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!


439 responses to “About me

  1. Thanks for this wonderful blog — I just stumbled upon it as well as your research on crow “funerals.” I had witnessed what I think was a funeral experience late Autumn 2013 and had made the following notes:

    Walking my dog at dusk, we watched wave of wave of 100-300 crows each heading East towards the full moon to their roosting places in the city (Sacramento, CA). I estimated over two thousand total individuals flying at an elevation of about 20-25 meters. Fewer than one bird out of each wave would vocalize in flight, so it was pretty quiet. All of a sudden a single crow fell out of one of the flocks and dropped like a rock to the ground about 100 meters from us. This flock immediately wheeled around and began circling but not decreasing their elevation. I stood still, watching, thinking that I might be about to witness a “crow funeral” event. First, one or two crows began cawing as they circled, and soon all joined in until it seemed that the entire group of about a hundred individuals were all calling at once! This went on for maybe 30 seconds, and then they stopped cawing and circling but turned to continue heading East. I was about to investigate the fate of the bird on the ground but saw some small movement, then it jumped and flew up to join its fellows!

    • What a strange experience! I wonder what caused it to fall?

      • Karl Styrsky

        Ha! I mean “caw”! Was hoping you might know. Earlier this year I witness similar circling and cacophony of vocalizing behavior when a pulchritude* of crows had encountered a fallen comrade. The first crow making the discovery had called out in a more protracted “aaahh, aaahh, aaahh” then their usual, shorter calls. Crows — strange and wonderful.

        * I refuse to refer to a murder of these fine creatures.

  2. MLA

    I am writing from Morocco.
    I read an article published in the NY Times about your research on crows and the way they behave when confronted to death.
    As I am not a scientist, I was more intrigued by the connection that came to my mind between your article and one of the verses of the holy Quran:
    (Al MAidah -the table- verse 31):
    “Then Allah sent a crow searching in the ground to show him how to hide the disgrace of his brother. He said, “O woe to me! Have I failed to be like this crow and hide the body of my brother?” And he became of the regretful.”
    Maybe not the perfect translation but it still interesting to contemplate…

    • MLA, thank you for sharing this with me. Would you mind providing an interpretation of this passage? Sounds almost like the crow was demonstrating to Allah how to bury the dead (which would be very interesting because there’s a similar story with Adam and Eve) but maybe I missed the intent. I am planning to write a post on the symbology of cries through time and across cultures and would love to include this passage!

  3. Read the fascinating article in the Seattle Times about your crow study. I just wanted to relay a dead crow situation that my wife and I witnessed a number of years ago. We were playing golf at the small par 3 Jefferson Park golf course on Beacon Hill. On the second tee, a number of crows were about a hundred yards out foraging in the grass. My wife teed off and hit a “worm burner” which struck one of the crows squarely in the head. It made one quick attempt to fly and then dropped to the turf dead. As we walked toward where the crow lay, the other crows all began taking turns pulling on the dead crow and seemingly trying to revive it. All the while they were making lots of threatening caws. My wife and continued to play 8 more holes of golf and for the entire round about 10 crows followed us around the course continuing to make lots of noise. A very strange incident that I will always remember.

  4. J D

    I guess I missed something. My chickens do the same thing when I kill one for dinner. Our goats have a fit if they loose track of one sibling. Would like to see some more controls on the study. What do the Crows do when one holds out a dead rat, or a sandwich.

    • J D, click on the publications page to read the publication in full and get all the juicy details on controls (alas the popular press doesn’t generally devote much attention to this aspect of our study). The quick answer is when people appeared with dead pigeons or with just food the response was much different than if they appeared with a crow. Likewise pigeons did not demonstrate a similar behavior when encountering dead pigeons. As for your chickens and goats, it may very well be that attention to dead conspecifics is much more common than we know so far! But I’m certain that they do not do what our crows did if for no other reason than they are simply incapable of some of the behaviors due to captivity (and natural history).

  5. Assem Issa

    Dear Dr. Kaeli,

    My name is assem issa & I am from Egypt. I read your research about crows. It is very interesting. I have some questions.

    1) do the crows bury their dead?
    2) Is there any animal who bury their dead by digging in the ground, and burying the descent like human beings?

    I am very passionate to know the answer.

    I will be waiting your kind reply

    Best regards,

    • Hi Assem, although we’ve heard of a few anecdotal accounts of crows placing objects on the body (like sticks) those are very rare and I’ve never heard of or seen crows place other crows in holes and then cover them with dirt. When you think about it, this behavior would be impossible for most animals because they simply lack the capability of digging a hole big enough to fit a conspecific. Some animals dig holes to put other kinds of dead animals in for eating later (a behavior called caching) but to my knowledge there is no other animal besides humans that dig holes for their own dead. The only thing that comes close is some species of ants, which have special chambers in their colonies where they stack their dead. Why do you ask?

  6. Great blog and a worthy subject. I must ask about how crows deceive. They seem to hide a cache and deceive others about hiding… surely there are plenty of studies on Corvid deceit. I mention it as a theory on why crows conduct trials and carry out death sentences — could it be that while crows will allow petty theft on their food – they require deep trust cooperation in keeping a look-out for danger. I have heard the vocal racket when a raccoon is in the vicinity. Crows must keep a special lookout for owls and hawks – could it be that a crow learning deception might misunderstand the lesson of how to deceive fellow crows, and then on lookout, deliberately fail to warn of danger? The group cannot allow such risky mistakes.
    Seems plausible and possible, I have no idea how to test for that, or how to observe it. (seems like a common trait in humans)

  7. bedz

    where is the part you neglected to copy and paste about mutation due to radiation!

    • H Bedz, I suppose one answer might be ‘nowhere’ since all of this is original content. That being said, your query is not an unreasonable one. This is something we had to address when initially applying for permission to conduct this semi-invasive (meaning non-surgical) procedure. The answer is that there’s no evidence to suggest that the radiation exposure is sufficiently dangerous to the birds (or other animals, including people) to preclude its use as a investigative technique. In fact, it’s about 3x lower than the mSv level associated with an increased carcinogen risk. But there’s no denying that it is an increased radiation exposure any way you shake it and, for you, that may simply be unacceptable.

      • Marilyn Fawcett

        As we all ingest significant radiation from bananas, I guess we are all at some small risk 🙂 That’s life.
        I really miss my crows who visited on a daily basis from April – October here in High River Ab. It has been an awesome experience for myself and my 3 yr. old granddaughter to interact so much with these beauties! They called for breakfast every morning and no other birds were really allowed to visit til the crows were done, even though they have their own feeding platform they still like to come and sit on the umbrella over my deck and rule the roost for a while. They would actually follow my dog, my granddaughter and myself home from our walks and as soon as we got near home they would race ahead to meet us there for snacks, they especially loved the high grade dog food pellets I have for Bryn who has cancer. Cawing loudly, no scolding tho, just to remind us what they were there for. Such fun. They would especially vocalize with my granddaughter (who called them her ‘spirits’ lol – after watching Clan of the Cave Bear) anyway she was always cawing at them and they always responded to her, sometimes with a sort of purring (don’t know what else to call it) One day we found a dead fledgling who had almost been mummified because it was flattened by trucks. Really gruesome but Rain was fascinated, as the features were easily discernible despite being flat. The poor mother stayed in the the home tree for months scolding anyone who came close, maybe because she had other fledglings still in the nest. I didn’t observe any other crows attending a ‘funeral’ there.

