Crows are found not only in my backyard but also all over the world. They are known for their tight family relationships, crafty behavior, great eyesight, long life, intelligence and use of tools. This latter behavior doesn’t mean they use socket wrenches and laser levels, but they have been observed peeling and using a barbed twig for impaling insects and their larvae.
Amazingly, crows can learn by facial recognition people who are a threat. I think that might be called profiling!
As anyone who has ever seen one can testify, crows are big – 18 inches tall with a wingspread of 3 feet – and strong. Their large beak enables them to tear into most things, even nuts. They seem to have a particular fondness for my pecans and peaches.
Crows are omnivores and like humans, they eat almost anything. Their diet consists of insects and larvae, spiders, crayfish, frogs, mice and young rabbits, fruit, grains and nuts as well as garbage. Even walnuts are consumed. They hold hard nuts on the ground with one foot and hack at them with their bill. Very hard nuts are sometimes carried high aloft and dropped onto concrete pavement to crack them.
Crows can live 10 years or longer. A congregation of crows is technically called a “murder” although I’ve never been around anyone who called groups of crows anything but a flock. Ever heard someone in East Texas say “Ah’ve had this here big murder of crows cleanin’ out mah peecahns this year?” Didn’t think so. But I have heard “Ah’d like to murder them dang crows that’s eatin’ our peecahns.”
To drive away predators like owls, crows get together and the whole bunch of them go after the interloper. That behavior is called “mobbing” as in: “saw a whole murder of crows mobbin’ a big ole owl th’other day.” Crows just flat out don’t like owls and go half nuts when they spot one.
Crows use a wide variety of calls to carry on extensive conversations that communicate their location, the presence of danger, gathering and navigation signals. Loud caws are what we most often hear, but crows have a very wide vocabulary, including many much softer and more complicated sounds.
Males pursue prospective mates in flight and on the ground where they strut around in front of the female spreading their wings and tail, fluffing out their feathers and bowing. Nests are made of small branches and twigs and lined with grass, leaves, hair or feathers placed in trees 70-100 feet off the ground. Eggs hatch in about 18 days and hatchlings are featherless and helpless, depending entirely on their parents to stay alive. The young fledglings leave the nest after approximately a month.
An ancient crow tale from the Inuit Tribe is that Crow was talked into flying south to get daylight to illuminate the dark far north. He did so, but could only get a single ball of sunlight. Hence, the arctic areas only have daylight for six months of the year.
Some people believe that crows in a churchyard are a bad omen and hearing crows cawing around your house means there will soon be a death in the family. Finding a dead crow on the road is supposedly good luck. But it certainly wasn’t lucky for the crow. Nevertheless I’ll wish for you only dead crows along your road in your fields and forests and not live ones in your fruit and nut trees.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.