Falling in Love with Corvids

Last Sunday I was treated to an experience, the kind of which I am sure I could enjoy more frequently if I’d just be still, if I’d just take more time to observe.  I have a bay window in the upstairs bathroom – an addition I thought frivolous at first – which does beckon me to pause and look out at the garden daily, or the stars on clear nights.

Sunday morning was pouring rain.  As I walked past the window, I noticed several crows on the ground closer to the house, where I do not usually see them.  It looked as if one crow had just tugged a worm out of the ground and so I stopped to watch some more, after grabbing my binoculars from my desk.  I’m glad I took the time because what I saw next was, for me, novel.  I saw a crow use its bill to pick up some mulch from a nearby elderberry tree, and toss it on to the grass about a foot away.  This crow then just walked away, checking the grass for insects as it went.  About a minute later it turned around and came back to the mini-mulch pile it had created, picked up the mulch with its beak, flung it aside, and preceded to snag a worm!  This did not seem like chance.  It seemed very likely that the crow placed the mulch there, knowing that it could attract a worm.  I was enchanted.

I’ve written a bit about crows before.  See http://www.halcyonnature.com/2013/02/17/daily-visits-from-the-mob/  I wanted to know more.  But my main question focused more on the worm.  Why did it/why would it come to the surface so quickly when the mulch was placed on the grass?  I’ve asked a similar question before http://www.halcyonnature.com/2013/02/24/garden-allies/ and was left with no satisfying answer after doing some research.  The main theory being that worms come to the surface when their burrows are flooded in order to easily migrate to new sites.  What I observed is a little different.  The mulch would put a temporary cover on any flooding of the worm’s burrow.  Seems I need more information on worm behavior too.

Lone crow cawing noisily

Lone crow cawing noisily

I am currently reading a book on ravens, which I hope will also shed some light on crow behavior – crows and ravens are both Corvids.  The Internet is full of research and anecdotes on crows, but it is hard to find an answer to a specific question: Did the crow know a worm would be likely to emerge under the mulch?  If so, it is another example of tool usage for food procurement.  The chance of finding some food must have made the ordeal of wandering about in a chilly rain worth the energy investment.  I’m still looking for more answers.

It seems I have more.  More crows that is.  Later in the week as we finally got some warm enough temperatures to permit me some lazy time in the garden – I like to eat lunch there so the chickens can get out to explore and find bugs under my watchful eye – I realized I was hearing baby crow cries.  There is a nest nearby!  I think it is in a cluster of tall cedars beyond the “kid’s barn”.   Now I regard each crow that lands in the garden to eat the feed my chickens have rudely kicked out of their coop as parents.  They need that food (and it’s not like I was going to clean it up or anything).  I feel like the poor women in movies that feeds the pigeons, except that I was trying to feed my chickens.  Every time I move the coop, there is a leftover patch of discarded (disdained?) feed, and while I enjoy my lunch in the garden, I am treated to a close up view of song sparrows, tufted titmice, chickadees, house sparrows, and cardinals.  The crows are much more wary of me and do not come while I am in the garden.  I have to catch a glimpse of them from the bathroom window.

Crows are incredible creatures.  Sure they’re not as cute as the Carolina wrens that steal my cat food and dare to nest close to porches, or mowers, or even in front door wreaths.  They’re not a study in color contrasts as is the Eastern towhee that likes to eat on the ground under my bushes.  However, I’ve got a feeling crows will endear themselves to me as my knowledge of their intelligence grows.

Eastern towhee

Eastern towhee

2 thoughts on “Falling in Love with Corvids

  1. Crows are incredible creatures indeed. I don’t get much opportunity to watch them but one thing I always do is to look for the sentry crow when I see a bunch of them out in a field foraging. There’s always at least one sentry posted to watch for predators. I think with crows, like so much of nature, the answers you seek only lead to more questions.

    • Isn’t that the truth! But for me the added questions are also the joy and pleasure of science. Today I saw two hawks, I think performing a mating ritual.

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