        Was amazed at their flocking behavior before they finally left for the winter in October because then I would get dozens of crows daily and my own little family of crows allowed that. I was surprised, but I guess they knew they were getting ready to migrate (where??) and they all wanted to stock up and it was kind of a communal getting ready. We have a small wood directly behind my place and they would all flock there soundlessly, more and more as the days got shorter. It was a strange sight and awe inspiring. Then suddenly they were gone. Completely. I found an earring back placed right at my patio door when they were gone, could they have possibly have left it there?

        I miss them, but I still have blue jays and magpies who now think this is their place lol, and all the little chickadees, sparrows and other little birds. The magpies don’t call me to feed them, they just line up on the lattice or swoop by my patio doors so I can’t miss them. They love the dog food too and will take that before they come back for the peanuts etc. My dog is not dead keen on my sharing of his food 🙂 but he is getting used to it.

        Sorry to ramble and thanks so much for this wonderful sight and all the hard work you’ve done with these marvelous, incredibly clever birds. They have brought joy and fascination to our lives. Hope they return next year.


  8. kim

    in these last days before Christmas break, a difficult (perhaps emotionally disturbed) student went beyond the realm of “prank” when he placed a dead raven (or crow?) in my treasure box here at school, in my class room. Some students overheard him boasting about it at lunch, and shared the info with me. So I looked in the box, and there it was: about the size of a large cat, black feather glinting like scales on a fish. Question: is this just vile, or perhaps even a blessing in disguise? Ravens hold power and have knowledge, so do I when I teach, so does this school….what’s your take? share your thoughts….

    • Hi Kim, what a strange story. Without knowing this student I can’t really say what his intentions were, though if I had to wager a guess I would not think he did it for any reason other to get a rise out of yourself and your students. Aside from whatever help you and your administration decide is in the best interests of this student given this behavior, I might suggest you turn this act on its head and treat it as a teachable moment. Rather than being disgusted with the animal (which you already do not seem to be) you could use it to discuss the symbology of corvids in different cultures, the meaning of dead crows to other crows, or why such a specimen might be valuable to scientists (what can dead animals teach us?). The most optimistic scenario I can imagine is that this student is feeling alone in his delight in the macabre and would benefit from learning that there are whole careers dedicated to dealing in the dead (scientists, morticians, museum curation, etc.) Good luck!

  9. Cay Murphy

    I have been feeding crows for nine years now, I give them dog food and nuts and about 2 dozen shows up for feeding every day. Put yesterday I noticed that over half were missing from the feeding. Today only four showed up. So On my walk I looked for the crows that are always about town. Not one single crow is in the air, on the ground and have not shown up at my house or in the tall firs by my property where many roost or spend time. I am really concerned and wonder if someone has shot them or poisoned them. But I could not find one body when looking for them . Help! I am concerned for their safety and worry if they are OK. My neighbor is a hunter and trapped three raccoon in the fir trees on his property, shot them with a high powered pellet gun and then skinned them. He bragged about this horror to me. I heard a bunch of shouting from him and his friends yesterday and someone yelled, let me try. I so concerned he killed all the crows I have befriended . I know he climbs those trees and used to destroy the babies in the nest , but they stop laying in his trees. Is their any laws that protect crows in Washington state.

    • Hi Cay, I’m sorry to hear about your vanishing crows. Crows are protected federally under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but they can be hunted if you have the right licensing (they are regulated like any game bird). Not a lot of crow hunters in WA far as I know (further south and on the east coast these hunts are a much bigger part of the culture). If they were poisoned that’s a violation under any circumstance. To see any charges or citations you’d need evidence of some kind though. It’s also possible that as the breeding season approaches the territorial pair are working harder to keep others away. Whereas during the winter when boundaries are more lax, now I’m starting to see resources defended more fiercely. Something optimistic to consider anyway. Good luck Cay!

  10. Stan Brooks

    Just discovered your blog and want to thank you so much. I’ve always loved crows, but they were just background. But the more I read about them the more I want to know. I live in a small apartment that is near extensive greenbelts in Burien WA, and I have begun leaving shelled unsalted peanuts out on the railing on both my walkway and back outside patio and am already seeing some crow, jay, and squirrel involvement. Thanks for educating us about these amazing wild creatures that we co-exist with.

  11. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be useful to read articles from other writers and practice something from other websites.

  12. Jack Schaffer

    I was pleased to read your post: Do crows reduce other songbirds? I was researching the question after a crow took up residence in the neighborhood. Last year I installed a 50 gallon Rubbermaid tank filled with water as part of my landscaping. The intent was to provide a watering hole for the birds in the area (Kingman, AZ – high desert). The problem is that the resident crow has begun using it as a place to bring and eat the small birds that it catches. In the last week since the crow’s arrival I have found three freshly eaten, smaller bird corpses floating in the tank or on at its edge. While I haven’t actually seen the crow in the act nothing else as easily accounts for the findings. My initial worry was feral cats in the area but that problem never arose. Unfortunately the crow seems worse.

    Any ideas on how I might resolve the problem short of leaving the tank empty or simply removing it completely?

    • That’s a tough one. Crows moisten their food in water, that’s just what they do. I’ve never come across a good solution once they start using a birdbath other than to clean it regularly (which is already something birdbath owners should be doing). I saw an awesome DIY birdbath using a shallow tray and a sub pump. This may not be as attractive to the crows because the water is so shallow. You could give that a try. Other than that I’m afraid I don’t have a great solution for you! Good luck http://www.homestoriesatoz.com/outdoor/diy-bird-bath.html

    • Andy from Beaverton

      I’ve never seen any of the crows I have befriended ever take another bird, but I keep my crows well fed. The closest thing to an attack was on a squirrel yesterday. The squirrels love walnuts as if they were Gollum’s ring and the crows regularly see about a dozen of the local squirrels taking walnuts directly from my hands. Crows also love walnuts, especially when you open a crack in the shell for them. I think one of the crows wanted that nut really bad and became jealous.
      I’ve only known crows to take weak or sick birds and that’s why they are good to keep around. I’m not sure how efficient they are with a bird kill. If the dead birds are European starlings or Eurasian collared doves, that’s a good thing, since they are both invasive species. My resident Coopers hawks will strip a Eurasian collared dove of all it’s body feathers, eat every everything (including every bone) and carry the wings back to the nest. Maybe you need a security camera to record events at the bath?
      Maybe you could work on feeding the crow only food that he likes and other birds ignore? My resident crows LOVE chicken. Nuts in the shell make for great entertainment. The other food that I give them is a moist dense bagel, rolled up into tight marble size pieces. It’s best for the crow to see you delivering the food. If you toss them food, never toss it directly at them, but in front of them. Over time, you can get a friend for life. My crows know who I am, what bike I ride and what car and truck I might be in. I even have a verbal relationship with several, where their communications have become incredibly complex (clicks, rattles, whining and beak snaps). Sometimes the conversations back and forth can last five to ten minutes.
      I have a shallow birdbath that may be 20″ at the rim and 2″ to 3″ deep. Every bird in the neighborhood uses it including the crows. I even have video of the hawk in the bath that gets out for two juvenile crows, that in turn get out for a squirrel. It is very important as Kaeli says to keep the water clean. When you create the right environment, your yard can be more entertaining than anything on television.

      • I will add that while crows are very adept at taking down smaller birds (I have seen it, it’s kind of amazing), they do not do it regularly. Breeding season is a little different because suburban yards become flush with nests and fledglings that make for easy prey (crow kids included). Might be some other predator but finding it in the water bath makes me think crow too. I think giving Andy’s suggestions a go is a worthwhile endeavor for sure though!

  13. Bridget

    I am happy to have found your very informative and interesting blog. I just wanted to share a crow story. Here in Buffalo, as in any other city, we have the occasional rat co-existing with us in our neighborhoods. Since it is spring, I can count of finding a couple of young rats around the yard, caught and killed by my excellent Feline ratter, named Seamus. The juvenile rats are usually half eaten and pretty unpleasant to dispose of. Imagine my delight when I observed today a number of crows coming down into my back yard and taking away the little gnawed on corpses! Yea! My husband is out of town and he wasn’t here to clean up the yard and maybe the extra day or two, sitting in the elements, created a scent or some other signal which the crows picked up on. In any case, I was happy to see the crows fed and my yard emptied of rats! Thanks again and keep up the excellent work.

  14. Michael Cotta

    Hi Kaeli,

    Not sure if you’ve seen this, but it’s pretty cool!

  15. Hi Kaeli –

    The beak on one of the crows that comes out for peanuts from me is stuck in an open position. Are corvids susceptible to gapeworm? I’m wondering what the prognosis may be for this individual.

    • Hi Karl, to be honest I had never heard of gapeworm until your comment. I don’t have any experience with wildlife rehab so I’m afraid I’m ignorant of what are probably common diseases for vets or rehabbers. That being said I looked it up and it does look like gapeworm affects corvids. I also imagine it could be caused by wet pox since that’s also a respiratory disease. I would take your inquiry to a rehab facility, however, since they are going to be more experienced with this kind of stuff than me!

      • Thx for the reply! It’s kind of a sad thing to see, but this crow seems to get around and pick up the nuts OK. I did a bit more research and see one site that says the birds may often recover. I’ll keep watching …

  16. Cindy starr

    My interest In crows is overwhelming.
    I work outside in the same neighborhoods and see the same crows everyday. They recognize me and my truck and will come up to a foot of me to let me know they are there to get food. People stare as they go by that the birds are so close and calm. I would love to work with them when I retire.

  17. Jason

    Cool. Ended up here from a NatGeo article. Been feeding crows at UW for a few years now. I wear a strong visual marker to make it easy on them. Makes walking across campus interesting.

  18. Teeka Ferguson


    Just reaching out, looking for direction. Our neighbourhood has beloved, one-legged crow. She has always been strong, but lately when she comes to feed she appears a little off balance, with ruffled feathers. I’m wondering if she is sick… Do you know anyone who could help me to help her? If so, please send me contacts or forward this message on. I would be so appreciative of the opportunity to help this bird continue a long healthy life.

    • Teeka, I’m sorry to hear it appears like your crow is unwell. A situation like this is difficult to find help for because most rehab facilities are stressed this time of year and are challenged to take in animals with esoteric injuries, but you can give it a shot. As a warning; most facilities will put down animals in house if it’s clear they are untreatable. On the other hand, I warn against allowing a self trained rehabber to try and work on her since there are too many ways that can go wrong and end up hurting the bird more. My advice is to let her be and know that if she does die it is so much better that she did so in the presence of her family than with human caretakers. It’s very,very difficult to lose animals we have grown to care for. My condolences for the sadness and stress this is bringing. Best wishes for her recovery.

      • Teeka

        Thank you for your compassionate reply. I would she rather be with her family if she were to die. She’s been bringing her young to our deck to eat– very sweet. Thank you.❤️

  19. Tushar

    Hi, I hav been experiencing few accidents which r not normal I guess, a crow is swooping down over my head, very very close, just to get my attention, after that he sits on near window or building n continue make sounds,it feels like he’s trying to contact me, trying to tell me something. It’s not happening first time, I come once or twice a month to my hometown n whenever I go to terrace or backyard same thing happens, I almost saw him looking at me more than once. No one in d area feed crows so it’s not bout feeding him, also he bears a white mark on his back, I hav observed closely n its d same one every single time, plz can u explain this….

    • How are you so certain no one is feeding them? Have you asked all your neighbors? Their kids? People passing through the area on the way to work or as apart of their daily routine? Alternatively, maybe you just look like some he/she knows. Or…who knows! Crows are complex animals and sometimes they do strange things

  20. Madelyn Brown

    I have been feeding crows for several years now. They come every evening, perched in my trees waiting for peanuts, meal worms etc. Every season they would bring there offspring. This last week while gardening a crow flew into my yard landing on the table where I always have water and where I usually leave food, just not today. He looked sick, rumpled feathers, eyes partially closed. He tried drinking but appeared not to be able to. I went and got some hamburger meat and put it out for him. He picked it up but didn’t eat it. Just kept trying to drink. No other crows with him either. He finally flew away. I assumed this was one of my regular family crows and was very sad. The next day when I came home I found him on my back steps dead. I was heartbroken. I like to think he came seeking help or just to say goodbye. I buried him in my garden.

  21. Andy from Beaverton

    Unfortunately, it looks like Avian flu has hit the flock of crows that I feed. I have two adults crows infected, one much worse than the other. I’m not sure if any babies have it. A couple of babies have some underdeveloped neck feathers that don’t appear normal. Besides bleaching my water sources, what else can I do to help protect the flock? I would hate to stop feeding them since I have invested eight years into this group of rural crows and they will now regularly walk up within ten feet of me. Besides calls, they also respond to several hand signals that I make.
    On a separate note, can crows regrow their tail feathers? I had a crow this year missing all the tail feathers. My guess is it got tangled up with a red tail hawk. Also, I have a crow that appears to have a large patch of white feathers within the center of both wings.

    • Hi Andy, Avian flu only very rarely occurs in species outside of migratory waterfowl and domestic farmbird species and in fact corvids are highly resistant to the virus. I am not a veterinarian but if you provided more details on what makes you think they’re sick I could try and identify the more likely problem. As for the other questions I encourage you to check out these two posts for all the details: https://corvidresearch.wordpress.com/2016/06/20/crow-curiosities-crows-without-tails/ and https://corvidresearch.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/crow-curiosities-what-causes-white-feathers/

      • Andy from Beaverton

        Thank you for the interesting links, I guess I have to spend more time on your site.
        I posted some photos online. The first crow, just has a spot on the beak. As you can tell, the second crow is not doing or sounding well. I wish there was something I could do. He wants to trust me, but will only get close enough to stay out of reach. When I rub my nose with my finger, he tries to wipe his beak. It’s quite sad.

