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. Jackie Gause

    I’ve been feeding the crows in my neighborhood for months now & have formed some relationships, which I love. The most attentive big, gorgeous male showed off his youngster to me last week & I felt so honored. He greets me every day when my dog & I go for walks. Others in the hood do interesting things like flying over me & touching my head on the way- just to let me know he’s there. My dream is to have them trust me enough to let me touch them, which you’ve accomplished! I used to dislike these wonderful creatures, but decided to change my mind. Wishing you the best.

    • Thanks for your comment Jackie! I always like to know more about what brought people around to crows (helps give me new ideas and improves my outreach efforts). Would you mind sharing more about why you decided to change your attitude towards them? Thanks!

      • Karl Styrsky

        Jackie, that is amazing that the crows will actually touch you! I’ve been feeding the local population at my office and along my daily bike commute for many years and they are still quite wary although there are a couple of intrepid individuals who sometimes pursue me in flight as I ride by — very life affirming. I try to be careful with them by keeping some distance, sitting very still, not looking them on the eyes, etc.

        Kaeli, my personal interest in crows began when I first viewed Joshua Klein’s “Crow Box” TED talk. Until then I had ignored the animals and hadn’t considered them to have much”awareness”. Once I learned that they are so very intelligent and probably pay attention to me then I ever did to them I really started watching and learning.

  2. Crows In a Moment Passing By

    I caught them
    almost quiet:
    pine tree dreams
    of slick black rainbow feathers
    within branches
    armed long, spiky needles
    clasped by sweet sap,
    roiling caws started
    and black shapes
    with shaggy tail feathers
    bobbed out along limbs
    took flight
    long, sweeping flaps
    leaving the trees still.

    Constance Lee Menefee @ConnieMenefee

  3. Pınar


    Last week me and my dad “rescued” a crow fledgling after observing it for two days. It was able to fly a little but it couldn’t gain height. It was mainly on the ground with a parent almost always around. I wasn’t sure about taking it, but there are too many cats in our neighborhood and it was almost caught by one. Even though I know it’s the natural order, I couldn’t help myslef when my dad insisted. We’ve been feeding it for a week now, and it looks a bit better than when we first took it. It reacts to movement now, last week a car would pass by and it wouldn’t even move. I’m still worried and weighing on releasing it as soon as I see one of its parents. Meanwhile, there is something like an acne where its beak ends, and it can’t fully close its beak. This is very new, only been there for two days. You seem to be very experienced about crows, so I thought maybe you can help me with both the acne thing and thoughts about releasing. We live in Turkey so keeping a crow is not against the law as far as I know, but the vets here are mostly based on cats and dogs so I can’t ask them. I don’t know any nature organizations either. However, crows are not very much liked among people and the law says they’re the only kind of bird that can be hunted throughout the year. Long story short, I would be grateful if you can offer some professional advice. I took some pictures if its beak as well, and I can send them to you if you like. Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Pinar, as a I am not a veterinarian or licensed rehab professional I do not give rehab advice here. There are several facebook groups dedicated to such activities though that you can seek out instead. Good luck!

  4. April B.

    I’ve got a story about crow humor that continues to blow my mind more than a decade after I witnessed it, and I’ve got to share.

    One day, I saw a crow perched near the end of a long branch, high up in a Douglas Fir tree. It was facing away from the tree, like it was keeping a look-out. I could see it pretty clearly from below from a distance, but the branches probably would have hidden it from anything flying above. As I watched, another crow hopped down from elsewhere in the tree, near the trunk. It came down to the branch that the sentinel crow was on, and carefully sidled up behind as the first crow continued to look outward. When the 2nd crow got up right behind the first, it let out a loud shriek, in perfect imitation of a large raptor (you know, that “pewww” sound you hear every time they show an image of an eagle on TV). The sentinel crow whipped around, flapping and squawking, while the prankster crow hopped away with haste.

    The scene looked just like somebody sneaking up on a person and saying “Boo!” Hard for me to interpret it in any other way. I’d love to hear your thoughts, with the perspective of your research.

    • Steller’s jays are well known for their red tailed hawk impressions (the call that you described that’s regularly attributed to eagles in movies.) I’m not familiar with crows imitating this call though. Young crows certainly seem to like to mess with each other and they have an incredible diversity of weird sounds. If I had to guess I might wager you saw two young crows, one of which approximated the hawk call mostly by accident. Then again you never know! Crows are certainly capable of mimicry and I wouldn’t put this kind of stunt past them!

  5. April B.

    Second, I’m wondering if you have an interest in, or know someone who researches corvid dialects. I have noticed a very unique call among the ravens at Breitenbush hot springs in Oregon, that I dearly wish someone would explore. Their shriek is a perfect imitation of a woman screaming, and it’s not quite clear whether she’s playing in the cold river by the hot springs, or in serious trouble. I found it very disturbing for several days the first time I went there, until I figured out that it was the birds. Then it was only slightly less disturbing. I do really wonder if they picked up the sound of women jumping into the cold river. I have ravens where I live now at Tiger Mountain, WA. They don’t shriek like that at all. They just caw throatily, like a crow with a cold.

    • Hi April, the begging calls of young ravens sound like someone yelling. Google the sound and let me know if that’s what you’re hearing. It’s definitely more of s yell than a shriek though.

  6. Colin

    Thanks for the work you’re doing it is very interesting. If it suits maybe you could join Quora and perhaps answer some questions related to animal behavior? Lastly, those rompers are dope.

