Urban and Urbane Crows Are With Us
May 20, 2017 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Crows, and all corvids actually, fascinate me. It seems as though a new facet of corvid behavior is discovered every week or so, and this article is a good summary of what's been learned so far and how the scientists go about learning and testing.
posted by MovableBookLady (78 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite

There's a niche trend on Twitter of "scicomm games" - weekly hashtag games run by science communicators. One of my favorites is #CrowOrNo by @corvidresearch (Kaeli Swift, profiled in this article), hosted every Wednesday. They post a photo of a corvid, you have to guess if it's a crow or not. It's surprisingly hard.
posted by simonw at 8:15 AM on May 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Perhaps we should stop treating all life but human with an assumed inferiority and stupidity until proven intelligent and emotional. Our default assumption says a lot more about our arrogance than the state of non-human life forms.
posted by xarnop at 8:18 AM on May 20, 2017 [22 favorites]

It's really telling that crows can obviously tell us apart pretty easily, but not only can we not easily tell two crows apart we have trouble telling a crow from a corvid of a different species entirely.
posted by yhbc at 8:34 AM on May 20, 2017 [22 favorites]

THere are a lot of crows around my house, and based on this thread I thought I would make friends with them by leaving roasted peanuts out for them. This ended when I realized I was eating more roasted peanuts than I was leaving the crows. Anyway, I agree that they are fascinating.

(Boring tangentially related anecdote: for years I thought user 52338 was "AgentCorvid", which I thought was a cool username. Then I looked more closely and saw that it was actually "ArgentCorvid," which is also cool. That's what happens when you avoid reading glasses.)
posted by TedW at 8:36 AM on May 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

We are also prone to putting too many instances of the words "tell" and "telling" in comments, and I bet crows don't do that.
posted by yhbc at 8:38 AM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

The apparent suggestion that these crow funeral ceremonies are somehow New to Science seems odd, since it's presumably not new to crows and must have been seen by countless people. It was more than 20 years ago I heard the story of the local man who killed a crow. An hour later the sky was black with corvid wings, they spotted said man disposing of the corpse or something, and they held a grudge against him for months thereafter. Maybe scientists just don't spend enough time hanging out in areas where a likely reaction to being annoyed by a crow is to shoot at it.
posted by sfenders at 8:41 AM on May 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

There's a family of ravens that hangs about on the hydro corridor (= electrical transmission right-of-way) that I bike on most mornings. Today I watched five of them hang out on a tree, and they were cool with me being pretty close. They were snoozing, preening, burbling to one another, and one (who seemed younger) was exploring just how small a branch it could sit on, with predictable falling-off and I-meant-to-do-that looks where twigs were involved. They are really big birds, with beautiful iridescence in their feathers. They're also social to a level I can barely comprehend.

Corvids I miss:
  • Magpies
  • Jackdaws
  • Eurasian Jays.
Birds I thought were corvids, but aren't:
  • Grackles.
posted by scruss at 8:48 AM on May 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

I attended (at what I hoped was a respectful distance) a magpie funeral. It was sad. One mourner in particular seemed broken by it.
posted by pracowity at 9:23 AM on May 20, 2017 [16 favorites]

We've become a bit attached to the large family of jackdaws near us. We have a good view of most of what they are up to from our windows. They are monogamous and we know some of the pairs. One pair in particular that regularly stands watch on a nearby rooftop, their two little silhouettes seen against the distant open sky.

There's also disused chimneys around (these are old stone cotswold houses around us) they use as both nests and some sort of caches. The nests are easier to figure out but the caches are a huge mystery to us even as we have spent hours watching their activity around it (with photos and video!) Sometimes couples come by (different ones!) and one stands guard while another goes into the chimney. Sometime they bring things in - small items we have trouble seeing - but other times they are retrieving something. There's a larger jackdaw who will sometimes perch at the cache and act aggressively toward any other jackdaw that approaches. Sometimes the cache is left unattended but if any poor pigeon happens to land nearby, jackdaws seem to come out of nowhere and attack it.

We really want to crack this mystery. We have looked at some of the literature but the behavior we see seems to be much different than what we see described. So we'll keep watching and see if we can try and understand a bit more of their mysterious doings.
posted by vacapinta at 9:40 AM on May 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

As they apprehended each crow, the researchers placed a color-coded band on its feet, in order to tell the birds apart, and then set it free.

This opened a portal into crow life, permitting researchers access to what felt like another dimension, the crows’ dimension.
This captures (and releases harhar) my wonder and joy about birds generally, and corvids in particular. That we share our spaces with them while only connecting at the edges of our experience. A lot of people hate the gulls (in particular herring gulls and black backed gulls) that colonise urban environments. While I don't love them in the same personal way I love magpies, I love seeing gulls about. I love the fact that, to them, cities are just another collection of cliffs with ample food sources. It makes me really happy to be reminded that the world surrounding me is much bigger than I can perceive, that it's actually a multiverse.

One of my ambitions is to make friends with a magpie. I don't want to tame it, I just want to be on friendly and equal terms with a sentient but alien being and connected to its reality.

When I lived in Looe, I once saw a seagull that, after swallowing a hot chip pinched from a tourist on a cold day, threw back its head and bellowed (whether in triumph or from a burnt mouth I do not know). Steam poured out of its mouth as hot breath met chilly seaside air, and at the moment, for some reason, I realised that we're sharing our world with creatures as magnificently alien as dinosaurs. The joy of corvids, of course, (magpies in particular) is they seem to be having so much fun while they're at it.
posted by howfar at 9:43 AM on May 20, 2017 [28 favorites]

Birds I thought were corvids damned souls too evil for hell, but aren't:


There, fixed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:52 AM on May 20, 2017 [11 favorites]

MetaFilter: mysterious doings
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:58 AM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this link. My library has several of Marzluff's books and I'd like to read one. Any recommendations? And does "ebon-winged aviators" qualify as a kenning?
posted by Botanizer at 10:03 AM on May 20, 2017

About four years/springs ago a young crow started "mining" the fiberfill felt backing of a floormat I lashed onto a pane on my balcony, presumably for nesting material.

Came back the next year, huge. Brought another smaller crow with him (?) and would take turns standing guard while the other was mining.

Last year, was pretty much the biggest crow I've seen around here with another small crow (offspring?) and was teaching it how to mine the fiberfill and would take turns standing guard.

Also last year, I mysteriously found a disposable lighter on my (cigarette) smoking side-table; the balcony is completely inaccessible aside from the inside. That big crow was also using a planter on my balcony as a stash for stolen cat kibble; I've seen it regurgitate into the stockpile and the stockpile would fluctuate over time.

Last Fall, a pebble (you can see it on the still) mysteriously showed up.

This year, it's about nesting time again, but I haven't seen the big bastard or any evidence of mining, but the weather's been weird.

The crows who hang out can totally see through the sliding glass door, if I'm siting at my desk they don't mind but when I get up they'll hop onto the railing/away.

I've also had a injured gull fledgling spend the night on that balcony resting up - it managed to fly away during the day the next day; there have also been a couple of occasions when a couple of Canada geese landed outside of my bedroom window early in the day making jackasses of themselves.
posted by porpoise at 10:16 AM on May 20, 2017 [30 favorites]

I love crows!*

A couple years ago I also tried to make friends with the neighborhood pair of crows by putting out peanuts. My backyard attracted zero crows and several dozen squirrels. I considered it a failure, but mrgood is fond of squirrels for whatever reason and was quite happy.

This year, in addition to the crows, we have a pair of hawks nesting across the street. I can hear the birds get into shouting matches with each other at various times during the day.

*seriously, my entire back is tattooed with a giant crow
posted by chaoticgood at 10:19 AM on May 20, 2017 [14 favorites]

And does "ebon-winged aviators" qualify as a kenning?

I personally don't think it's sufficiently circumlocutory for a kenning. "Ebon-winged" functions as an adjectival modifier to "aviator", and you could do without it while still comprehensibly calling a corvid an "aviator". I think "ebon-wing" alone would be closer, although I don't think that kennings typically use synecdoche in the base-word. "War-gull" is a Norse kenning for "raven" though.
posted by howfar at 10:24 AM on May 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Finally, I have an explanation for something that happened last summer!

One afternoon I heard a lot of cawing; when I stepped outside I could see an enormous throng of crows perched on almost every branch of a very tall tree in a back yard across the street from my house, and making an impressive noise. I was concerned that they'd finally decided to declare war on humankind, but to my relief I finally learn that it was most likely a funeral.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:34 AM on May 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Swift is some fine nominative determinism for a bird researcher
posted by terretu at 11:03 AM on May 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

Apparently without meaning to, I have fucked with a corvid. I may be at least temporarily banished from the parking lot. It's clear the end down by the nest is now strictly off limits, a fact emphasized by a couple more wing wacks in the back of my head.