      • ouf, that birds has a terrible pox infection. You can learn more about it here. https://corvidresearch.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/identifying-crows-dieases-avian-pox/
        Unfortunately, avian pox is highly infectious so you’re right to be bleaching your bird bath. I would also stop feeding these birds, unless you can throw one nut at a time and prevent contact. Do not worry about the crows abandoning you if you stop feeding them for a spell. During the summer I would miss GO for 3-4 months and then once I returned in the fall she would be right back in the swing of things, following me around and perching right by my head. I’m so sorry one of the crows that visits you is so sick 😦 I know what a terrible feeling that is

      • Andy from Beaverton

        Just wanted to give you an update. Frederick (the sick crow) passed away two days after the photos. The final day was quite touching. He let me feed him by hand and I was also allowed to give him drinks of water by dipping my fingers in water and then he would open his mouth to catch the drips. I buried him after dark, so the other crows did not see me with the corpse. (Don’t worry, I bleached my hands, never touched the bird directly and buried him 2′ under.) The interesting thing is his mate waits for me under a rhododendron near my door every morning since. I’ll walk out with a piece of chicken the mate comes to a few feet away to get it. I may have lost a crow, but gained the trust of the flock even more.
        BTW, just browsing youtube and by chance one of the suggested videos was one you are in. Great job! “Do Crows Have Funerals?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK5f2V3G9fM

  22. Isn’t it West Nile Virus that’s the big risk? dead crow reporting: .
    “Public Health – Seattle and King County tracks the death of crows, ravens and jays as early indicators of West Nile virus. If you find a recently dead, intact bird, report it to Public Health by calling (206) 205-4394 or report it online at the Public Health – Seattle and King County website.”

  23. Elle

    Hi Kaeli – well, I just had the most unique experience I’ve ever had with crows. I felt like I was part of the murder, I just don’t know what part. I know that they know my face, my car, and the location of my apartment. That’s nothing new, but their behavior today is nothing that’s ever happened.

    Of course, I put out special food before the storm, and then yesterday afternoon, after the storm had passed and the weather got better, the usual suspects showed up and let me know they were outside, and feeling a little peckish. I served the protein bars and a few other treats, and off they went.

    This morning, I was gone, I had to go to do my taxes (so sad, that was), so I didn’t get back till about 30 minutes ago. I pulled into my parking space and backed in. it’s an open garage, individual spaces, with a roof and cross beams on the back and to the sides. As I was getting out of the car, the crows started to show up, and they all took silent places all along the open beams in the ceiling and on the beams that make up the walls and the back of the garage. There were a dozen or more. They made no noise, and they were only in my space, not sitting in any others. In fact, the rest of the area was empty of everything. There was no noise, no movement. They sat quietly and all around me. If I weren’t a crow lover, it would’ve been a little scary, but instead, I was honored, and I thanked them and greeted Bran and then we all just stayed quietly together. Then, I told them we’d have food on the deck, and I came inside. Of course, they were happy to have late lunch.

    So what happened?

    • Elle

      And not that it’s relevant, but after recounting, I think it was more like 16-18, four on each of the three sides, and several on the overhead beams, and not a sound from anyone, just quiet and peaceful. I wish I could’ve grown wings and gone with them.

      • Elle

        Kaeli – I just saw this again, and have to tell you that was the one and only time. HOWEVER, Bran did come to the car with me a few days ago, sat on the railing, and I talked to him and he listened intently. Go figure.

    • Hi Elle, what a nice welcoming party! From my perspective this doesn’t sound all that unusual though. For example, the crows are my old apartment would often perch in the doug fir near my front door in silence hoping I’d throw some treats as I left or returned from class. And here on campus they’ll fly to the tree closest to the door when they see me coming. Seems like what happened to you is that they spotted your car as you were returning home, and they all flew to your carport, each one hoping to be first in line if you threw out food once you left your car. Sound reasonable?

      • Elle

        Oh, darn 🙂 I thought I was in the club 🙂 I’ve actually never thrown food out there (don’t want the neighbors to complain), but I’m sure you’re right, they just wanted me to know that they were there. It definitely seemed like a communication of sorts, and I needed the moral support after doing those taxes. I made them a special treat yesterday (leftover polenta and acorn squash “chips”) to reward their loyalty. We’ll see if it happens again today. Also, off-topic, but that weird noise video I sent you – could the crow be mimicking the ambulance sound?

      • I can’t recall the video you’re talking about. Will you send it again? (I’ve been bombarded with comments this week and am struggling to keep up with everything!)

      • Elle

        The clip was in my email, so I just forwarded it to you again, but no worries, I would not say this is time-sensitive LOL 🙂 It has been a noticeably busy corvid week on the blog 🙂 L.

  24. kris0723

    Thank you Elle for your recipe! I am glad everyone seems like they survived the storm. This is totally off the subject, but how much control do crows have over their bowels? The reason I ask, is it seems some people think crows (and other birds) target people or their cars intentionally.

    • Hi Kris, we really don’t know the answer to this. There are certainly a lot of anecdotes of crows seemingly purposefully whitewashing the cars or bikes of people they don’t like but this hasn’t been studied. I’d sure like to figure out the answer though!

  25. Carole S

    Hi, Kaeli,
    Thank you for this wonderful blog. I know you get a lot of mail, so I apologize in advance for bothering you with this, but my heart is just going out to a cute juvenile raven that has been abandoned by its flock. He has a bad leg that apparently forces him to live on the ground (he can’t hang onto the branches, or what?) He is on the ground all the time and there are virtually no other corvids around him. I know you have said in the past not to worry about baby crows on the ground, and that eventually their parents come for them, but that is not the case here. I think because he is damaged he has been ostracized. I thought about capturing him, but when I went up to him with some food, I was frightened off and flew low to the ground and back to the ground walking behind the trunk of a tree to hide himself. I hope that he will be okay with that bad leg, and eventually get off the ground because a dog or coyote will surely get him. He was so adorable with the downy feathers still around his head.
    What are his chances? Is there anything I can do to help?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Carole, yes this does sound like precarious situation. Since this is a raven different “rules” apply than would be the case for crows. Unlike crows who may remain in with their parents, ravens kick their kids off the territory as soon as they’re independent so this bird probably has not been in the care of any other birds for a month or two now. That said, I don’t think that it’s actively being ostracized so much as its other juvenile flockmates aren’t going to risk their own skins waiting around for a lame bird. The one part of your comment though that really threw me was the downy feathers around its head. Ravens are some of the earliest breeders of any songbird, with young often fledging by June. It’s weird you’d still be seeing one that still looked so young, which makes me think something else is going on to cause whatever feather issues you’re noticing. Based on all that I doubt it’s chances are very good. HOWEVER, I can’t tell you how many corvids I’ve seen with bum/missing feet, legs, etc., that manage just fine so it’s not hopeless. Keep and an eye and let us know what happens!

      • Carole S

        Thank you, Kaeli, for all the information. I learn alot about my favorite birds here. I am hoping the same, will let you know.
        Keep calm and love Corvids!

  26. a-dewhurst@hotmail.co.uk

    Hi Kaeli,
    I’m a Zoology student at the University of Liverpool, currently we are discussing the paper both you and Professor John Marzluff published in Animal Behaviour, ‘Wild American Crows gather around their dead to learn about danger.’ I think your research is extremely interesting and your work with corvids is truly crucial research. Passionate about animal behaviour myself i have become more and more fascinated with your work with crows, and thanatology, a subject i have not often come across in animal behaviour research. I would love to hear your ideas in terms of crows in more rural habitats, or overseas in Europe, do you think they would have similar responses to your experiment? If you had unlimited possibility with your research, would you do anything differently, and did you learn something different that would effect your future research with corvids over your study?
    Thank you for this blog, and I can’t wait to see the exciting research you’ll be continuing !

    • Hi there and thank you for your interest! These are really great questions. As for whether there might be regional differences I would guess the answer is yes. Both because we know urban crows are in some respects more aggressive and because rural crows have larger territories and thus might have a more challenging time forming large mobs. As for other counties I’m really not sure. I don’t know why it would be any different but I would love to find out, which speaks to your next question. I think a larger scale study comparing and contrasting different species of crow would have been fascinating. As for your last question I was definitely inspired to move forward with other crow funeral questions but not necessarily because I was surprised by anything. It was more that the more I learned the more new questions naturally presented themselves. Hope this helps and keep those questions and enthusiasm coming!

  27. Graham

    A very interesting site that I stumbled upon having just moved to Istanbul and encountered the local corvids (a ssp of the hooded crow). I’ve always liked corvids, and fell in love with them when living in Japan. The jungle crows there are huge and impressive. Four stories come to mind:
    1. My wife flew in to Japan to join me not long after I’d arranged the house. I picked her up from the airport, drove her home and went to the office. She went to bed to sleep off the long flight (this was 6am). She phoned me later to say that she was awakened by a huge lot of scrabbling on the roof of our old wooden house in Yokohama. She wondered what was trying to break in to eat her! She realised when they started their dawn vocalising. We always refer to crows as “Garks” now…
    2. In the Greater Tokyo area they seem to have learned the calendar. They were always prevalent in my district on Tue/Fri when “general garbage” was collected (and they know how to by-pass a crow-net!). On other days, when it was my district’s turn for paper, plastic or glass – few crows. They knew which districts were having the nice, tasty “general garbage” collection that morning and moved there! Sure – they probably smelled it, or maybe the different garbage trucks sound different. FYI: they collect garbage daily in Japan, different types each day, in tiny musical garbage trucks…
    3. You leave the house in the morning and walk to the station. You see a crow on the fencepost, at eye level. You say “ohaiyo gozaimasu” and make eye contact. You treat each other with respect – s/he’s a powerful animal and has no need to be timid. And when you speak, and the crow listens, and you look into its eye – you just know there’s somebody intelligent in there!
    4. In Sapporo we used to sit in a sixth-floor bar on a main road and watch the evening roost. It’s a grid-pattern city, and it was fantastic to watch thousands upon thousands of crows flying down the street at dusk – at roof-level, and obeying the one-way traffic flow like good Japanese citizens. Sure – there were probably thousands in the next street flying against the flow – but why spoil a good story? 🙂

  28. Michael O'Kane

    Thanks so much for this woncerful blog.. Given the communications and rapid learning of crows, and all the corvids, I was just wondering if there are studies that compare and contrast social protocols and behaviours of crows in different communities, both local to one another and across the world. It would be wonderful if there were a Web site that could collect anecdotal evidence from all of us enthusiasts, and also suggest good study practices for amateurs. Thanks again!

    • Hi Mike and thank you for your compliments. As far as I know, nothing quite like what you’re describing exists but I think there are a number of citizen science let crow communities out there if you go looking for them. We do know there are a lot of regional differences between crows and tracking the things you described would surely be fascinating.

  29. Elle O.

    Kaeli, my crows seem to know that Saturdays and Sundays are the lean days for feeding on my deck (I skip it to avoid neighbors’ complaints). Do you think they know the five-days-yes-two-days-not-so-much pattern of feeding or is it more likely that they post their crow sentry and don’t show up because no alert is given?

    Yesterday was a grim day, and just in time, a new bird showed up: a northern flicker. And this morning, a towhee. I had to look them up to know what they are, but it was a nice surprise.

    Happy holidays to my fellow corvid and bird lovers!

  30. kris0723

    Hi Kaeli! I was wondering how quickly to wing feathers grow back. I saw a crow yesterday at Alki with so many wing feathers missing, you could see right through its wings as it flew. Do you think it was attacked by an animal?

  31. Kevin

    Never thought too much about crows until I started feeding them peanuts. Almost as good as real friends!
    This is my question: I read in a Konrad Lorenz book that jackdaws have an innate (?) revulsion to people, cats, etc which happen to be carrying (floppy ?)black-colored objects. Either innate or “cultural,” if I remember correctly.
    I was carrying my black binoculars when I first was feeding these crows, and I’m wondering if you’ve heard of, read of, or experienced anything like this with other corvids. Not carrying binoculars, of course, but the revulsion/alarm which Lorenz mentioned in one of his popular books. I, myself, couldn’t tell if they were reacting to my black binoculars or not, although I mostly stopped carrying them when with crows.

    I’ve also got a picture of a few crows here (eureka CA) with significant (avian pox?) lesions/growths, mostly on head, some feet. Sad. Can’t seem to post a photo here to you. Just was curious re an expert opinion on the disease.

    Funny to see both crows and Ravens diligently wait till I look away before they pick up “my” peanuts. “Indeed I’ll rob you blind, my friend, but custom dictates a show of civility, does it not? Would you mind terribly looking somewhere else for just a second? Great. Hey, check out this peanut I found!”

    First thing I noticed when started birdwatching (~2 years ago) was–birds DEFINITELY are sensitive to our eye movements and what we are “up to.” Including binoculars, from a distance. All birds.

    But if a person seems “busy” they relax.

    • Hi Kevin! So they answer to your first black object question is mostly yes, but within reason. Crows are very sensitive to dead crow like objects particularly during the breeding season, but I would be surprised if that extents to such particularly shaped objects has binoculars. Scrub jays on the other hand appear to be more specific ( a study for example that looked at whether they would respond to a blue block with blue popsicles scattered around and they didn’t). As for your other observation, that’s actually something our lab (though this was before my time) has studied. They are VERY sensitive to human gaze and are much more comfortable feeding if you’re not looking directly at them. You can read that paper here. Enjoy the crows! http://sefs.washington.edu/research.acl/Crows_and_Other_Corvids/clucas_etal_crow_gaze.pdf

  32. I have found out that I can muster crows in great numbers with my duck caller. I know it isn’t a fluke because I have called up hundreds at a time on more than three occasions. I came out of work walking to my truck and a couple of crows were squalking from the parking lot light poles. I started barking back at them with my voice. They seemed to be communicating with a large quantity of crows about 600 or 700 yards across the parking lot, was quite a distance away. You could see the flock in the tops of the pine trees, but could not hear them. I arrived at my truck and picked up my duck caller and used it to mock there squalks. All of a sudden from way over in the pine trees…Here they came, right over to where I was and started circling over my head in a frenzy. The more I blew the duck call trying to mock the calls they were making, the more radical they became. They were flying into each other about 20 feet up in the air, circling in a fast tight pattern…Never seen anything like it. Got in my truck to leave, and continued blowing out the call’s overhead, and they even followed my truck in a circular pattern, all the way to the end of the road. My fellow employees and I were laughing hard. We never seen anything like it.I don’t know what I was saying to them but the flock was in a complete frenzy. Did this for three days in a row. Was looking for them today, but not a crow in sight. Weather today was cloudy and cooler than other days when it was sunny and warmer. Wonder what was up with these crows ? Was amazing to be able to bring the crows over and observe this peculiar behavior. Any known reason for this.

    • Fewox, this, like so many anecdotes, is one I have simply never heard of before! It’s part of the reason I enjoy maintaining this blog so much. I wonder if any other readers have had a similar experience. If so please add to this thread!

      • They didn’t show today…but next time they do I will have a friend take a video of the event while I call them over…I hope I didn’t offend them and run them up to Georiga, as I am in North Florida…Calling all Crows ( Ravens ) WHERE ARE YOU?

      • So I learned to mimic a crow’s call that I associate with perching and calm behavior – I call it a rattle and click. Friends tell me it is pretty good. I will hear this talk from a nearby perched crow – usually with two or 3 others nearby… then I mimic the call and glance in their direction. Every so often I hear a response, and it feels like we are in dialogue – but of course, cannot presume. I gaze longer in their direction and it seems I get to look at them directly just a bit longer than usual. But I have no way of testing that. That rattle sound followed by a single click seems to be common in the Seattle area crows… There must be regional preferences, is there a unique Seattle dialect/accent?

    • Suzanne Coleman

      Could it be that the duck call sounds like the distress call of an injured or frightened bird and the others were coming to its rescue? Many years ago one of our cats caught a young jackdaw and it made a very specific noise – the next moment the sky was black with hundreds of jackdaws coming to the rescue. It was like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds and quite frightening,especially for me as I was trying to rescue the poor thing.

  33. May I simply say what a relief to uncover a person that genuinely knows what they’re discussing on the net. You definitely know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More people really need to check this out and understand this side of the story. It’s surprising you are not more popular since you most certainly possess the gift.

    • Thank you very much, Eve, that’s a lovely thing to say. Please share any articles you find particularly informative with friends and family. And feel free to post any specific crow questions that you’d like to see a dedicated post on and I’ll do my best. Be well,

  34. Sam

    Hi Kaeli,

    I just saw the SciTech Now video on crow funerals and had a thought: Perhaps the purpose of the gathering is to identify the dead crow so they can avoid mating with its relatives? It would make sense in terms of evolutionary pressures, as a practical mechanism for avoiding mates with lower fitness. This hypothesis could be tested, although it would require tracking a large number of individuals and monitoring / controlling the events where the crows observe a death. Also I’m not sure if there’s existing evidence to suggest that crows can recognise & identify family members of other crows. So designing an experiment to test the idea might be difficult. But it seems consistent with the brain scans that show the long term memory regions being activated when a crow observes a dead crow. Curious about what you think!

    • Hi Sam, that’s a good question. Far as I know, our understanding of how crows recognize each other is fairly limited to flock mates and breeding partners. I don’t know if we know how far their recognition capabilities go, though I would be surprised to learn that they went that far. The other issue at play is that even nestlings within the same nest may not share that much genetic material since they can be sired by different males. There’s also a real difference in dispersal between males and females (with females dispersing further) so while this may be a concern for females, males probably wouldn’t be worried about this since her relatives might be miles away. Still, individual ID IS something I too have wondered and have even addressed (indirectly) in some of my unpublished studies. Once they are, I’ll revisit this thread and tell you what I learned 🙂

      • Sam

        Thanks for the reply Kaeli. It’s interesting to try to puzzle out this behaviour with limited information. I think you’re most likely right about the main purpose of the crow funeral. I did see a video on youtube where individual crows would go up and take a close look at the dead crow, but it seems the more common behaviour is for the group to perch in a tree, where they have a good vantage point of the surroundings.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if they do have better individual ID than we realise, though. It seems odd that they might have such good recognition of human faces but not of their own kind. Curious to see what your unpublished data says on the matter.

  35. Jesse Powell

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your research. I live in the middle of North Carolina and am a backyard birder. I’ve been feeding a family of 5-7 crows for about a year now. They are still very wary but will sometime come to get me if I’m not quick enough on cold mornings with the peanuts and sunflower hearts. They will perch in a small white oak tree about 50 feet from my back steps and sound their raucous call until they see me at the window.

    I am curious to know if there is a pecking order among crows. There seems to be a lot of jockeying for position around the food pile. If you’ve written about that, I’ve missed it. Could you advise? Thanks.

    • Definitely, Jess! If there’s anyway you can work out identifying individuals (via injuries, size, feather abnormalities etc.) you will begin to notice patterns with who keeps getting first dips and who gets scraps. Generally, sub-adults are going to be subordinate to a mated pair. Net time they pick ip something big see if you can take a peek at the mouth lining. Should be that the blacker mouths correlate with the older, more dominate birds.

      • Jesse Powell

        Thanks. I’ll follow up with your suggestions.

      • Elle

        I’ve been watching this, too, and have been trying to figure out the rotation. I’ll have really tasty treats on the railing, but the smaller, subordinate crows sound the alarm and wait for Bran & Raven. Bran waits for no one, and generally takes enough for two. After that, it’s hard to tell priority.

        Also interesting is that the crows don’t bother the chickadee/finch/flicker/etc. food, even though there are plenty of peanuts & other good treats in an open dish. Is it possible they are okay with sharing with the little birds?

      • That is interesting. Perhaps they’ve noticed that if they forgo the dish, they stand to get a higher quality treat from you instead?

      • Elle

        Well, they *do* love my roasted chicken protein crow bars! That might be it! I’ve considered selling them on Etsy they’ve made me so popular 🙂
        I’ve also found that they’re quite fond of corn tortilla strips with peanut butter, but I try to vary things a bit for them. Can they have refried beans? I thought of serving those on tortilla strips, too.

      • Beans should pose no problem. Especially fried in fat!

      • Elle

        Like I’d give my crows anything but the best lol. I’ll try those today and see how it goes. Good excuse to make veggie tacos for myself (as if I needed an excuse). Is it a bad sign that I’m cooking for the crows and eating the extra?

  36. John

    Hi recently found your blog through Facebook. I have an Albino crow called Polaris (Po), who is now 5 years old . I look forward to reading and learning from your page.

  37. Joanne Lipinski

    Dear Kaeli
    I thought you would be interested in the story I have to share….

    I’m from Melbourne Australia.
    Sadly, our 13 year old dog (Ellie) passed away last Monday (9th January). She was suffering from cancer and we had to have her put down at the vet. It’s important that you know that we left her at the vet as we wanted her to be cremated with the idea of eventually spreading her ashes in her (our) garden.

    Ellie and I were extremely close and as you can imagine I was devastated and grief stricken.

    While she was alive, she and I used to go for a long walk every morning, after which I’d give her a bone to chew on – she would either bury this for a later date, or she would chew on it until she’d had enough and leave the remnants outside.

    Interestingly enough, while we went for our walks, I became very aware of 3 Crows (I think they might be called Ravens in this country, not sure) following us on our walk. They got to know us and our routine.
    They would watch Ellie eat her bone and when she’d finished, one of the three would swoop down and grab whatever was left of it.