  7. Hi Kaeli – Responding to the recent article in the July 21, 2017 issue of The Week – “What a Crow knows” I can totally support the amazing spectacle of a crow “funeral”. About a year ago, in the parking lot across from my office, I began to hear and see an amazing site of crows flying in from all directions to this eucalyptus tree. We have a large crow population here in Santa Cruz, CA, so I didn’t think too much of this fly-in. However, more and more crows kept showing up and the crying and cawing was treamendous – more than anything I’ve ever heard here in town. My conservative estimate was 75 – 85 crows. I was so curious as to what was going on, I left my office and walked over to the parking lot to see what might be causing the ruckus. To my disappointment, I discovered between two cars in the parking lot, a dead crow. I knew nothing of crow “funerals”, (at this time) but I was in the midst of witnessing this event firsthand. I’ve always loves crows so I picked up the dead crow from the parking lot, and laid it gently on the grass below the eucalyptus tree. And that was the end of it. The cawing stopped and the crows flew off. How amazing!

  8. Jann Perez

    Just read about your research in “The Week”. July 21, 2017. We have a group of crows (a murder?) that live in two hemlocks just off the corner of our deck. We are on PS tide flats – a great food source for the crows. Our flock has discovered is our metal roof makes an excellent clam and crab cracking tool. A crow will bounce a clam off the roof so that it flips onto the driveway then cracks open. If it doesn’t work the first time, the crow tries again. The crows also know they difference between me and my husband. Very entertaining.

  9. George

    Given your research in crow thanatology you may find this interesting. A number of years ago my wife and I were staying at an inn in a small village. We went for a walk one evening and noticed what looked like a freshly deceased crow on the side of the road near a power pole. On the way back about an hour later we saw three of them on the ground almost side by side. In retrospect, the only explanation I could think of was that the power line above them must have had a bare spot or short of some kind. If so, the first one was electrocuted just before we passed by. The two additional deceased crows must have met the same fate by the time we returned and must have either been the first one’s family or simply among those who came to investigate and ended up landing on the same live wire.

    • Jeez, I hoped they fixed it! I think you’re exactly right. In my experience crows like to perch right above where the body is. I bet they came in one after another and get getting zapped. Poor birdies! A good lesson that this behavior can have costs!

  10. damion

    interesting article summarized in the week. i have had an affinity for crows for a long time, admiring their use of tools and games and i share their love of shiny things on the ground. my pockets are filled with washers and bits of glittering wire and the castoffs of machines and humans. for a long time i thought that grackles were in the corvid family, but i just looked it up and they are another genus altogether. i live is austin, texas and grackles are ubiquitous, noisy and social they gather everywhere. for a while i had a cat that was killing grackles in my backyard and every time i took the shovel to bury it, grackles would start to appear and make a chorus of anger, much as you described for the “crow funeral”. then they left when the body was buried. i wonder if this behavior in similar ways is seen across other bird families (or genuseses or whatnot). they certainly seem smart, washing nuts clean in the birdbath and occasionally pushing my truck out of the driveway and taking it for a late night joyride. damn birds.

  11. Tracey MacRae

    Wow. Are you still at UW?

  12. George

    Last year I was walking through a nearby park and noticed a lone crow that seemed to have a red, open wound just above its left eye. It looked so mournful that I stopped to give it piece of a biscuit I had with me. I started returning to the same spot frequently and bringing it some food. Soon, it was joined by another adult and a juvenile which I assume are its family. The odd thing was that when the wound healed and the feathers grew back at first they were snow white – which is how I knew it was still the same crow. Now, a year later, I think I am dealing with the same three crows because they definitely recognize me from a distance and come to see what i have. However, the white feathers have disappeared so the original crow isn’t as recognizable. I currently know the territory of this group fairly well but would like to know that I am always feeding the same “adopted” family and would like to be able to call them for food. I was wondering if it would be useful to carry something like a small bell that I could get them used to. Is there something that you recommend as a signalling device?

    • Karl

      I started bringing food to the crows in the industrial area where I work and there is a little built in emergency whistle on my bicycle pack. Since it is regularly at hand, I always blew it when putting out the peanuts and crow chow. It didn’t take long for the crows to come to the whistle even though sometimes there may not be a single one in sight when I arrive.

      I look forward to Kaeli’s suggestions as well …

  13. Joe Almburg, Sr.

    Hi Kaeli
    Read your article in My July 21st issue of The Week news magazine. Thank you, it was very very interesting!!
    Back in February my “odometer” very quietly rolled over to 80!! I was raised on a medium sized family farm in DeKalb, Illinois. Sometime when I was about 12 to 14 years old (1950). I was visiting a local cemetery with a couple of friends and we came upon a baby crow that had apparently fallen out of a nest. Too little to fly and just too vulnerable to all those creepy creatures who roam around at night. Much to the alarm of a chorus of adult crows overhead we cornered the little creature and I took it home to the farm. Feeding him/her?? Bread and milk with a spoon until it could fly. Day by day growing more fond of my little pet, I named him/her?? “CAW”. Rather original I thought! Probably not surprising to you, but Caw and I began quite a friendship. Once out of the box and beginning to fly, always following me around the farmyard, but never really to the fields. Usually hanging around on the branches of a large pine tree just outside my bedroom window. Often creating quite a ruckus with the wild crows that populated the big pine tree windbreak to the North and the West of the buildings. As I am sure, no surprise to you, CAW and I had a very close friendship. Always following me around and perching close-by, allowing me to stroke his beautiful head and back (but only me). And so to make a long story just a little bit shorter. “CAW” stuck around faithfully all summer and into the fall. (Even though I went to school). Welcoming me when I got off the school bus each day. Then came the harsh winds of a Northern Illinois winter, I always opened the bottom sash of my bedroom window, just a little, so “CAW” could sit on the outside window sill and enjoy a little man made heat and “talk” to me in the evening.
    As your article so accurately suggests, we really had a remarkable and a wonderful friendship. Then came Spring and I believe “The call of Nature” somehow loured “CAW” back to the wild (where he really belonged) and I truly hope that life went as wonderfully for Him/Her?? as it has for me. Again thank you for your wonderful article. I have copied it and given it to each of my grandchildren (just so they won’t think I am CRAZY) when I tell them of my friendship and real love for “CAW”
    Joe Almburg, Sr.
    1405 North Gazebo Drive
    Delavan, Wisconsin

    • Hi Joe, thank you for sharing this lovely story with me. I’m glad I can aid in helping one more person seem less crazy in the eyes of their not-yet-crow-love-struck family members. 🙂
      Best wishes,

  14. Anya

    Hi Kaeli,
    My dad and I came across your blog while trying to figure out what was wrong with one of our local territorial pair (we think it’s probably scaly leg). I was excited to see that you’re at UW, because we live really close by. I’ve even taken a few summer classes there.
    Dad and I have been “crow-friends” for about three years now, giving them dry cereal and the occasional meat scraps and admiring them as they hang out on the telephone wires. My dad called them “Crow-bar” and “Crow-manon,” and the puns stuck. Crow-manon is the one with scaly leg; we usually recognize her by the way she sits on her claws instead of perching, all the better to show off her fluffy belly. Crow-bar is a little bigger than she is, and absolutely magnificent; he has the most beautiful, glossy black feathers, and loves to preen them to perfection.
    One thing we’ve kind of worried about lately is the way we hardly ever see their kids. We know they must be raising eggs, since they make a big show of mating on the telephone wires in full view of the whole neighborhood, but if we ever see fledglings, they’re gone within a couple months. Is there anything you can tell us about that?

    • Hi Anya, check out this post and let me know if you have any follow up questions. I suspect this will provide most of the answers you are looking for though.

      • Anya

        Thanks for the link! I suppose none of our pair’s fledglings have felt like babysitting. I’m still a little worried for this year’s babies, though. We saw two early on, but that quickly became one, and the other stopped showing up a bit before the “late summer” mark. I did see a few flocks around that time, though, so I suppose I can hope that they just left early.
        Speaking of the flocks, I’ve seen them harassing everything from seagulls to bald eagles, and winning! Those crow gangs are pretty dang tough.

  15. Marc Dahlman

    Kaeli – I live in New Orleans and have had a few encounters with crows and jays over the years, and never associated this with a response to death, but now that I recall there were dead birds involved. The article “What a Crow Knows” in “The Week” reprinted from the “Seattle Met” was fascinating, and I am fascinated by your work and passion, and as an aside: I just subscribed to the “Seattle Met”. If you ever have a desire to visit our corvid population in south Louisiana, come on down – we’ll find you a place….Marc

  16. Stella

    Hi Kaeli, and THANK YOU!! For all your time and effort, and for this forum for us fellow crow admirers. I’m thrilled to have found a flock to join. 😉 I can relate to many of the posts, yours and others’. While I have many stories of my own, with plenty of pictures and videos, one in particular may be of interest to you and your thanatology studies. I think… 🤓
    I have some video of a peculiar behavior that appears to be concern(?). Not scolding or alarm, not quite distress or fear. I have a tiny Yorkie that often wears a shirt. When Ruckus (a crow I rescued who is back with his family but still checks in every day) sees Belle’s(Yorkie) shirt on the ground, he stands on it and “wails” (?) Not loud, but not softly either, while slightly flapping his wings. Similar to the “feed me” behavior, but definitely not “feed me”. It’s more reserved. Not as loud, wing movement is softer, not as insistent. Difficult to describe, but very distinct. He has done it a few times, inside and outside, I have a couple videos. Have you seen this behavior? Does it sound like mourning? Concern is the closest “emotion” I can compare it to.
    I am crow-like in my curiosity and enjoy observing and documenting everything crow. °>

    • April B.

      Hi Stella,
      I’m not a crow expert, but since the behavior is similar to the “I want food” behavior, I wonder if Ruckus is trying to say “I want Belle!”

      • Stella

        Hi April,
        Expert or not, I appreciate your input. Just like a cat or dog, I’ve learned to recognize most of Ruckus’ sounds and behaviors. When he wants something, he let’s me know. He has also done this with my sweater when it was on the ground. He did it again on Tuesday, with Belle’s shirt, and looked “inside” the shirt. Moved it around, opened it with his beak, and looked puzzled. It is amusing, but he seems genuinely concerned. And Belle was sleeping just a few inches away. It is always a delight to spend time with him.

  17. Sue Bowman

    Interesting stuff we have a crow called Magic had her over 11 years now. She cannot fly so cannot be released – We Also rear and release all other corvids that come our way usually from vets or members of the general public. Not many it seems want to help these very intelligent birds? Most are classed as pests and killed – shameful.
    Always interesting how they relate to each other as well as us. How they learn and copy.
    The difference between a crow a rook and a magpie is tremendous. We have just had the three at once so we’re able to see this clearly, they may all be corvids but that’s we’re it ends it seems?

    • Hi Sue, you’re absolutely right that each species is incredibly different from the next. Big part of why I’m compelled to help people understand and value the diversity in this group. Particularly because so many are endangered. Do you outreach with your birds?

      • Sue Bowman

        We belong to some large crow groups so share a lot of information and help each other wherever we can.
        A lot of people have very little idea about these fascinating birds and believe all the bad hype that surrounds them so we try hard to change these old fashioned views.

