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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).