    The Friday morning (13th Jan) – at 1:30am, the usual time she would normally be eating her after-walk bone – 4 days after Ellie was put down, I heard this unbelievable racket coming from the same tree from which the usual 3 Crows would watch her. But this was louder and like nothing o had ever heard before, a cacophony!!! There must have been about 60 Criws cawing at the same time. This lasted for about 15-20 minutes and then they all dispersed except for 3 – who stayed there for about another 20 minutes cawing individually like they used to.

    I videoed this “funeral” as I wanted everyone who knew Ellie to hear it and feel the same sense of awe that I felt when I heard it.
    These highly intelligent birds were clearly mourning their good friend.
    I can’t tell you how much I cried, but I must say, they really helped me with my grief.

    I really wanted you to know about this for your research as it’s very clear that Crows don’t have to physically “see” another dead Crow to mourn, they have intuitive powers that we as humans can’t comprehend. And it also tells us that they don’t do this to warn other Crows of impending danger, they instinctively know and understand the significance of the event.

    I also want you to know that there have been times when Ellie has stayed with a friend or while we’ve been away on holiday and somehow the Crows must have “known” that she would be returning, as they never did this kind of thing then.

    Hope this gives you some insight into your studies.
    Please feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss anything further.

    Kind Regards
    Joanne Lipinski

  38. Karl Styrsky

    Hi Kaeli — I’ve read accounts of people purportedly receiving gifts from crows. While it’s a very compelling idea, there are a number of possible explanations other than the anthropomorphic “the crows love me so they’re leaving gifts”, or worse “MY crows love me … etc.”

    That said, at certain times of year I’ve been noticing lots of little 2-3 cm twigs at the base of the tree where I leave a daily food bonanza of peanuts and crow chow. Other trees in the vicinity don’t seem to have these little twigs. Just wondering if you know of any particular nesting or mating (or ?) rituals that might provide a natural explanation for the prevalence of these twigs?


    • There most likely is Karl, but first can you confirm the time of year you’re seeing this activity?

      • Karl Styrsky

        Guess I’m going to have to pay closer attention or take notes. I honestly don’t remember for sure but most likely Spring/Summer which obviously doesn’t narrow it down much. I’ll definitely keep closer tabs as we move into Spring this year and provide an update if I see it start up again. Thanks!

  39. Helena Mikas

    Great reading always .Crows are amazing to get to know and observe .I live in Berlin where we are blessed with oh so many Corvis cornix . How long it will be before a bird sits on my hand , no idea . They trust enough to come to my feet ,one in particular….

  40. Edward Zachary

    Awesome! Thanks! I’m learning!

      • Edward

        My community has declared crows a major nuisance. When they congregate downtown they use public areas as a toilet. The guano really piles up. It keeps the bums away from glaring at the tourists, but the issue of histoplasmosis is very real. People are getting sick.

      • Definitely a big motivation behind my research. How do we help human communities or areas with sensitive species disband crows in ways that are non lethal and effective? Effigies seems like an important component of management plans but there’s more work to be done!

  41. Kevin Watson

    This site is very great.
    The comments and your responses are so thoughtful.

    I’m in Eureka, California. Plenty of crows and ravens here.
    For the past few weeks both have been building nests, gathering twigs. Even saw two crowd mating one morning this week around dawn. Well, late dawn.

    Wish I could tell individuals apart! And remember from one
    day to the next. Maybe if they gave *me* peanuts it’d stick better. There were some with disfiguring pale lesions/growths last fall and in the winter, but they either healed or died. Those you could tell apart. Feet and beaks affected. Sad.

    I just read in the FAQs that it’s only the female raven who knocks. There’s at least one who come(s) to my window and knocks. Then I give her? them ? peanuts. Hope I’m leading no one on. I also try to make that noise to them, no doubt sounding like a totally-inappropriate buffoon–or maybe they just appreciate it that at least I’m trying.
    Sounds like an alveolar click in some southern African languages but softer, more wooden I think. I’m no good at making either sound.
    Could a *trained* male raven *learn* to make the knock?

    Short story:
    In a part of town I hardly go to, one day–this St Patrick’s day I think–I saw a raven caterwauling on the eves of a building. About two stories. Just carrying on. I wondered if someone had gotten it drunk! Just seemed so emotional! I watched it for a while, and it saw me but just continued carrying on, and also digging into the side of the building–which seemed odd. Just the plain wood siding of the building. But here’s the thing:THEN, the raven wings it over
    to the mossy roof of an old fourplex about a block away,
    keeps carrying on, and starts digging up the moss from the roof and even dropped some into the alley.

    Just the strangest thing!

    If it were human I’d think “drunk.”
    Or just distressed/emotional. Not a sober-minded raven at that moment. But seemed a good-enough fellow. It did seem to be calling to others–which were around in general, but not within sight of this particularly loud and emotional-sounding bird. Long, drawn-out, sobbing-sounding caws.

    Not sure there’s a point to they story but it was the strangest thing.

    Ok thanks very much! Keep up the great work!

    • Kevin Watson

      Oops just realized how little I’ve read of your site.
      I think I’ll read more of that first.

      Such a great site! Thanks!

    • Corvids love to pull up moss to look for insects hiding under the tuffs. I’ll often come across sidewalk littered with moss that the crows have torn up from the cracks. It’s quite a sight!

  42. Maria

    Amazing Info and website! I love the cross! Thanks!

  43. Will Bailey

    It has been at least 20 years since I saw them, but in Hibiya Park in Tokyo, there were many large crows (ravens?) that would gather there in what appeared to be two groups for gang fights. It was scary, although I do not know that they ever attacked people.

  44. fran w

    Thank you for your wonderful research, Kaeli. I was in awe and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of your talk at the Heron Habitat Helpers fundraiser in Seattle this past weekend. I’m so happy to have learned to respect and love Crows over the last 20 years. I knew nothing about them when I had my first close encounter with them years ago when one swooped in at my head. Now I know he/she was watching out for a baby probably hiding in a bush. I can’t believe I used to get annoyed at their loud cawing as well.
    Now I LOVE to hear them and always say hello back. Thanks again for all your hard work and blog!

  45. CC

    I found this website while searching for information about crows eating other birds. I do appreciate the information in your site. Thank you. But I have to say when you gave some gratuitous, detailed information last year about Crows attacking young sheep and the behavior of certain falcons collecting food for their young, it was somewhat horrifying. I know it’s part of nature, but unless it’s a direct response to a question (which it really was not), you might want to think about those of us bird-lovers who understand nature can be brutal, but don’t want to hear those details.
    Regarding your previous discussion about crows chasing away other songbirds, it seems to have happened in my little southern California backyard. I have two small water features in my yard. I had many lovely songbirds all fall and winter, including Black phoebes, Goldfinches, Lesser goldfinches, Yellow-rumped warblers, White crowned sparrows, House finches, Wilson’s warblers, Townsend warblers, an occasional Scrub Jay and the adorable, reclusive Hermit Thrush.
    A few crows discovered my yard this year for the first time in 30 years. Now they (usually one at a time) use the birdbath to dunk their scavenged food. The food is usually some kind of bread (which dissolves and makes a mess), but I have also found a partially nibbled chicken leg bone (no meat on it) and today, a small patch of attached feathers with some very small entrails. The only other birds that keep coming around now are groups of persistent starlings who always turn the bath water dirty brown by the time they leave. I do get a few other songbirds on occasion since the crows arrived. But my days now are filled almost completely with Starlings and Crows. I respect the intelligence of the Crow, which I’ve read is the same as that of about a 4 year old child! But if my other guests don’t return by next fall at the latest, I’m going to have to start chasing the crows away when I see them, like I do the starlings. I love little birds and admire larger birds, but I don’t clean my fountain and birdbath so often just to benefit bullies with dirty habits. I wish them luck somewhere else.