I'm writing this while pacing in the parking lot, and I just got wacked in the head by a birds wing. Flew right up behind me and caught me in the back of the head, then disappeared into the trees before I could catch a glimpse. My guess would be crow. There's a nesting pair in one of the trees I pace by—for a few days you could see where the nest must have been, due to the twigs and sticks on the ground that didn't come from that tree. I never saw them pick up one of the sticks they dropped, which confused me at first until I realized, those sticks were discarded on purpose. The nest itself is invisible, high up in an evergreen, like a crows nest should be. Sometimes you can hear the crows while they work on the reason for having the nest in the first place.

While writing the previous paragraph, the crow flew back at me from behind, just missing my head with its wing. It flew to the top corner of the building, looked at me, and started to talk. I got the message, and calmly strolled out of its territory. I told it I was no threat, and it eyeballed me until I turned the corner out of sight. Don't fuck with the corvids, is what I'm saying.

I have verified the crow only wacks me in the head. Others who walk by are let go. I bet if they paced back and forth a few times, they'd get wacked too.

So naturally next time some coworkers came by, I asked them if they'd ever heard of a crow whisperer. I said my daddy was a crow whisperer and so was his daddy, and I think I might have some of it in me too. So I strolled down that end of the parking lot, quietly calling "hey crow! crow bar! crow mannion!" They saw the crow appear out of nowhere, swoop at my head, and now the people I work with think I'm even stranger than before.
posted by bigbigdog at 11:12 AM on May 20, 2017 [49 favorites]

I would like to be the governmental administrator of these airborne natural wonders.
Some sort of 'Corvid Govenor' if you will.

You may refer to me as "Cor, Gov" for short.
posted by quinndexter at 11:37 AM on May 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Crows do like peanuts, are and in the shell or shelled and roasted, but I know for a fact that they absolutely love Sargento snack bites. I've got one that can pack five into its beak at a time after I line them up on a water main standpipe at the corner of Broadway and Aloha.

And although I try to follow a rule of never feeding them on the property, it shows up when I am out in the garden and waits for me to grab a handful to take down to the sidewalk to toss into the street.

But I have to watch my back: the first time I did so, when I got to the top of the steps to the sidewalk, the crow was back at the table, dragging the Sargento's bag out of the tool bucket, grabbing it by a bottom corner and shaking the cheese onto the patio and dropping down to cram its beak full.

Crows recognize friends, but still, between begging from them and robbing them, crows gotta steal. It's a matter of honor.

And, as I have said before, it's as if they cast a glamour upon one. I live on Capitol Hill and work in the South end. And the South end crows follow me around as do the ones between that standpipe and Roy Street Coffee, branch to wire to sidewalk and so on and so forth.

I swear, if there is such a thing as natural magic, it was taught to us by birds. With the Corvidae being first and foremost among them.
posted by y2karl at 12:20 PM on May 20, 2017 [27 favorites]

We have a seasonal invasion of "small blackbirds" (exact species still undetermined) out here at the Foop Ranch between San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach. In addition to a loud cackling call that often gets a response from my cockatiel in a cage in my apartment, they have recently been taking my mostly-outdoor cat's food from her dish on the porch. Basic Meow Mix dry, KitCat is a cheap cat to buy for. When the dish is empty except for the triangular red pieces, I know that's the work of not KitCat or any local feral cat, but the flock of birds.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:50 PM on May 20, 2017

Three ravens would perch in the tallest tree in front of my condo, and wait for sunrise in the winter. But the corvid winner was putting out a large bowl of water, big enough to bathe in, during drought. It was so awesome and formal with a dozrn magpies and a scattering of ravens, having pool time. At the peak, I changed the water twice a day.
posted by Oyéah at 12:52 PM on May 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

Yesterday on the sidewalk outside my window I watched a crow eat a live baby sparrow. I still like them but sheesh.
posted by ecourbanist at 1:14 PM on May 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I once went on a cold and rainy Audubon wildlife walk with practically no birds. It wasn't a total loss, though, because I discovered I lived in an area with crows and fish crows and was told how to tell them apart. I now have twice the crows I thought! [easy-to-remember bird call clue: "'Oh-oh!', fish crow!"]
posted by acrasis at 1:34 PM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Don't tell my parrots, but I think crows and ravens might be my favourite birds.

Flew right up behind me and caught me in the back of the head, then disappeared into the trees before I could catch a glimpse. My guess would be crow.

That actually sounds a lot like a grackle to me. I've been grackle dive-bombed before, in that exact same manner.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:52 PM on May 20, 2017

Just swooping by to say -- thanks for all the love, peoples.
posted by Corvid at 2:00 PM on May 20, 2017 [47 favorites]

“…and why Seattle may be the Corvid Capital of the World.”

Alaskan ravens laugh at Seattle pretensions.
posted by D.C. at 2:07 PM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I still like them but sheesh.

Baby birds, cheese sticks, wall vomit, Meow Mix:

It's all on to Hippocorvides.

They are what they and I know sure there are fewer nests in the yard since I earned the stress of their regard.
posted by y2karl at 2:22 PM on May 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I see crows and/or ravens all the time on campus. I get so excited every time I see them because they are just so huge! I think they're actually a problem on campus because they've driven away some other bird species, but it's still neat to hear a raven clicking at the top of a tree while you're on your way to class.

And I'm with howfar, I like gulls, too. All the urban birds. Pigeons are unfairly maligned.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:35 PM on May 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I do not understand how people confuse ravens and crows, if they've ever seen a raven. I mean, when I was a kid I used to wonder if particularly large crows were ravens... and the I met a raven. Which is a gigantic croaking bruiser of a bird that you will instantly know is a raven and not a crow.
posted by tavella at 4:05 PM on May 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Agreed tavella. Most times I've said "My god...what is that enormous black bird!" the answer ends up being Raven.
posted by vacapinta at 4:18 PM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

… also, their calls are so different. Crows do the “caw! caw! caw!”, while ravens make a quieter guttual “ghronk, ghronk”
posted by scruss at 5:49 PM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ravens have special meaning in my family and I was happy to see them when I visited national parks in the US west. We don't have ravens in Maine, but lots of crows.

Ravens at the tower of London
posted by theora55 at 5:50 PM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I once lived in a house where there was an almond tree across the street from me.

Eventually I noticed a few crows hanging around. Then a week or two later, I started hearing strange sounds in the afternoon, like sporadic hailstones hitting my roof. I went outside, got yelled at by the crows, couldn't figure out what was happening, went back inside. Eventually I saw a couple of almond fruits bounce off my roof while I was looking out the window.

(Yeah, almond trees grow a fruit kinda like a peach, with a fleshy layer on the outside and a pit inside. When the pit dries, it cracks open and the almond seed is inside that.)

They'd been scooping up the fruits -- once they'd gotten dry enough to be crack-able -- then flew over my roof and dropped the fruits until they opened enough for them to pluck the almonds out out.

It was loud and annoying.

But I had some of the almonds from that tree, too. They were delicious.
posted by katieinshoes at 6:07 PM on May 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ravens have followed me through the woods for miles.
posted by lagomorphius at 6:25 PM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is it possible corvids just don't like Dick Cheney? They are extremely intelligent, after all.
posted by mikeand1 at 7:02 PM on May 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

The article contains One Weird Trick that's sure to get you branded a witch: Summon a murder of crows.
posted by clawsoon at 7:46 PM on May 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

A raven I met at Bryce last summer.

Out here on the island, we have crows but we really have ravens. Though you never get ravens in the sheer numbers you get crows, when you have crows. One of my favorite things about them is their constant and total harassment of bald eagles when the latter are riding the updrafts. I'm not sure if this is to keep them from trying to lunch on the raven's progeny, hoping to dislodge some sort of food item, or just as a matter of principle.

I love all corvids. I don't understand how anyone can dislike the Steller's Jay, a lovely looking bird and a pleasure to observe. But you hear people grumble all the time about them, though in my experience I'm seeing fewer than I used to.
posted by maxwelton at 7:55 PM on May 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

Max, that is one bad-ass raven.
posted by yhbc at 7:57 PM on May 20, 2017

The story of Silverspot, by Ernest Thomspon Seton, is worth a read if you're sentimental about crows.
posted by clawsoon at 8:00 PM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Pigeons are unfairly maligned.

Indeed, they are! (Gulls are jerks, though. I kind of like them anyway, but they're jerks.)
posted by tobascodagama at 8:01 PM on May 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Back when I lived in a part of the country that had crows, they seemed to gravitate toward wherever I lived, aside from the one place that was overrun with Canada Geese.

Within a month or two of moving, there would always be an evening congregation of thousands of them cheek by jowl on nearby trees and power lines, only on my block. They'd stream in over the course of half an hour, four or five at a time starting just before sunset, sit there for a while chattering to each other making a deafening racket, seemingly waiting for the entire group to arrive, before all flying away in one massive flock blotting out a large portion of the sky just as twilight came. The sound they made all taking to the sky at once was truly awe inspiring.
posted by wierdo at 8:09 PM on May 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

We moved to a smaller city which has a very large abundance of crows that roost here certain times of year. It's bananas to see the sky literally darken with thousands of birds every evening in the fall.

