Crows are among the smartest of all the birds


We watch them and listen to their irritating call. It certainly doesn’t sound very intelligent, but crows are so intelligent it’s almost scary.

Drive, walk or jog down the road without any weapon and crows won’t pay you any mind. Cary a shotgun and you can’t get within a hundred yards of one. Crows soon learn who they can trust. If you ever threatened them in the past they will remember you.

This sounds a bit crazy, but crows have fabulous memories. Research on them bears that out. Crows will drop nuts onto the road so cars will run over them and crack them open. They’ve been known to knock squirrels off wires for the same result.

Other research indicates that crows make and use tools. Some animal behaviorists claim crows can bend a piece of wire into a hook to grasp objects. That sounds a little farfetched to me but I’ve never studied them that closely.

Crows inhabit nearly every environment. They live in wilderness areas, yet are totally comfortable to life around humans. They are adept at foraging but equally comfortable with thievery. Stealing the hard earned quarry of another doesn’t bother them.

They have a well-earned reputation as agricultural seed thieves. A flock of crows can virtually destroy a new corn planting. Even if few crows were evident during the planting process, hundreds could show up to pull up fresh seeds or young corn plants. I’ve seen this.

Crows aren’t given much credit for eating insects that damage crops. They like to eat corn borers and other damaging caterpillars.

Crows spend much of their time in open spaces, but they usually nest in thick evergreens. They go out of their way to conceal their nests, but they have no problem stealing eggs or young chicks from another bird’s home.

They are good parents and often continue to parent chicks over a year old. Both male and female crows help build the nest. Offspring from the previous year sometimes help too.

Nests are constructed of twigs and pine needles. Sometimes softer material like hair is used to line the nest. Females lay three to ten eggs per clutch, so nest size can vary.

Crows are highly social birds and are often seen in large groups. They work together to protect each other and sometimes ward off large predators through well-coordinated attacks. They also communicate with each other constantly, so sneaking up on them is difficult.

Mosquitoes cause them problems at least indirectly. The American Crow is extremely susceptible to West Nile virus, which has been around in this area for less than 20 years. Crows infected with West Nile usually die within a week. Death rates from this disease are higher than for any other bird species.

I must admit I’ve never been a big fan of crows. I do respect them though. I doubt they like me much either since I can’t get close to them. I haven’t been in shotgun range of one in years. Thank God for rifles.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (tmanzer@ecpps.k12.nc.us).

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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