Many corvid species have
shown a talent for recognising human faces. For example, ravens and magpies are known to punish researchers who get too close to their nests. Swift and her colleagues in Washington have extensive evidence that crows can be manipulated by humans. Swift and her colleagues have conducted extensive testing to see how the birds react to people they trust.
John Marzluff is a University of Washington professor of wildlife science. The idea for the testing came from the realization that crows can hold grudges against certain people who have caught and released them for research. The rubber mask of a caveman was used by the researchers to identify their enemies .
The caveman mask was a humiliating and threatening
disguise for anyone wearing it. Later tests showed that researchers could achieve a similar effect by wearing masks and holding dead taxidermied crows. This resulted in the crows harassing future wearers of these masks. Marzluff explained to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that the interesting thing about this experiment was the fact that the face didn’t matter at all.
While many other animals can recognize human faces, crows are unique in that they have a longer memory and share information with each other. The NWF explained that crows still harp on the banding mask years after the study was started, even though they only see it twice a year and for a limited time. Bird Flying
This animosity isn’t limited to crows
that saw the original banding. Over time, the percentage of birds who scolded and robbed the caveman mask increased, almost doubling in seven years. This despite the fact that most birds had never seen the mask being used offensively and not having been banded.
Some of these young crows were not yet born when the grudge began. Crows transmit important information to their family and friends, including the identity of a potentially dangerous person.
Kat McGowan, a 2016
Audubon Magazine writer, stated that nearly all of the birds trapped by the caveman have died by now. However, “the legend about Seattle’s Great Crow Satan” continues to grow.
Urban crows could benefit from the ability to identify people, as there are many of us who are both dangerous and helpful. Wild crows are largely indifferent towards the faces of people who haven’t wronged their faces, but can form positive relationships with us, like the girl from Seattle who received a collection of trinkets while she was feeding the crows.
Crows are mates for life, but they’re also ‘Monogamish.
Crows are social birds and more family-oriented than most people realize. Crows mate for life. This means that a mated couple will usually stay together for their entire lives. However, their families may be more complicated than this suggests. Swift adds that crows are “monogamous,” and provides a scientific explanation.
They’re socially monogamous, but genetically promiscuous. They tend to stay with one partner throughout their lives, however genetic analysis shows that only about 80% of the offspring are fathered by male crows.
According to Cornell Lab of
Ornithology some crows have a “double existence,” which means they split their time between large communal roosts and their families. American crows have a year-round territory where their entire extended family can live and forage together.
“But, during the majority of the year, individual birds leave their home territory to join large flocks at dumps or agricultural fields and to rest in large roosts in the winter. While family members may travel together to flocks, they do not live in the same group. The crow might spend some time at home with its family and part with the flock, while the other half may be out with the flock.
Young Crows may stay home for a while to serve as ‘helpers’
American crows begin to nest in the early spring. They build their nests out of sticks and then line them with soft materials such as grass, fur, feathers, or fur. If they feel that someone is watching, decoy nests may be built. For a few months after feting, young crows will be dependent on their parents.
However, they tend to stay close to their family for a while after leaving the nest. Swift writes that these chicks are still fiercely protected by their parents. This creates a kind of extended adolescence which allows them to engage in play behaviors and may be beneficial for their cultural learning and development.
As fall and winter approach, young crows
will find themselves spending less time with their parents and more with larger flocks. Swift writes that crows have two options. They can choose to fly and find a mate, establish a territory and then take off or stay on their turf to be a ‘helper for next year. This is called cooperative breeding. It involves more than one person taking care of the offspring in a single brood.
According to Cornell Lab, in most American crow colonies, the older offspring help their parents raise chicks for a few more years. One crow family can have up to 15 members, with five years of offspring contributing their help. Swift writes. Although it’s not clear why this was necessary, it could help to delay the dispersal if there’s not enough land nearby. She adds that millennials do what is natural.
Crows are intelligent, but not invincible
Crows are often demonized by people. They focus on undesirable behavior and ignore more relatable and redeeming characteristics. One of the most common exterminators of the American crow was the use of dynamite to destroy large winter roosts. However, those efforts failed and the American Crow is now more common than ever in a variety of habitats including farms, towns and large cities.
While other corvids have also adapted to and even capitalised on civilization, it is not a guarantee that these birds will be safe from us. For example, the Hawaiian crow is an intelligent corvid with a penchant to tool use. However, it was exterminated in the wild in 2002 by a combination of disease, invasive predators and habitat loss. Scientists were able to save enough birds to establish a successful captive breeding program and then reintroduce the species into the wild.
Although crows can sometimes raid gardens and farms, any damage they do may be offset by the ecological benefits of seed dispersal or eating pest insects. While all species have an inherent right of existence, we are especially fortunate to have brainiacs such as corvids among us. They can teach us a lot about ourselves and remind us of the many things we have in common with wildlife.