at my breaks, lunch time and when I leave. I have named him Archibald Augustus Crow. I have grown pretty attached to him. I never really paid much attention to crows until Archie. He even flies next to my car until I pull over and give him a snack. He waits for me outside the store, at the door, when I have to go in and get him a bag of Cheetos or peanuts. Anyways, today I went over to the office to check the mail, since we are temporarily relocated, like I do everyday. Archie met me at the signal light, followed me to the store and waited for his treats. He and his mate met me in the driveway as I was leaving and I have them more Cheetos. Everything was normal until I saw a crow on the side of the road under the trees Archie and his mate frequently hang out in. I stopped and picked it up and moved it to a spot under a bush. That’s when Archie and his mate started squawking and diving at me. They were so mad and so loud. I can’t help but think they think I’m responsible. I didn’t want to leave it in the gutter but now I regret moving it. I know they are nesting near there and have been very territorial. Do you have any advice as to how I may be able to redeem my friendship with Archie? I know better now than to move a dead crow but, can’t undo what I’ve already done. I feel terrible! Thanx for your help!!

    • Forgiveness is not something we’ve tested (yet) with the crows so I’m afraid I can’t give you a very scientific answer. My best advice is to simply continue feeding them. And please, let me know how things go! You’re not the first person to have had this experience (and post it here) but no one ever follows up and let’s me know if my advice worked. So please feel free to do so! Good luck.

  44. Eryne

    Hi. I’m looking for some help. I live in Chilliwack, BC. There were three baby crows on my lawn. One died, probably of cat attack, one seems fine, but the third one has some strange growth on both the inside and outside of its beak. I know very little about crows so I don’t know if I should worry about this little crow. I have some photos of the crow I can send.
    Do you know what this crow might be experiencing? Or where I might find information?

    Thanks

  45. krakraichbinda

    Hi Kaeli,
    you should know something about research of German Carrion Crows:
    https://stadtkraehen25.wordpress.com/
    https://www.youtube.com/user/Falltraumprofi/videos

  46. Marilyn

    Hi, I love your site!
    I moved here in Dec/14 (High River Ab.) Since spring I have had this juvenile (I think??) crow coming 3 times a day to my deck and getting the peanuts I leave. I have been reading Crows and Ravens by Marzluff and Angell and they said crows like commercial dry dog food, and boy does he! I have been fascinated by this little fella and grown rather attached. He often just sits on one of my fence posts and I talk and cluck to him and he tilts his head like he is listening. I know.
    The problem is that other crows have discovered the dog food and they chase my little fella away. I have tried to secretly change the spots where I leave the food when only he is around, but the others always know! They just barrel over him. For the last 2 days he has been eating the seeds in my bird feeder so I know he is hungry! Is there any way I can fool these older more aggressive crows who are obviously well fed? I can’t believe how much this is troubling me lol.
    Also I read in the above book that feeding crows can become a problem for the neighborhood so now I feel guilty about that too. Most of the crows here hang out at the campground but for some reason he chose to come here for my peanuts. I guess probably he had run into the same problem before.
    Should I just stop putting out dog food for awhile, and just leave peanuts? Will the older crows just move on to tastier fare?
    Thanks for listening!
    Marilyn

    • So glad you’re enjoying the blog Marilyn, thanks for the compliment. Sounds like you’ve found yourself in a bit of a predicament! The following is the best advice I can offer though, as always, take it with a grain of salt because I obviously can’t know what’s really going outside of the story as you’ve presented it. Perhaps it would be helpful to start with why you think it’s a juvenile? If it’s been coming since spring it’s not a offspring from this year’s breeding season in any case. If it’s a subordinate bird (which a sub-adult would be) as far as I can think you’re out of luck. Perhaps it would be worth stopping the feeding altogether for a while to get these new birds off your back and then resume once they’ve given up. (As a note I don’t feed “my” office birds for the 6 months I’m busy in the field but as soon as I’m back in my office come September they’re right there waiting and following me around. So if it’s been a regular feeder don’t worry too much about taking a couple weeks off). Though, in the long run it might be worth making friends with these new birds since this one will inevitably leave you to establish its own territory sometime soon (Though I can imagine that might feel like such a betrayal!). On the other hand what may be happening is that you’re dealing with a territorial adult bird that’s venturing a little outside its boundaries to greet you which is why it’s getting pushed out by these other birds. If that’s the case you could try moving your feeding efforts to a location that’s more central to its territory. As far as the neighbors are concerned just be mindful of how much and how often you’re putting out food. A handful of peanuts every morning to a territorial bird is not going to dramatically change the level of crowiness in your neighborhood. Good luck!

      • Christian

        Marilyn & Kaeli,

        “Crowiness” is a hilarious word. 🙂
        For 3 years now I’m feeding crows at a ~100x50m cobblestoned place in the center of a city of more than half a million people: Bremen, Germany. Many houses -neighbors-, two parking lots and streets all around. Two dozens of larger trees at my site (even a climbing frame next to my base!). There were quite a few complaints by people living there. I told them some facts about the crows here: yes, I counted up to 30 crows in the winter seasons (25, 28, 29 exactly) in my presence. But, there will be only *one pair* left at the site in summer (April to September). That’s true because carrion crows are territorial. Seems like I persuaded them. No war. Some smiles, yes, when the crows showed their mental capacities.
        In spring, I’m not there for ~3 weeks to “help” that pair to get rid of the rest of winter crows, which of course are also attracted by my food. The crows told me to do that – in their own shitty way. 🙂

        I’d feed them all, preferably *one at a time* -if you got the time. If there are “new” crows, just feed them, too. They’ll all get their piece of cake, even the clever sub-adult. That’s because crows quickly take what you throw at them and then they’ll hide it somewhere before they return. Enough time to serve the next crow. I think it doesn’t matter whether that’s peanuts or dog food (which they prefer), Marilyn, you are already on their list!
        If your crow is a territory intruder -just as Kaeli mentioned- chances are lower because the local pair will normally scare it off at any time, especially when it’s up to get your food.

        I see no sense in feeding crows without observing them. Usually they don’t need your food at all. Observing them -via food- will certainly give you many moments of sheer pleasure; more than you ever expected.
        And if you feed them for a while the way I proposed, these birds probably wil never forget you. One of the best things is that THEY will always observe YOU – and even learn about nuances of your behaviour in almost incredible detail.

      • Marilyn Fawcett

        Thank you so much for your insight! I loved your reply

        I am still feeding crows (more now lol) and you are right about the juveniles getting what food they need, even if it is a bit of a wait. This little one will patiently sit on the fence til the feeding frenzy is over… it is a noisy boisterous time twice a day on my deck. When they all leave I put a bit more food out and he comes and helps himself. I actually think his parents are coming as sometimes the 3 of them come together and sit in the trees and squawk for food incessantly, and they don’t seem that pleased that so many other crows have discovered their private food source haha.
        I love watching and reading about them and teaching my 3 year old granddaughter as much as I can about Corvids and the natural world. I seem to be much more observant since I met my crow friends. I say that they are friends because you are right, they recognize me now when I walk the trails with my dog at least 2-3 hours a day and they will follow in the hope I may have peanuts or something. They don’t caw or scold me, they make this funny sort of bubbling purr, I can’t really describe it.
        They even recognize my car and land on my deck as soon as I get home. I am thinking of getting a crow feeder built though because I just recently had my deck and fence painted and they are again already covered in their droppings. Poopy birds :-)) I love them dearly.

        Thanks again for writing!!

  47. Marilyn Fawcett

    Thanks Kaeli, you are brilliant! I love this site. I thought it was a juvenile because it is so much smaller than the others. duh. I read that sometimes sub adults stay with their parents as “helpers” is that a possibility?

    I had forgotten how territorial they can be (do they ever get driven out of their territory by older, more aggressive crows?).

    I am going to move my feeding to the very edge of my yard, so thank you for that tip.

    The crows don’t seem to winter here, it can get to minus- 40 C. The Magpies do though and I am amazed at that their temerity in getting their share of the bounty, the Jays don’t seem quite so precocious!

    Anyway l am loving the time spent with them and learning from them. Fascinating stuff.

  48. Bill McGillis

    Hi Kaeli:

    This might be of interest to you:

    Years ago, I lived in an apartment in downtown Hamilton, ON (Canada). The corner opposite to my apartment was a gathering place every spring (late March) for literally hundreds (perhaps thousands) of crows. These gatherings would last for two or three days, characterized by round-the-clock cacophony. Sleep was impossible and, for as long as I lived on that corner, the same gathering happened every spring right down to the exact same trees. I attributed this to a stage of the migratory process, but I do seem to recall a couple of dead birds on the sidewalk as well. At any rate, by the end of three days without sleep, most residents were wondering how to arrange for a few more dead crows on the sidewalk.

    Always thought of this as very bizarre behaviour. Any insights you might offer will be appreciated.

    FYI . . .

    Bill McGillis

    • Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of your report Bill! Another time of year I might attribute it to an ephemeral roost, but late March is nesting time and roost activity generally diminishes. There must be more to the story of your Canadian crows than I am able to offer (perhaps they nest later or are more migratory than more southern populations). Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

  49. dennis markell

    August 8 2015 I visited the Marconi ryders cove radio museum on Cape Cod. After being there several minutes I became aware of non stop cawing. There were at least ten crows screaming very loudly and circling irradically over the road. Then I noticed a recently killed crow in the middle of busy route 28. I’ve never seen a dead crow…. it seemed large to me. 2 or three inch head….maybe a ‘ leader crow’ I wondered as the ten grew louder as I came within 2 feet of the dead crow. The road rte 28 is busy… so no way at all could the live crows get to their fallen comrade. I wonder what the Iive crows were doing and what they eventually did with the corpse?

  50. Hi Kaeli:

    Thanks so much for this wonderful blog. I always learn something about these amazing creatures. I am a rehabber in Northern Virginia and, sad to say, West Nile virus is back. It’s not out of control, but the DC Wildlife Rescue facility has 13 confirmed cases and rehabbers in the area are getting patients with the telltale symptoms. In addition to rehabbing, I am housekeeper to three African pied crows, so, of course, I’m worried about them. My avian vet is skeptical about the West Nile vaccine: he says it has shown some efficacy in raptors but not in corvids. What do you think? Are you aware of any data regarding on how successful vaccinating against West Nile has been?

    • Catherine, that’s not something I have a lick of knowledge about so I’d be inclined to trust the expertise of your vet. WNV is especially deadly to corvids so it doesn’t necessarily surprise me that they don’t respond as well to the vaccine. The best you can do is keep windows and doors shut or screened at all times. Perhaps consider some bug zappers while you’re at it.
      Best wishes,

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