A Friendly Crow


(This 1111th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on July 8, 2012.)


The black plumage of the crow is appropriate to a villain and he often does fill that role. He's a nest robber and food stealer. Until we were provided those new garbage containers, crows considered pick-up days smorgasbords and I am sure knew the routes as well as the truck drivers.


Formerly a strictly rural bird, about forty years ago crows invaded urban areas and as one result they extirpated the roof-nesting nighthawks. We no longer see those lovely bat-like goatsuckers hawking insects over city buildings.


But there is another side to the crow. It is one of the most intelligent of birds. Watch the YouTube video of a New Caledonia crow not just using a tool but making one as well on YouTube. Granted, that's not our species, but our crow is smart too.


As the following communication from a friend indicates. She has asked that her identity not be given. I will call her Mary.


Mary lives in an upstairs apartment with an adjoining roof. Here is what she says about her crow:


"I've been feeding him on the roof outside my window for about three years now. When I first started, he would eat rye bread crusts, but after a little over a year he started turning his beak up at this food. A few other people put out food for him too and thus he can be very selective.


"He tends to come alone, though sometimes Mrs. Crow will come with him. He is very meticulous. Any messy food he will take somewhere else to eat so as not to make a mess on the roof. Even when he does eat on the roof he doesn't leave any sign he was ever there eating; I swear he must carry a shop vac with him to clean up.


"He only associates with other crows if there's a hawk to be chased away, otherwise any crow caught eating HIS insects or flying through HIS airspace he will attack by a major dive bombing which includes severe pecking and plucking of feathers. (I often find the feathers around the yard from these attacks.) The much larger raven that visited our yard didn't realize that the treetop he perched on and was croaking from was a deadly place to be until Mr. Crow came at him at Mach speed. Once my crow locked onto the raven, no matter how hard the raven tried, he could not get away. The raven flew off as fast as he could with my crow in hot pursuit!


"It is right for me to say 'my crow' because he does recognize me. When I'm out in the yard, he will either soar around above my head or land in a tree where I can see him to caw at me in a friendly way. If anyone else is with me except my husband, however, he is very secretive and will not show himself. The same thing goes for eating: first he will fly to a nearby tree and inspect the area. If he sees no one nearby, he'll come onto the roof to eat, but if others are around he will wait to eat until there is no one there."


Mary's husband, a highly regarded local birdwatcher, adds: "Over the past year the crow has become more swaggering and territorial, vigorously defending his insect supply (on the lawn and in the bushes) and his 'dessert' on the roof. More unusual are his attempts to drive out a particularly troublesome cat that has been stalking birds in our yard. 


"And today he graduated to hornets, but he needed an audience to show his bravery. By loudly and persistently squawking, he got my wife's attention. Then with a flourish he dove into a nest of these vicious insects, pecking furiously, and coming out with a big chunk of nest followed by the three probably already injured guard hornets. When these and others eventually returned to what remained of their nest, it gave new meaning to being angry as a hornet."


Mary recommends the documentary A Murder of Crows which shows how smart they are and how they communicate with an extensive vocabulary. But she already knows their intelligence first hand.-- Gerry Rising