Thursday, December 16, 2010


Every morning, I sit at the kitchen table and have my first cup of coffee while I glance over the newspaper. My seat at the table faces out our patio door into the back yard and I can see the field over our hedge. I initially picked this seat when we moved into this house 15 years ago, because I was able to watch the dogs when they were outside, making sure they didn't get into too much mischief (those of you who have terriers know what I am talking about!). In the spring and summer, I can enjoy looking at my garden, in the fall my mornings are filled with the gorgeous yellow, red and orange of the trees in the field, and in winter, this seat now allows me to enjoy the birds at the 3 feeders I have set up.

Every morning, between 7:20 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., hundreds of crows fly over my house and across the field to an unknown destination. Sometimes a few of them will sit in our trees and torment the dogs (and humans!) with their cawing and gesturing. This morning ritual fascinates me and I have, over the years, asked people who live in outlying towns if they know the secret place where the crows hang out during the day. No one does. This morning was particularly magical; the crows were flying through a light snow and it looked like diamonds were floating down against their dark wings.

I really like crows. They are actually one of my favourite birds. They share my favourites listing with Cardinals. Chickadees and Goldfinches. As a young person I never really paid much attention to crows. Like a large portion of the population, I guess I was subconsciously buying into the historical bad press that crows and ravens represented nasty (actually any black bird or black animal gets a bad rap).

Many years ago, I worked on the ground floor of an office building, looking out on to a greenspace with some trees. Very nice. One day, I happened to notice two crows outside my window. It was hard not to notice; one was screeching at the other. I thought they were fighting over food because the slightly larger crow had a piece of bread in its mouth. She would let the other crow hop over to her and then she would fly about 10 feet, very low to the ground leaving the other crow screeching at her. This went on and on, with the slightly smaller crow hopping all over the grass chasing the crow with the bread. Initially, I thought was some sort of cruel game. She started flying a little further away, and eventually the smaller crow started flapping his wings and flying a few feet. It dawned on me; she was trying to teach her youngster how to fly!! I watched this lesson for about 20 minutes. Eventually she got her youngster to fly up to the lower branch of one of the trees and gave him the bread. They sat there for a while and then she flew off low to the ground, with her youngster right behind her. After that incident, I looked at crows with different eyes. How can a bird this loving and responsible towards its young, have such a bad reputation?

Crows are smart and are problem solvers. I personally have seen a family of crows working as a team trying to figure out how to open a snap-lid garbage can. :-) They live a long time and mate for life. If one of the mates dies, the other will remain single forever. They mature slowly and live in family groups, with the youngsters helping raise the newer chicks. What I witnessed when I saw the mother teaching the youngster to fly was just another day in the life of raising their young. I think it's part of human nature to focus on the negative; yes, crows and ravens are opportunistic and will feed on garbage, other birds' eggs and crops. But, they also eat crop-damaging bugs and rodents and help keep other small wildlife populations in check . In nature it's all about balance. Crows actually share a lot in common with another one of my favourites, coyotes. You can find out more about crows here.

That day so many years ago when I watched the mother crow reward her youngster for his effort has stayed with me. It changed the way I look at the wildlife around me. There aren't many crows around the stables, but when I do see them I smile and know that they are helping the barn cats keep the rodent and insect population in check . Cats and crows seem to get along. Perhaps they understand that they are working together. I think the crows around the stables also enjoy observing what we are doing as we work around or ride our horses; we're sort of like their TV. :-)

If you are disappointed that this post was not about my adventures with Gem, I apologize! :-) I haven't been able to ride for the past week due to weather. But, I hope the next time you see a crow, you think of their intelligence, how majestic they are, their sense of family, how important community is to them and how mysterious they are. Crows, in my book, are very cool.


  1. I have to agree with you. Over thanksgiving, I watched a great documentary on the intelligence of crows and it left me paying attention to their actions when I see them. They are very bright!

  2. I loved this post! Oh, I would really want to know where those guys are going every morning, though. It would drive me nuts until I found out.

  3. I happen to like crows too. About a year ago I read an interesting article in the N.Y.Times that told of a study about these amazing birds. They actually have facial recognition of people. The study was done with humans in masks I believe and some of the participants were mean to the crows and some were nice. The crows reacted accordingly. Very interesting smart birds.

    The only real incident I had up close with them was when I was taking an early morning walk on a deserted street. In the middle of the road was a band of crows facing off with a group of huge turkeys. I don't know what they were fighting over but just as I was trying to figure out how I was going to get past this melee, thankfully a car came along and scattered them.

  4. Great post! I too love crows. In fact last night I just parked at the library, it was snowing out, and it was dark. I kept hearing noises, at first I thought it was a kid. I looked up and there were dozens of crows flying around, and it was so beautiful to see those black figures against a snowy sky.
    They eventually ended up on one large maple, but each one chose a branch on the very top. It was quite the sight to see.

    I remember studying them when I was painting them, and they are also considered protectors.

  5. That is cool. Well it is a smart way to teach the younger one to fly and sounds like it learnt pretty quick - humans are a lot slower! ;)

  6. Hi everyone!

    Rachel - Glad to hear they are finally getting good press! :-)

    Muddy K - It has been driving me crazy for years now!

    GHM - I had no idea about the face recognition, but it doesn't surprise me.

    Pink - I, too, love watching them against a snowy background. Quite striking.

    Nina - Yeah, we could learn some lessons from crows! ;-)

  7. I also like crows. I love to sit outside and watch them fight with the hawks--it can go on a long time.

    Maybe the reason people don't like them is because they're so loud. I wanted to go down a trail last summer that was very steep. The tops of the trees were level with the entrance to the trail, and there was a crow's nest in it. Those crows starting cawing so loud I could not get my horse to go down the trail for anything!! I had to go around. I respect them. :)

  8. I just happened to read another blogger's post on ravens just a day before I read yours. You might find it interesting.

    Sadly the most memorable experiences I've had with birds involved them attacking me :(

  9. Linda - I have witnessed the crow/hawk air shows too. Quite fascinating. I have seen crows in my neighbourhood stand their ground on sidewalks against dog walkers. :-)

    Shannon - Thanks for the link! Very interesting that she has been "adopted" by the ravens. You were attacked by birds?????