    • Hi CC and thanks for your comments. I appreciate your concerns and will consider them, though since that’s the first complaint like that I’ve gotten I’ll err on the side of providing too much, rather than too little, information. This blog is intended to educate on all fronts and since that’s not a regular part of the discourse (you said those comments were from last year?) I don’t think it’s a big issue for most readers.
      As for your crows. Yes, they do make a mess of the bird baths! Probably one of the top complaints I get. We should clean our bird baths everyday anyway but I appreciate that it’s kind of a headache when we /have/ to do it because the crows left their goodies. In terms of your smaller birds, take a look at your yard. Is there lots of possible cover? Some nice unkept bushes for smaller birds to hide? If not, this is a good opportunity to make some landscape modifications that will help attract them-and give them cover. Otherwise be patient, things move around during the breeding season and you may very well have more visitors in a few months.
      Best wishes

      • CC

        Thank you for your reply. I do have several large, fairly tall bushes next to the bird bath that the birds regularly go into to preen after they bathe. I also have several tall Italian Cypress very close by, that I’ve seen small birds pop into…looking for bugs, I assume. I usually change the water in my bird bath every day, but the Crows and the Starlings make such a mess that I have to change the water two or three times most days to try and keep it clean enough for my other guests—in case they show up. The Crow arrives at my birdbath at least three times a day. I still get a few sparrows very occasionally and sometimes a Mourning Dove or two in the late afternoon. I guess I don’t have a choice about the waiting part. However, if a scarecrow would work, I’d start making one. But I don’t know if it would keep Crows away. And I’m concerned it would scare off more than Crows.

  46. Jessica Haselby

    Hi- I witnessed and took video of a crow funeral – crow not dead but still very alive and very down, on back- by the LakeCity Library a couple months ago.
    I have 2 clips of video I could send. I actually wrapped the injured but very alive young robust crow in a towel and box and took it to PAWS wildlife rehab in Lynnwood. The next day they humanely euthanized the crow I heard as I think it had spinal injury they thought.

    Anyway, I could send the video to you and I’m sure you could get data on the crow who died from PAWS. The crow gathering was amazing and I saw more than I have on video.

  47. Doug Nafziger

    Hi Kaeli,

    If you’ve ever carried around a camera tripod and hopped on/off busses downtown, then I’m (one of) the bus drivers who chatted with you and was interested in the research you were doing.

    If I recall correctly, “making a documentary about crows” was mentioned.

    Anyways, I thought of you the other day (Saturday) as I was lounging in the indoor hot tub at Olympic Hotel.

    As I sat there, my attention was caught by a bird moving swiftly up in the sky just outside the glass window wall.

    The next moment, the crow – as it turned out to be – dive bombed to the cement deck just feet away from me. Through the glass I saw the crow knock a small bird (I’d guess a sparrow, or similar) to the ground – from midair – and instantaneously pinned it down.

    As my wife and I watched in horror, the crow grabbed the still-flailing small bird in its beak and flew off.

    The entire incident took mere seconds, but it’s burned into a sad circle of life memory in my brain.

    Never saw anything like it. Never knew crows were capable of such avian treachery!

    • Hi Doug, are you the driver that pulled over that time to ask me a couple questions?
      No, I’ve never made a documentary though my work has been featured in a number of crows specials over the years.
      Yes, although active predation accounts for little of a crow’s diet (2%) they can take down adult birds in the right circumstances. It’s always hard (for most people) to witness the end of a prey animal’s life. I get it. But predators (or omnivores) are animals too and they need to eat. Still, maybe it was kinds cool to have witnessed such a raw bit of nature?

  48. Doug Nafziger

    Follow up –

    Hi, I’m the guy who happened upon the nice Met Seattle article when I was in my doctor’s waiting yesterday…

    And wrote in about a “disturbing crow cannibalism” event (kinda) I witnessed last Saturday.

    Spookily, when I got home from doctor’s office, my wife reports that a crow, wandered up on our backyard patio…was obviously in great distress (sick, poisoned, dying)…
    And promptly died.

    Right there.

    I gotta tell you that – unlike you – crows have never much been a part of my (60 year old) life.

    Until last Saturday.
    And yesterday.

    Anyhow, should I just dispose of dead Crow, or – since we live 3 minutes from UW – drop it off for research purposes???

    Thanks ~ Doug ~ 206.947.2447

  49. Alan Hearton

    Hi Kaeli. I came upon your blog whilst researching an event that happened this morning. Myself and my family live in the West Coast of Scotland, just outside Glasgow, and our area is home to a great many crows. We also have a pair of Magpies nesting in the Cedar of Lebanon in front of our house. We are all RSPB members, but not active in birdwatching, we just love birds and like to feed them and enjoy their company.

    This morning we found a headless crow in front of our house. Initially, we blamed the easiest suspect, our neighbours cat, who is a regular visitor. However, I reviewed our CCTV and the answer was very different, and I have saved the footage. Around 0730 in the morning you can see many crows flocking in the glass on the roof of my partners car. Then, a crow falls from the sky, bounces off the roof, and lands on the ground. Another crow lands further away, then walks over to the victim and begins systematically attacking it. It is joined sporadically by one other crow, but mainly it is a solo attack. From time to time our nesting Magpies attempt to mob the attacker, but are repelled. It drags the bird around, eventually removing its head.

    Quite a macabre yet fascinating event, and I have the video if you are interested (though it might take me some time and research to convert it from the proprietary CCTV format.) However, it has led me to your blog, and your research, and though I’ve only dipped my toe in the waters so far you are doing some great work, keep it up! They are fascinating birds, and we enjoy the company of our crows and Magpies here, even if our equally beloved Blackbirds aren’t so keen!

    Best wishes from Scotland!


    • Hi Alan, I actually would like this video. Intraspecific aggression is something I’m interested in. My email is Kaelis@uw.edu. If it’s too much trouble don’t worry about it but I’d like to see it since you offered 🙂

      • Alan Hearton

        No problem Kaeli, I just managed to convert the video to MP4, so will send you a link to my Dropbox, as it’s rather a large file… 11 minutes right up to the point where the “naughty crow” as my 8-year old calls it flies off with it’s mate’s head. I’d be interested in your opinion when you’ve seen it. Also feel free to use it as you see fit.

  50. Suzanne Hewett

    Hello Have you noticed the pattern that I have– that when driving on a trip that there can be seen many more crows than usual down on the ground on the sides of the road — and inevitably it ends up raining. Are you able to confirm or expand on this behaviour. They do seem to be pecking at the ground ..Thanks Suzanne Hewett

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