  18. Johann G. Preiss

    Hi Kaeli, thank you for this fantastic site, lots of great stuff to read for the next weeks and many useful links.
    I see myself as an amateur crow scientist, interested mainly in wild city crows here in Vienna/Austria.
    Vienna lies right in the middle of the so called hybrid zone in central Europa where the western fully black Corone meets and mates intensively with they grey & black Cornix.
    In many papers and books concerning hybridization I find the statement that the two “races” may breed successfully but not the offspring, like it’s the case with horse and donkey. It’s argued if they would, the hybrids had long since spread all over Europa.
    Well, I’m observing and documenting the Viennese crows and their behaviour photographically for quite a couple of years now and have enough evidence to suggest that hybridization is very common, almost a standard rule here in Vienna. I estimate that nearly all of the >50k crows here in Vienna are hybrids to a certain degree although many of them still appear purely Corone or Cornix.
    Often I can observe a completely Corone looking breeding couple having e.g. one entirely Cornix looking and one typical black hybrid sibling with white and grey checkered breast.
    Long time I wondered in such cases if the female Corone had been cheating with a Cornix, but now I’m quite sure that’s simply due to Mendel’s rules. There ain’t no such thing as racism among the crows in the hybrid zone, it’s only one of my conclusions. 😉
    What do you think?
    I further think that the hybrids here in Vienna developped some behaviour patterns which are quite different from the behaviour of their purely(?) Corone relatives in Western Austria. Isn’t it time to consider these hybrids as a third “race”, since the term subspecies is no longer appropriate in the case of Corone Corone vs. Corone Cornix.
    I would strongly appreciate the opinion of a professional scientist on this issue.
    Thank you for your attention.

    • Hi Johann, I’ll be honest genetic/hybridization is not one of my strengths. There is, however, a lab at the UW that does look at this with respect tor crows. They are interested in looking at the hybridization of our American and Northwestern crows but you might be able to ask them about your observations too. You can read more about the PI, John Klicka, and his grad students here. https://klickalab.com/people/ Hopefully they can provide a level of thoughtfulness and expertise that I cannot. Either way, I encourage you to keep documenting your observations. You never know when someone might finally come a long that can do something with it.

  19. Karo

    What issue of The Week was your article on crows published?

    I ❤️ Crows


  20. Georgia Angus

    Thank you for the info–several days ago I watched a crow perched on our bird bath. It was there all afternoon, only occasionally moving or taking small sips; night fell, I watched until 11:30 whenI retired. By 7:30 next morning it was still there. Later when I came back I learned it had fallen, that a lot crow had come sqwaking to see it.

  21. Sandy Barclay

    I live in Haines, Alaska and when I returned from a trip the middle of April after being away several weeks, 30 crows had moved onto my home and surrounding woods. My deck was whitewashed with crow mute and they were busy building nests in the groves of spruce on either side of the house. Streaks of white spread down the roofline and the roof and deck railing had become their favorite perching spots. With my return they pushed back a wee bit at my insistence.

    So the more interesting part is the end of July I found 7 dead birds in a very small area (75’ X 300’). Murder of crows? The carcasses are all the same size. There are no nests above them to have fallen from and all have full flight feathers. All were at the same level of decomposition suggesting more or less simultaneous deaths. I don’t see any suspicious holes in skulls or breast bones. Any ideas?

    • Hmmm. My best guess is that a neighbor was less tolerant of the whitewashing and tainted some bait. There’s just not a lot else that would cause a group of birds to die within a short distance of one another without physical trauma. But that’s just my speculation!

  22. Hi…
    In Paris i use to feed the crows at the Bois de Boulogne and i would arrive with my dog either on my scooter or by electric car… They would always know it was me and fly in from various parts near the lake. They would follow me along my walk and several at from my hand. One in particular (I named him Huffy) became my boyfriend ;-)… He was bigger than the rest and would shoo them off if they got too close to me while I was feeding him.
    One strange thing that used to happen is that several times one would try to land on my head… The first time I almost had a heart attack but then I actually grew to like it…
    I just imagined they were happy to see me…
    what do you think?
    I moved to Portland Oregon a year ago and though the crows here follow me and recognize my car and call out to each other when I’m walking around my hood, they are way more fearful (also smaller) than they are in Paris.
    No way are they eating out of my hand…
    Ive heard they pass info down through generations about humans… do you know anything about that?
    So cool you are able to touch them!
    I moved to Portland (Oregon) and have developed

    • Hi Ellevie, that’s interesting that the carrion crows are so friendly in Paris. Another reason for me to finally get over there I suppose 😉 Certainly they were trying to send pretty forceful “hello, we’re here, please feed us” messages. Where I used to live there was a crow that we strike me in the back of the head to get food. Most birds aren’t that aggressive about it but they certainly can be. in general, you just need to listen for the sounds to determine if the behavior is attention seeking or aggressive. If they don’t scold during or after than they’re just trying to get your attention and get a food reward.

      As for the information sharing, yes that does happen! Before I was a graduate student, one of my predecessors, Heather Cornell, did a study looking at vertical and horizontal learning of dangerous people by crows. To do this the would wear specific face masks while trapping and banding crows (a harmless but scary experience for the birds). The question was then would birds that had not been trapped learn that these people people were bad by watching how the now banded birds responded to them. They found that both other adult crows (horizontal learning) and the offspring of the trapped birds (vertical learning) learned that these people were bad by watching how the knowledgable birds responded to them. Later, those unbanded would respond to them independently of the others, showing that they had made an association they were then exercising on their own. You can read the full paper here. Really interesting stuff!

      • Thanks! Every time I go back to Paris I go and visit them several times… they definitely remember me even though it had been over a year! I was really bummed that my favorite one, the one that really got close to me wasn’t there… I went back 3 times and didn’t see him (I recognized him coz he was bigger than the others and had a certain swagger 😉)…
        I’m going back again in November, hopping he’ll be around … I also noticed that when they found a mate they would leave the group and go a bit further away… maybe that’s what happened to “Huffy”… he fell in love❤️!

    • Christian

      Hi ellevie
      the carrion crows at your head tell you “I want food!!!”
      If I may post a link to a pic I took with my videocam, for example; here it is:

      The bum there is me.
      Just wait 2 or 3 seconds and this crow will probably land just in front of you.
      Location: Bremen, Germany, 2015.

      • Im afraid your pix did not appear. As for your interpretation of why the crow lands on my head… I prefer to think he/she is exited to see me!
        And yes food is involved but also recognition.

      • Christian

        it’s a pic that shows a crow at the back of my head and another crow on the ground. They did it many times, it’s common behavior of some crows that know you well. They appreciate you being around -and feeding them.
        Beware of anthropomorpism. 🙂

      • Ellevie

        Well you said it yourself… « it’s a behavior of crows that know you well »…
        I don’t think it has much to do with anthropomorphism 😊

      • Stella Stone

        Hi Kaeli, First, I want to thank you SO much for telling me about the roost at UW Bothell in early September. It was AMAZING!! My husband enjoyed it so much, we went to the Still Creek Rookery here in Burnaby, BC when we returned from our trip to Vegas. It was also AMAZING!! What a feeling. We didn’t see Ruckus there (didn’t really expect to 😊). We are planning to go again soon. Secondly, I hope your trip in September was good also. When we were in Vegas, I didn’t see a single crow. And I looked in different areas around Vegas, not just on the Strip. Do you know if they have/don’t have crows in Vegas? It was weird, and a bit sad not to see any. We were gone for almost a week, 5 entire days, but within a half hour of getting home, Ruckus came home!! 😁 In full molting condition. He looked funny. And I noticed the grumpy-teenager attitude I’ve read about when birds molt. Do you have an idea how to tell if or when they might join the roost or migrate away from here? Everyday, I wonder, is this the day Ruckus or his family don’t come back? My goal was to rehabilitate him to give him the best chance to live his life as he was supposed to. I know I succeeded. But the connection is deep and strong, and I will miss him when he doesn’t come home. Thank you again, for the info. And for this forum. All the best Stella

      • Hi Stella, glad to hear your buddy is back! 😊 and glad to hear you enjoyed the roost! Spectacular isn’t it?

        No, there’s really no way to predict that I have an article on what happens to baby crows at the end of summer…have you read that one? It will give you the best idea of all the options, and help explain why predicting when birds leave or stay is so difficult. Let me know if you have other questions or need help finding that article.

      • Christian

        Uh! Sorry for being a month late. As I now read my comment here saying “that know you well”… I knew right away that this was a mistake. Sincerely, I do not know at all that they know me well. These are winter crows (oct-mar),
        summer’s pair don’t need to fly around my head, *they* know me well.
        Thanks for putting that straight. My apology!

  23. G Spencer

    A local crow family has a new member this year. It looks very odd though because its wing feathers are splayed apart on both sides – especially on the right side where they are dragging on the ground. When I first saw it it wasn’t able to fly and the parents seemed to be distressed by trying to look out for it. It is able to fly now but I wonder about its longevity. Have you seen this sort of thing? Could this condition that affects the wings possibly correct itself over time?

  24. Elle O.

    Hi Kaeli! Do you know anything about the bird population,(esp re: my favorite corvids) in Poulsbo, WA? I am currently in Gig Harbor, have my crows and little birds and jays trained, and now I really should move for work. Poulsbo is the most logical location (8 miles one way v. the current 35 miles one way), and I’ve found a place right near the Fish Park with evergreens all around, but it is near Bond Road (I don’t know anything about the hubbub of Poulsbo traffic). I’ll have a private deck on the third floor, so if I just happen to accidentally leave peanuts* on my railing, do you think there are as many birds there as in Gig Harbor on the Sound? I know that this shouldn’t really be part of my decision to move. My personal safety, the commute time, the pain that Hwy 16 can be in winter, the cost – those should all take precedence, but I’d feel much better about making the decision to move if I thought I’d have lots of new bird friends. Also, do you think there’s a chance any of mine would travel that far and happen to find me or is that just OTT crazy on m part? Thanks for any info you have. Elle (PS I will be really sad to lose my hawk, too).
    *Peanut butter sandwich snacks, homemade crowbars, roast chicken, corn tortillas with black beans… also, those sometimes end up accidentally placed on the railings

    • Hi Elle, I’m afraid I don’t know too much about that area. I can tell you that I got married at Kitsap state park which is right outside of Poulsbo and there were certainly a lot of crows there. So I wouldn’t worry too much. I doubt you will encounter the crows you’ve been feeding though. That’s a very long distance to travel just for a handout and if there are already resident birds there (which there very very likely are) they wouldn’t be too welcoming. Best of luck with the move and keep me posted!

      • Elle O.

        Thank you, and I’ll keep you posted. I just hate to leave my place, but I looked at the Fish Pond and Poulsbo bird stats and it sounds like the place is filled with birds, and I am literally in the trees right across from the Fish Pond, so if I can’t lure birds my way, I’ll be very sad. I did a pretty good job here of setting up a bird-friendly setting, so I’ll just have to do it again 🙂

        One thing that seemed to help was the fake trees because the little birds also found them. So I might start there. And I’m going to scour for information here about attracting corvid bird friends. If I don’t have some jays and crows, then what’s the point of a deck.

        Thanks again, Elle! And PS I bet your wedding was ubercool and I’m sure the birds enjoyed it!

    • Elle O.

      Okay, so this is a weird one. I don’t know if you remember the “ceremony” in my garage area, where my crows all came to meet me the one time, and h\we had a quiet moment, and then it never happened again.

      Until today.

      I moved out on Friday, but before I left, I gave all my crows a very tasty goodbye on Thursday on the deck (roast boneless chicken, large pieces).

      By Friday, all of my stuff was off the deck, and I was gone, but today, I went back to finish cleaning. When I drove up, I heard my name being called by them — whatever they call me, it’s consistent — and once again, for only the second time, they came and gathered around me and it was like they knew I was leaving and were saying goodbye. I know it’s woo-woo, projection, anthropomorphic, etc., but in two years, and a lot of roast chicken and crow bars later, and this is only the second time that it’s happened.

