THE MURDER OF CROWS

That morning, Garry ran into the kitchen from the bathroom and said “Something’s going on out there with crows!”

Crows? We’ve lived here for twenty years and I’ve never seen a crow, not even a fish crow and certainly not a raven, though it would seem from the bird books and from Cornell that we have all three and their numbers are increasing. Especially ravens have greatly broadened their area of occupation. You can find them everywhere from California, all through Canada and the United States and down into Mexico.

I didn’t have time to get the camera. When I first saw them, there were hundreds of them all over the deck and in all the nearby trees. By the time I grabbed my camera, (it was just a couple of feet away), there were only a couple remaining in a nearby tree and three shots later, they were gone too.

Tish Farrell showed pictures the other day of rooks in trees. I’ve been doing a lot of birding — I mean, seriously, what else is there to do? — so this got me interested in rooks. I didn’t know if we have rooks in this country. As it turns out, we don’t. We have Fish Crows which are probably similar to the Carrion Crows in England. We have Ravens. The pictures of Ravens near the Tower of London look a bit different than ours. They appear to have longer and more leg feathers. Otherwise, they are the same size and the descriptions are identical for both birds. I don’t know if they could interbreed, if they are sufficiently closely related. We also have Magpies who are black and white and look like a harlequin American Crow.

Crows in the tree

Two crows

What I learned was fascinating. Mobs of crows are the vigilantes of the woods. Not only do they protect their own nests, but they protect the nests of all smaller birds. That’s better than much our police force manages or for that matter, our government. Maybe we should vote for crows.

Bigger birds love to eat the eggs and fledglings of smaller birds. Mobbed crows will patrol the woods and drive the big birds away. Ravens are their particular enemy. They hate each other, just like swans and geese. So this was a mob chasing a hawk and afterward, they stopped by for a quick snack before moving on. Murders of crows will attack eagles, owls, Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, and Sharp-Shinned Hawks all of whom are especially fond of munching on the eggs and babies of smaller birds. Ravens do the same and will attack nests, eat the eggs, and if available, baby birds. A lot of crows must really live in the woods, even though I never see them.

Except for that one time. It was like a scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Crows are the smartest of all birds. They can be tamed and can sometimes choose to be tamed. Some can talk. Magpies can recognize themselves in mirrors. They love dried cat food and if you’re rich, whole peanuts. They will alert you if there’s a burglar or for that matter, if anything unusual is happening. Somewhere, high in our oak trees, we have crows. Many crows. Mobs and murders. They just don’t seem to like our seeds. I’ll buy some cracked corn and see if they decide to stop by. It will certainly make the squirrels happy. They LOVE corn.

Cornell Ornithology has an article: “Crows Have a Mob Mentality Toward Ravens | All About Birds.” If you’re interested, it’s a good read.



Categories: Birds, Blackstone Valley, crow, Photography, Wildlife

Tags: , , , ,

24 replies

  1. Oh my gosh, way too many thoughts to share. I think I have blogged more about my crows than almost anything else so I will try to pick just one story…but here’s the context…

    Birds are, and have always been, a big part of my life (these days, more than ever) and Crows are my favorite. My home of 45 years is right under the daily to-and-from crow flight path, from roosting trees in a giant park South of me, to feeding grounds North of me. So at sunrise and sunset, I can walk out and watch literally thousands fly over my house for half an hour!!!

    They stop to rest in this twice-daily journey and to my thrill, over the years, a handful of times it has been in MY trees (and of course all the other trees close by on my street). Yes, Alfred Hitchcock loomed nearby during that eerie and fantastic visit!! The sound was spectacular. You don’t realize how completely individual each crow’s voice is until you hear them in a live concert like that!

    I also have my local Crows living full-time right close by….no idea if they are many generations of the same family or part of the giant overhead, Murder flying by, or what, but every single morning I am home, I walk outside, rain or shine and call them. (caw them? 😋) 3 to 7 of them come within seconds from neighboring trees, land on my telephone pole, and politely wait while I dump that morning’s meal on the grass. I tap five times on the container, look up at them and say “Good Morning! Here’s your breakfast!” and by the time I have turned my back to walk away, they have swooped down and are on the food! BY the way, they are my garbage disposal. They will eat absolutely anything…except, just like a rebellious 5 year old, no cooked vegetables! Their favorite is a chicken carcass, but close seconds are dry cat food and cheese. