Thursday, September 23, 2021

Know the crow

By Larry Cornelis – President of the Sydenham Field Naturalists

Crows – we seem to either love them or hate them.

Hate them because they are noisy, messy, somewhat destructive and they eat baby birds (not too many though).

Love them because they are so smart, interesting, and personable.

You could even call them “fun loving party birds”, just watch them for a while.

Smart is an understatement.

Our local crow, the American Crow is in the Corvidae family which includes jays and magpies.

These are relatively large sturdy songbirds with loud voices.

Larry Cornelis Photo

There are 45 species of crows globally which are in the Corvus genus.

If you include ravens, we have five Corvus species in north America, but the Tamaulipas crow only ranges into extreme southern Texas from Mexico.

Crows can be noisy and aggressive and will gang up and mob predators such as owls and hawks.

A flock of crows (called a ‘murder’) will give away the daytime location of an owl, which we take advantage of during a Christmas bird count.

They are very social, communal and family-oriented birds.

A family of crows is very territorial, something like you and me.

If you look out your back window and see a stranger in your yard, you’re going to get vocal and say hey what’s going on, just like crows would when seeing a strange crow near their nest.

They make new nests annually which are among the strongest and best constructed nests of birds, lasting 10 plus years.

Merlins have learned to take advantage of this.

A merlin is a falcon and falcons do not build nests.

Once breeding season is over and the young have matured, they get together for the winter.

They are communal sleepers.

This results in large roosts like the one in Chatham.

From late October until early spring, tens of thousands of crows roost in Chatham, much to the distress of many residents.

Chatham’s roost has been estimated in the local Christmas bird count to be somewhere in the range of 125,000 to 150,000 birds.

Wow, and you can watch them return to town every afternoon from the agriculture fields surrounding town.

Turns out that Chatham has all the right ingredients for a large roost of large birds like crows.

Just take a look at old Kent county with google earth and the patches of what you think are forests are cities (except Rondeau PP).

The crows see that too.

95% of Chatham-Kent is denuded of natural habitat, mostly by agriculture.

The agriculture fields are a food source for crows (and us too).

The trees in town offer something to roost in providing warmth and shelter.

Especially the large evergreens.

Plus, there’s some food in town too.

Crows have learned what’s in those dark green bags and trash cans and lawns provide food too (worms and grubs if it’s not frozen).

Larry Cornelis Photo

Plus there are fewer predators in town and no shooting and some people like to feed them peanuts.

What a deal for a crow.

They are often misinterpreted and can help us by eating grubs, pest insects and corn-borer larva that overwinter in corn stalks, thereby helping farmers.

Back to how smart they are.

Crows can recognize us.

They learn who’s friend and who’s foe among people.

There’s a guy who feeds crows peanuts from where his car is parked.

The crows know him and that his car is where he feeds them peanuts.

When he leaves his workplace, the crows recognize him and fly directly to his car in a large parking lot full of cars and wait.

So, they recognize his car too.

They can also use and even make tools.

They can learn to speak words and laugh.

At an animal rehab centre, they have a crow named ‘Jet’ who has learned to recognize colours and now he’s learning
to paint and they are planning to sell his paintings as a fund raiser.

Cool stuff.

Crows are very interesting birds.

Maybe we should celebrate them with a scarecrow festival/contest.

That might be fun.

For more details, visit: http://www.sydenhamfieldnaturalists.ca/

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