      I am sad to leave them, but hope to make new friends. At least I got to say goodbye to them in style, and we all saw each other face-to-face one least time, and I know that all my birds will know I’m gone because of the empty deck.

      Now, I just have to make new crow friends… but winter in Poulsbo can be grim, and I might just happen to have some unsalted peanuts 🙂

  25. Vasili Kozhushner

    I recently took an injured crow to the local animal hospital (The rehab center was closed for the evening but the 24 hour vet hospital here in Calgary will take them and treat them before passing them on to the rehab center). It had a broken wing. Most likely from being struck by a car as it was near a pretty major road. Still it was pretty hard to catch the little guy. I hope he’s doing ok.

  26. Pete

    Hi Kaeli, my name is Pete. I’ve had a basic feeling about crows and ravens going back to childhood, that these animals are super social, smart and always paying attention. To me, they sort of feel like old travelers, here with us.

    When I read the article in The Week magazine and your research, I thought you were brilliant. I just love people who can move to a unique perspective and really stay there to investigate. The picture of you was fantastic and you left an impression with me. Kinda Mona Lisaish,

    Very shortly after reading your story, my next door neighbor died at home. He had been whisked away to the hospital, that same morning and was gone for good. The very next evening, when I left my home to go out, as I closed my side door, that faced their house, there was an explosion of crows flying…a huge amount, that had all gathered in the large tree in front of his house. Scared the crap out of me…lol. They were there, clucking and talking softly. I have lived here for 20 years. That had never happened before.

    Spiritually, I lean toward Native American feelings. I have heard that some native American stories tell that crows help people transition from this world to the next. All I can say is that, the strong presence of these crows, that night, felt very powerful and purposeful. I feel there is truth to that idea.
    Anyway, that is my recent story.


    • Hi Pete, thank you for you kind words. Your story of the crows is fascinating and not the first of its kind here. I’m always glad when the presence of corvids can make the loss of people in our lives more peaceful.
      Best wishes

  27. Dubravka

    Hi! I have a crow that I’ve rescued from my back yard this spring. He was a baby then and has a severely deformed foot. He was stuck in my yard for 3 days and nights so I finally took him in because it was obvious that his parents couldn’t help him and the cats have started to circle around him. I thought it was only temporary but after a wild animal protection association saw pictures of him, they told me that he might not make it in the wild. So, anyway, I ended up adopting him and I adore him, but due to me being in the process of moving, he is living in the biggest dog crate I could find, for the moment (after I buy a house he will get his own aviary). A few days ago he got scarred of something and started hopping around the crate like crazy and by the time he calmed down, he managed to break most of his tail feathers. They just snapped at the middle, so he doesn’t have any wounds or anything. I was just wondering, how long will it take for his feathers to regrow? It’s not really that important since he still doesn’t need his tail for flying, bur he looks so weird now 🙂 Thank you for your answer! (Btw, I’m from Croatia, Europe and he’s a gray / black crow that are common to my country). Sincerely, Dubravka

  28. Stephanie Adams

    Hi Kaeli,
    I, too, have a passion for corvids. It was ignited when I watched ‘A Murder Of Crows’. Maybe u had something to do with that. Do u know John Marzluff??
    Anyhow, I began feeding and watering ravens (and crows come this time of year thru winter). I do it at a favorite park with a canyon, not far from the landfill. I have been doing it for years.
    Recently, I noticed one raven that doesn’t fly. Actually, it has been at least a couple of months since I noticed. I didn’t think it could survive, but the family seems to help keep predators at bay and even feed it to some extent.
    I am concerned about the cold weather since they don’t roost there. I have been trying to catch it and even had help on a couple of occasions, but it is fast!!
    Also, I am usually too busy working to have much extra time to chase it. The local rehabbers say they would euthanize it if the wing can’t be fixed (since it probably healed wrong if it was broken).
    I have qualms about taking it away from the group, but I am obsessed with worrying about it.
    My vet would be willing to check it for me if I could bring it to her.
    Also, I bought a big ferret cage for it in case I catch it. I thought I could keep it safe for winter.
    I just chased it once again and it seemed to chase a rabbit out of its hole and go inside, but I’m not positive.
    What are ur thoughts on the matter??
    Thank u!!
    Stephanie Adams
    (595) 261-5200

    • Hi Stephanie! So truth be told I’m by and large anti taking corvids into wildlife centers or providing care. There are lots of crows and ravens and I think there is wildlife that is in more need of our time, energy and attention. My research has also shown me that dying among group mates is important, so I baulk at the idea of taking them away to more than likely die in a rehab center. Then there’s what happens if someone without experience decides to try and do it themselves. More often than not those birds either die due to lapses in care because the person was in experienced, or imprint on people in ways that make then vulnerable to assholes. That said, if I had found GO injured I can’t say I would have just let her die. It would have been an extremely difficult call and I do understand your obsession with this bird. A little hand wavy, I know, but that’s the best advice I have.

  29. Stephanie Adams

    Hi Kaeli!!
    I sent a letter yesterday.
    I don’t want it to be public.
    If possible, could u please send me a response??
    Thank u!!
    Stephanie A.

  30. el

    we have ravens where we live but they really don’t make themselves known other than in the distance flying overhead or making a ruckus with their vocalizations.. recently there has been a lone raven walking around near the house which is odd… he doesn’t fly much only if we get too close will he fly up a foot or two and go a few feet and start walking again.. not sure if this is normal since we have never seen this behavior in all the years we have been here… northern new England at 1500 feet of woods and fields.. not many homes… I seem to think he is ill or injured… I have been giving him fish and hot dogs… wondered what you thought.

    • Sounds like this bird is just really comfortable around people. It’s possible it’s a released hand raised bird. Does it beg for food from you? Or just doing its own thing but close to your house?

  31. G.

    I paid little attention to crows until I read of the research demonstrating their toolmaking abilities and apparent three-step reasoning. I’ve also read of another peer-reviewed finding that pigeons demonstrate self-recognition behaviors in mirrors: behaviors that are characteristic of consciousness (defined as awareness of one’s own existence). These findings made me sit up and pay attention: to crows and pigeons, and to birds in general.

    So the question is: to what do you attribute this apparently greater-than-expected intelligence in crows and pigeons? Neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, size of neurons, degree of connectivity, something else? Any further findings or well-informed theories?

    Are you aware of any research that replicates the “pigeon in a mirror” study, with crows as subjects? Any research on toolmaking and reasoning in pigeons?

    I’m inclined to believe that the pigeon and crow findings support the “orchestrated objective-reduction” theory of Roger Penrose & Stuart Hameroff: in brief, that quantum mechanical computation occurs in the tubulin proteins in the neurons. If correct, this would add orders of magnitude to the degree of complexity of computation in any brain; obviously human brains, so perhaps also birds and specifically crows. Thus it could explain unexpectedly complex behaviors.

    To my mind, one of the implications of the crow and pigeon research, is that we should take a “morally cautious” approach to birds, by which I mean, erring on the side of caution by treating them as sentient creatures: “persons” rather than “objects.” And if birds, then so also for more-complex animals including most/all mammals. Thoughts?

  32. Leslie Henebry

    Hi Kaeli,
    I’ve been feeding and enjoying a group of crows in Connecticut for 4 years now. A few days ago my husband was on the ladder cleaning out the gutters. He brought me a rock he found in the gutter nearly 1-3/8 inches in diameter. We pondered how it could have gotten there. Then I thought about my flock of 5 crows. Could that be possible? Something they might do in play or socializing with each other?

    • Hi Leslie! It’s certainly possible. Juvenile crows often pick up and manipulate objects during different forms of play. Another request reader on here, Kris, has a wonderful photo series on Twitter of young crows in her backyard making off with bits of pottery she put out. You can’t know it was crows for sure, of course, but I say there’s a decent chance!

  33. kevin

    The young crows will have a full set of feathers. Maybe a broken one now and then . The adults will have one or two molted feathers .
    iIf you watch a family of crows you can see this pattern where the adults are training the young one in full feather . The adults will challenge the young bird with various dynamics, dives and swoops.

  34. Venita Gallaway

    I think I posted one earlier,, but not certain. I have to say that I am distressed that there is such a negative reputation attached to these beautiful creatures!!! I find that they are very careful and considerate of the food I put out for them by allowing all the other animals and birds to feed first, and then they will gently come in and eat a wee bit! I feel I am just to eager to have them come and know that I am 100 percent for them all year. There is one Raven out of the bunch of crows that will come in first. He(she) knows me. He will follow me around while I put out a bounty of food for them, and then fly away. When the squirrels come in and the other birds come to polish off the food, I feel so disappointed! Sometimes they will show up hours later with very little left for them. Help! Do I caw caw, growl or softly speak to them? I’ve tried it all, but to no avail.

  35. Jamie

    Three years ago a family of crows came into our backyard two parents and two babies. Our dog unfortunately caught one of the babies and injured it died. I felt so guilty about it that I started offering them treats and trying to feed them a bit. I’ve become very attached to them and for the last three years they’ve come back every day and sit on the fence and wait for me to come out and feed them a treat. This spring I noticed it looked like they were sticking to one tree and I was hopeful that they were nesting in the tree behind our house. Sure enough they were and they had two more babies who fledged right into our backyard. I enjoyed it so much watching them learn how to fly. Ultimately I watch them progress to bouncing around into the trees and then flying around. That summer we went on vacation for two weeks to Europe and when we returned we were back to three crows. I’m so sad I think about those two babies I’m sure it’s the two babies that went missing. Do you have any idea what happened? I feel guilty that maybe my feeding them and then leaving for two weeks caused something bad to happen. I’m located in Bothell btw!

    • Hi Jaime! So the sad truth is that most baby crows die within the first few months. But I can promise that your leaving had nothing to do with it. Cats, cars, or a birds of prey was most likely the culprit and your treats have no bearing on any of them. I know that’s a mixed bag of news. Getting attached to young crows is an emotionally dangerous business, I’m afraid. But you’ll do it again next summer I’m sure. Just like me 🙂

  36. Karen and Tom Carter

    We are crow enthusiasts in the Washington, DC area. We are trying to learn why some of our crow neighbors have feathered “pants” covering the top three quarters of their legs and others have bare legs. Please write us at tomkaren1010@gmail.com if you have an answer.

    • Hi Karen and Tim, I’ll post the answer here so that others can read it in addition to emailing it to you. All the Corvus species you have in the D.C area (American crows, common ravens, and fish crows) have feathers that cover the legs above the ankle joint (the joint many people mistake as the “backwards knee”). Depending on how the bird is standing this part of the leg can be completely covered, making it look like their legs are bare apart from where they appear to connect to the body. Ravens and crows will also articulate these feathers during dominance displays. We actually call this the “pants down” look. So rather than being absent on some birds, it’s just that they’re keeping the upper part of their legs concealed from you.

  37. Helena

    Hi Kaeli!
    How do you interpret the thanatology of these birds? Their behaviour seems almost ritual:

    Did they kill the other animal? Or do they grieve?
    Intriguing either way!

  38. Christian

    Sry, that links to the same embedded video.
    Click on the “Youtube” option at the right bottom of the clip.
    That works (here).

  39. Christian

    It’s called “Turkeys Circling a Dead Cat.”
    About 15 Turkeys all circle (going) a dead cat in some kind of
    “ring-a-ring-a-roses” in a few meters distance from the center.
    That’s where the cat lies.

  40. William K. Clarkson

    Hi Kaeli!
    Crows here in Manhattan Beach CA have a daily late afternoon flight (murder in motion?). Many of them going to the same destination together. They seems too happy to be going to a funeral! Perhaps a crow banquet, or just a daily meeting. I will have my camera with me next time.
    There’s a big article about bird intelligence in the latest National Geographic. I’ll look for your name and research.
    Bill Clarkson, “Mug Crow’s dad”

  41. Alex Achenbach

    Hi Kaeli, I hope your week is going well. I have a question about crow communication. I know that crows can make various vocal sounds, but one of the most recognizable ones by humans is the caw. On occasion I feed the local crows if I have have some leftover food that I think they would like ( not cheetos…lol ). To call them in I use two caws. I can hear them respond to me off in the distance. On one occasion they responded with three caws, so in return I responded with two caws again. The crow’s response was four caws. The birds usually end up coming to see what treats I’ve left for them. So my questions are this. Has anyone ever done scientifically based studies on a translation of cow verbal communication? Is it possible to speak to a crow in it’s own language? Have an awesome day.

  42. Donald Walker

    Do crows stay together as a family and when crows are eating on the ground does the poster guard up in a tree. My Email is all uppercase

    • Hi Donald! So short answer to the family question is sometimes, but mostly males, and it varies regionally. When sub-adult birds stick around their natal territory we can that “helping behavior.” Helping behavior occurs more on the east than the west coast and males are much more likely to become helpers than females. As far as the sentinel question. We haven’t explicitly studied that yet but my observations suggests that it rotates (not in an intention way) in accordance with feeding patterns. If you’re done eating you’re naturally more vigilant.

  43. Lynn Brun

    Hi there, wonder if you can tell me what crows will do if a chick dies in their nest. Will they nudge the body out of the nest to roll out onto the ground below or physically take it to another location away from the nest? Or even abandon the nest if it’s the only chick they have left? Best, Lynn

    • Hi Lynn. Most of the time they’ll remove it from the nest but I’m not sure how far they’ll carry it. Many times birds just drop it right out which is why people often think they’ve fallen by accident. John once saw a pair of raven shove their dead chick right into the outside of the nest. If it’s their last chick they’ll abandon.

  44. Nicholas vitto

    Ur amazing and has to be a difficult but one of the greatest research I’ve seen,since the demo of how crows can not t only craft and use tools,but the problem solving is great ,up to 6-7 step process,truly my soul animal,I understand u work,with more than crows,but Ty ,very great article! Like to hear more updates in the future!!

  45. Kevin Watson

    I haven’t read your faq entirely but have a small question: has anyone made a map of the ranges of
    the holarctic (common) raven vs the genetically distinct California clade?

    I live in Eureka Calif and was wondering.

    Thanks very much and keep up the great work!

  46. Andrew Hanhardt

    Hi, I’ve been developing a close relationship with two crows. I’ve been photographing them for a while now.

    I’m unable to work, so I’ve got time for this kind of thing.

    We’re at the point now where the pair, I call them both Bruce, accompany my dog, at least one cat, and me on a daily walk/ parade. It’s really quite a sight. We’ve even got a feeding spot…I make certain its a decent amount of protein.

    I’m very happy this focus of research exists! If you ever need photos… I’m an avid bird photographer as well.


  47. Kay

    Do crows ever bully another crow to death? I feed a few crows in my neighborhood peanuts from time to time and one showed up the other day with its wings in tatters.I was surprised to see it fly at all with such huge gaps (2-3 inches with no wing feathers) in its wingspan. The other birds chased it away when it tried to alight nearby. It reappeared today in slightly better shape…the wings appear to be growing back, but it was giving all the others a wide berth and flew in for peanuts only after all the others left.

    • Hi Kay, yes they do but that’s not your problem here. Sounds more like a bird with a mite infestation. It might also be an unpaired, subordinate bird (hence the bullying) but the kinds of injuries you describe are not consistent with crow attacks.

  48. sleeper

    Hi Kaeli,
    Why do crows make so much noise in the mornings/evenings (sunrise/sunset) and how do I make them all NOT gather right in front of my bedroom window (they hang on power lines) in the mornings when I’m trying to get my last hour of cozy, warm, peaceful sleep before being awaken by relentless KAWS that go on for about 30 mins? Thanks a lot.

    ps. lethal solutions would be acceptable.

    • Hi Sleeper. First and foremost let’s just clear that it’s illegal to kill crows for the reason you describe. Like all our native birds, crows are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act so the circumstances you can kill them in is highly regulated. Ironically a noise deterrent might be your best bet. With the permission of your neighbors, set off something harmless but noise under their hang out spot (like a speaker blaring explosive sounds, or the sounds of those whistling firecrackers). A couple mornings of that should get them to move. Otherwise just do as any apartment dweller does and accept that while you can ask nicely, you can’t control your neighbor’s noise, especially for those night workers that are on a different schedule. After all, they are your avian neighbors in the grand scheme of life.

    • And to answer your first question. Crows are social animals just like us. And just like us that first morning water cooler session is a must!

    • Bill Clarkson

      Lethal solutions would not be acceptable, and in fact would be illegal. Crows are classified as songbirds and as such are protected. I suggest you learn to like their songs. If you are really lucky some of them may accept you as a friend.

  49. Steven

    Did you imprint that crow on your hand

    • Hi Steven, can you clarify what you’re asking? Do you mean will the crow imprint on me (the way goslings will treat a human caretaker as their mother goose) or do you mean will it simply remember my face, or are you asking about something I am doing to the bird?

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