We usually don't let the dogs loose in the backyard at night, after one terrible time we did and one of our tiny dogs startled a tree full of roosting crows and all hell broke loose. My wife got mad at me, but I ran back out later whispering apologies and sprinkling sunflower seeds. I can't swear it's the crows, but we keep finding bits of bones and meat (presumably from garbage cans) that appear from thin air in the backyard. So now we don't let the dogs loose unsupervised in the yard at any time of day, for fear they eat one of these magic "maybe-crow-dropped items" and choke.
posted by SassHat at 9:02 PM on May 20, 2017

Part of the change of seasons in my morning's commute is to track where along my bus route the crows show up, flying in streams that branch apart like rivers in reverse to single files that dwindle to single birds dropping to the ground in just so curling glides, then hopping about, pecking and tearing at everything loose in a frenzy.
posted by y2karl at 9:37 PM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

So where do other cities' crows commute in from, I wonder.
posted by salvia at 9:56 PM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Crows recognize friends, but still, between begging from them and robbing them, crows gotta steal. It's a matter of honor.

One of my favorite crow stories happened in the little plaza and park in from of The Five Point Cafe right there under the needle. I think I've typed this here before but I love retelling it.

It's a lazy Sunday summer morning about brunch-o-clock and someone left a small to-go box on one of the park tables. One of those small clamshells suitable for a bagel or side dish or something.

A crow comes down and starts inspecting it and trying to puzzle it open, and there's a full patio of people starting to watch the crow about 20 feet away because hey, it's Seattle and people like watching the crows.

And the thing that's different between a crow or, say, a seagull, is that the seagull will pretty much try to eat the container that the food is in and smash it open. So this crow spends a good 30 seconds or so and finds the latch and neatly pops it open, raising a small but hearty cheer from the patio.

This wasn't even the clever, thieving part.

Inside the box is a breakfast sandwich, which the crow promptly disassembles. The first thing it does is throw the caramelized onions on the ground. Then it takes all the bacon and then - I swear - neatly stacks it in order from smallest to largest piece, top to bottom, gathers it up and flies off to stash it somewhere very nearby. Then it comes back for the eggs, taking as many as they can carry.

Then it makes a food call to any neighboring crows, attracting half a dozen crows to squabble over the bread and remaining bits of eggs. Which then attracted a bunch of grackles and sparrows, and then some seagulls. Whom mainly tried to tear apart and eat the greasy box.
posted by loquacious at 11:12 PM on May 20, 2017 [37 favorites]

Alaskan ravens laugh at Seattle pretensions.

Heck, the murders (plural) of crows in the blocks in Portland around PSU beat anything I've ever seen in Seattle. It's positively Hitchcockian, sometimes. I made creepy music out of it.
posted by loquacious at 11:22 PM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Living in Southeast Alaska I have plenty of opportunities to marvel at corvid behavior. Many of the birds native to this region are blessed with distinctive outsized personalities but ravens, in particular, take the cake (or anything else they can get.)

I particularly love it when they are getting the better of eagles, because (in spite of their magnificent appearance and great PR) bald eagles are the whiny, pissy, bullying jocks of the bird world, are giant crybabies to boot, and richly deserve being tormented by the other birds (which happens with surprising regularity.)

One of my favorite raven moments took place in October a number of years ago. To set the scene, I have to explain a little bit about the seasons in Southeast Alaska, where one of the biggest cycles of the year is the salmon cycle. There are five different species of Pacific salmon, which have partly overlapping runs, and they vary somewhat from place to place but where I live the king salmon are the first to arrive (starting in May; I just today saw the first I've seen in the creek this year) and the last run of the season are the silvers, who peak after the other species are largely done and end in the fall. The reason this is pertinent is that salmon are *the* most abundant food source for those species that feed on them, but at the end of the season as the last of the silver run is ending, salmon availability drops precipitously and competition becomes fierce for the remaining fish.

So anyway.. it was this time of year when two friends and I were out for an afternoon walk along a trail that follows a productive salmon stream. We stopped in a place with a good view of the creek and paused to admire an eagle (their personality may suck but they are definitely beautiful birds..) hauled out on the opposite bank, working on one of the last of the season's salmon. As we watched, another eagle, cruising the stream course looking for fish, spotted the eagle on the bank and decided it was willing to fight for the fish -- it dive-bombed the first eagle and the two eagles went scrambling and scuffling off into the brush nearby. The second that happened, three ravens who had been sitting in the tree above the eagle with the fish hopped down and began making quick work of the salmon while the eagles were distracted. It was quite cool to witness but the really amazing part was that we saw the same scene acted out two other times that afternoon -- ravens in tree, waiting for another eagle to distract one with a fish, hop down and steal the fish while the eagles are fighting. I totally get why the native cultures of this region venerated the raven as a creator-trickster figure.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:41 PM on May 20, 2017 [27 favorites]

And did you know they can talk? And meow... "Say Nevermore"

Terri says "Hello Terri"

A human tries to learn to speak raven...
posted by xarnop at 11:50 PM on May 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another raven experience I'll never forget.. There's a wonderful hike around here to the summit of one of our local mountains. The best time of year to hike it is just after the summit is free of snow because just a little ways below the summit there's a high narrow ridge that just explodes with alpine wildflowers as soon as the snow clears.

Anyway.. every year I try to get up there when the summit is just barely snow free, which often means I'm up there on the weekend where the whole trail is clear but there are patches of snow off the side, particularly in the shadow of the peak.

One year I was up there and, I swear, saw the ravens having a sledding party. I watched dumbfounded while 15 or 20 ravens, perched at the top of one of the remaining patches of snow on the steep slopes below the summit, would, one at a time, hop onto the steep patch of snow, slide downhill, gathering speed until they approached the bottom of the snow patch, then pop open their wings, soar off the slope, and wheel around and fly back up to the top, where another raven would take its turn. It totally looked like a blast, and I bet it was. I know I was jealous..

Oh well, I had fun just watching. Alaska ravens do indeed rule.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:04 AM on May 21, 2017 [23 favorites]

I don't understand how anyone can dislike the Steller's Jay, a lovely looking bird and a pleasure to observe.

Bandits and tricksters, the biggest and most beautiful of jays and great mimics, too -- I remember one silently alight inches behind a crow and rip out a pitch perfect crow distress caw! caw! caw! that made said crow fall out of the tree and me LOL for realz.

This was in the mid 70s when Steller's Jays were rare in Seattle and crows much fewer. When nighthawks flew into Seattle come summer and one could hear their skree! skree! skree! overhead on hot nights. Crows and jays are ubiquitous nowadays but I haven't heard a nighthawk for over thirty years.
posted by y2karl at 1:07 AM on May 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

A pair of Australian Magpies share their territory with us.

I've fed them small things a few times. Bits of cheese. Bread and pate. Sausage.

The first time I met them they wouldn't come within three metres. The second time, one of them was brave enough to take food from my fingers. The third time, one of them rejected the cheese I tossed down, made eye contact and vocalised at me. I went inside and found it some sausage.

After a cold night, I found them outside my door. They were foraging for seeds and worms and grubs and things. When they heard me they hopped over and stared at me.

I went inside and took a slice of pate on toast from my wife. She can always get a muffin.

Magpies can steal anything. They've stolen my heart.
posted by Combat Wombat at 4:07 AM on May 21, 2017 [15 favorites]

Oh man, we have a small cohort of Australian Magpies and Currawongs that visit us most days. Familiar enough now that we recognise about 5 of the magpies, and have at least 8 that'll take food from our hands if we're sitting out on the balcony.

They mostly wander in and out at their leisure, but there's one younger guy that'll sit outside the door and caw his mournful little call until I sit beside the door and shoot him a few peanuts.

I allow this shameful twisted-around-his-little-finger behaviour because the older magpies (one assertive, rude bro in particular) occasionally bully him and when he sits there quietly on the railing, ruffling his feathers and pulling up his shoulders in anxiety, will rush up from the floor to him and peck at him until he runs away, or scoots under the chair.

I have a soft spot for underdogs, so Junior gets special treatment.

The currawongs are vastly more cautious, big and more fearsome looking but twitchy as hell. They hang out in a tree whose top is level with our balcony. There was some initial uncertainty on both sides, but some peanuts left out for them as a friendship offering soon after we moved in and we've reached a peaceful accord. We occasionally put some nuts out on the railing when they're hanging out nearby and they stop sitting on the roof gutter and shitting on my chairs.

Everyone is pleased with this arrangement.
posted by pseudonymph at 4:53 AM on May 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Back when I worked in the Kiski River valley, I would walk laps around my building at lunch time to stare at sloping hills and riverbanks instead of a computer monitor. During one of these walks, I saw a bird flying towards me, a dark body trailing its white head. A bald eagle! My heart jumped and questions streamed through my mind: Where is it nesting? Why is it flying so low? I can't wait to tell people what I saw!

And it was heading right for me! Its body was darker than I expected, and it looked smaller than the ones on TV, and its head looked a little odd, and...

It was a crow carrying a piece of bread.

Damn it.
posted by Turkey Glue at 7:02 AM on May 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

xarnop's links of talking birds reminds me of a (mynah, IIRC?) I encountered as a child while visiting some animal rescue or sanctuary or something - it was so long ago, I don't even remember any more.

Anyway, this bird had a large cage with a plaque on it listing all the words/phrases it could say. One was "Ho ho ho" which I thought would be pretty entertaining to hear a bird say. So I started crooning to it "ho ho ho ... ho ho ho ..." The bird stared at me and cocked its head, and after a few of my repetitions eventually responded with "What's so funny?"
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:16 AM on May 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

Come on now, Australian Magpies are delightful birds, but they're not corvids in spite of their name.
posted by sneebler at 5:37 PM on May 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

So many delightful bird stories! What an awesome thread-- thanks!

I don't have too many crow stories here in LA-- there's not as many here as they are up north-- but I do have a friend who always tries to take photos of crows, and they always fly off whenever she pulls out her phone. She thinks they might be wise to her. I think she might be right.

I remember some crows in Seattle in the '90s... but I don't remember vast flocks of them. Did that happen more recently?
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:16 AM on May 22, 2017

A word of warning: After my comment of how we mostly get ravens out here on the island, today it was all crows, all day, sounding a bit pissed off, and loud about it, too. So: Sorry, rascals.

Bats aren't birds, but is this where I get to share my good deed for the month?
posted by maxwelton at 12:34 AM on May 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

(Sorry, wanted to add if I go outside at dusk now, I swear I nearly always immediately get a friendly swoop from a bat. Which is probably because I'm an insect magnet, but I'll just continue to imagine my bat friend put in a good word.)
posted by maxwelton at 12:37 AM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to live in and manage a 3 story brick building on Summit, where I had a western view on the top floor.

I had a rug and a patio chair up on the roof where if lay on the rug, the parapet shaded me from the city lights to the point of being able to see satellites.

And where, if I sat in the chair, I could watch through my telescope as people walked around on the observation deck of the Space Needle.

More than once, while I would sit there, over the parapet would fly a bat, three inches over the parapet, three inches above my lap before executing a straight up turn passing three inches before me with a tiny breeze wafting across my face

In a word:

posted by y2karl at 8:46 AM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you haven't yet seen it — the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London has a Twitter account, where he posts photos and videos of the Tower Ravens. It's delightful, and never fails to cheer me up.
posted by culfinglin at 9:02 AM on May 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

My wife has been working for a good five months on making friends with the crows that come around our house. One in particular, whom she calls One Old Crow, now understands the idea that she will come out and bring food if he makes enough noise. (Food is usually pieces of cheap hot dog; I've gotten to the point where I know what "crow dogs" are when they appear on the shopping list.) He was initially leery about coming down to eat when she's outside watching him, but within the last month or so he's been willing to do so (his family members aren't quite that brave yet).

I wanted to buy her a book about crow behavior, and was incredibly lucky in finding that not only did such a book exist, such a book existed that was written by someone who lives in our town and may very well know the behavior of our One Old Crow and others who live within our radius.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:30 AM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I see the occasional crow around my yard, but never ravens. However, a couple years ago I detoured to Roosevelt Lake while driving down to Mesa; and there were a bunch of ravens just chilling in a tree.
posted by zinon at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2017

Update: a small crow just came by, by itself, and started mining fiberfill but I think I scared it away (I leaned over to take a look at it, it did a double take, sidled away, and dropped off the ledge).

As for crow moots, in the late 80s every weekday (and weekdays only) at 3:45 a massive murder of crows (several hundreds) would descend on my (very) suburban elementary school (with lots of trees and vegetation - the very top of North Vancouver District) and feast on garbage.

(Pre-/) Mating season around here typically coincides with pretty heavy weather; this is a pretty urban area but with lots of trees. When the weather gets hard, jetstreams form between the 5-9 story buildings. There's one particular spot where a jetstream reliably forms and the first crows who discover it set up a cry and hue to attract crows from all over the neighbourhood to partake.

