THEY ARE ‘FUN-LOVING PARTY ANIMALS,’ says Kevin McGowan, a Cornell Lab of Ornithology researcher who has studied crows for more than 25 years. McGowan, acknowledging that people either love or hate these familiar birds, led a webinar I just attended (part 2 is Wednesday night; details below), sharing insights into their complex family structure and more. (Apparently crows are also very trendy, as the BBC TWO video from a recent show demonstrates in somewhat-glitzy fashion.)
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HUNDREDS of people joined the initial 90-minute Cornell Lab of Ornithology crow webinar, which continues in part 2, “The Secret Life of the American Crow,” on Wednesday evening, February 12, 2014; tickets are $10 at this link. Other Cornell Lab distance-learning opportunities are listed here.
When I posted news ahead of time of the class on Facebook, thinking some readers would like to attend, a few people reacted in strong negatives. I was surprised, but when crows evoke loathing, McGowan explained in the class, it is often because they are seen as predators of songbird eggs and nestlings.
Is that an accurate characterization, though? A 2007 study of nest predation of forest birds of North America found that snakes are the top predator there, with squirrels (and chipmunks!) next, then medium-sized mammals like raccoons.
In that type of habitat, crows actually rank near the bottom, just slightly nastier culprits than white-tailed deer, surprisingly. The study, undertaken by Frank R. Thompson III and colleagues and published in the journal “Ibis,” can be read here.
Love or hate them, crows are certainly fascinating. Are they “feathered apes,” behavioral scientists may ask, based on crows’ intelligence and cognition? Some species (like the New Calendonian crows in the less-flashy earlier research video above) can famously make and use hooked and barbed tools, for instance. (The research site about that work.)
Crows are family oriented—and stay with their families a number of years (unusual for birds). But they also come and go, to forage or roost, meaning that not unlike us, they have their own family unit—and also a larger community of their species that they associate with.
They guard and even groom each other (not unlike primates!), and may care for their sick. They are capable of facial recognition of the researchers who study them, and even recognize their cars and their patterns of behavior—all in the hopes of getting fed another handful of peanuts, based on earlier such rewards from the scientists.
And though both are in the genus Corvus (which includes about 50 species), crows are not ravens, any more than a tiger is a panther (though both are in the genus Panthera). Remember our BirdNote story on crow or raven?
GET ON CORNELL LAB OF O’s email list to learn when such webinars and other classes are held; you can sign up on their homepage. Again, all the online class listings are here, and registration for Wednesday night’s part 2 on crows is at this link.