They'd queue up, hit the jetstream (some more skillfully than others) and shoot off to the East at fantastic speeds. I think that a lot of the early riders circle around back to have another go at it before the jetstream fades.

and most years, there's a nesting pair of gulls on the roof of the medical office midi-tower across the street; I've seen a couple of cohorts of baby gulls fledge and take their first flight. It's super cute to see them eye the edge and wobble off, and learn how to fly. One gull was actually pushed off by a parent. Mom and Dad would stand around and call them back. One time, one fledgling perhaps took a little too long to come back and the bigger gull flew off and escorted it back.

downside to living around here is that the gulls around here are very vocal when getting it on; upside - crows love divebombing mating gulls especially when they've been too loud for too long.

the bald eagles do their own thing and are mostly aloof and typically stay pretty high, but there's a breeding pair (they're rilly rilly big) that hangs out at the suburban office park I work at who like hanging around the 2nd/3rd story level and the parking lot waaay too much and they get a lot of grief from both seagulls and crows.

posted by porpoise at 4:06 PM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

... and the Big Bastard showed up while I was cedar planking some salmon. =) Didn't stay. Feathers getting a little dull.
posted by porpoise at 5:55 PM on May 22, 2017

I'm currently working in a park with lots of crows and even more ravens. Some of the easily recognizable birds have been fixtures for years. This is hook beak and this is his buddy with whom he is often seen. Hook beak has problems picking up small pieces of food from hard surfaces and it's fun to watch him analyze a morsel from all angles try to get just the right approach.

maxwelton: "One of my favorite things about them is their constant and total harassment of bald eagles when the latter are riding the updrafts"

You'd think a crow would be no match for an eagle but nope.
posted by Mitheral at 6:20 PM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm a research scientist, fully aware of the lengths my establishment goes to to avoid admitting that humanity is not the only domain of personhood.

Years ago, Swift will later confess, she bonded with a female crow she had studied on campus, identifiable by its green and orange band. Scientists, of course, are discouraged from connecting emotionally with their subjects, lest it harm their objectivity.

Indeed, so thorough is the discouragement that we don't hesitate to reduce an intelligent individual to an object devoid even of their biological sex we identify in the same sentence.

We have a long way to go.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:19 PM on May 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

and just came back for the gobbet of salmon I left for it.
posted by porpoise at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

We've got a roost of crows across the street, and some are always around during the day. They sit on our roof and talk to our housemate through the skylight in her room.

We had a guy come to clean the gutters a while back, and what he found were bones (like, chicken bones, other bird bones), stored there - or left as an offering? - by the crows.

There's a pair of ravens up on Hawk Hill, and boy do they love when the hawkwatch season (August-December) gets going, as it means a reliable group of people every day who might "accidentally" drop some food. They are tolerant of us but not overly familiar - except with Steve, for a while, when he got into the bad habit of "accidentally" feeding them tidbits every day. They learned what his car looked like and would escort him all the way up Conzelman, then perch on the railing while he unloaded his gear, and then provide an escort for his walk up to the count platform. Last season, though, the female took to following me closely for a few days (I rarely feed them, either "accidentally" or accidentally), and it was cool but unnerving.

Here they are, Edgar and Allen (because of course we would name them that), sitting with Herb, one of our longtime hawkwatchers, on a foggy day early in the season.
posted by rtha at 9:31 PM on May 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

+1 for excellent usage of ironic quotes.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:16 PM on May 22, 2017

Lila MacLellan, Quartz: When you cross a raven, the bird will hold a grudge
According to a study recently published in Animal Behavior, ravens learn to prefer trainers who have treated them fairly over those who have ripped them off, and can remember faces from the latter group for at least one month.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:50 AM on June 8, 2017

I had an odd experience with a grackle earlier today. It followed me for a couple of blocks vocalizing at me and seemingly trying to get me to play with it. It was repeatedly flying by me, but not at all aggressively. At one point it literally brushed my arm with its wing, which is totally new for me.

I suspect some people would have interpreted it as aggression, but I've been on the receiving end of that before when I inadvertently got too close to a nest, and this wasn't like that at all.
posted by wierdo at 1:35 PM on June 8, 2017

I am still banned from that end of the parking lot.

I haven't ventured down there since my crow-whisperer shenanigans. Not knowing the first thing about corvid reproductive cycles, I figured today was a good day to find out, how long do crows need that nest for, anyway? Longer than three weeks, it turns out.

I start walking from the banned end. I hear, way up high, softly, a crow.

It takes me about eight seconds to realize what I'm hearing, and another dozen steps before the parents show up. They flank me, one on the roof of the building, one in the trees. They are not speaking softly.

I'm already half into the flinch for the wing-wack I know is coming, and I'm telling them quietly, as they pace me through the parking lot, "Hey it's ok, I'm going, I get it." But it's not until I hold my arms out to my side like wings that they finally quiet down.

They followed, though, all the way to the end, watching carefully.
posted by bigbigdog at 11:09 PM on June 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also the crow whisperer chant goes more like so, with the first syllable generally stretched out:

Heeyyyy crow
Crooooowww bar
Croooowwww magnon
Croooowwmmm wheels
posted by bigbigdog at 11:17 PM on June 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

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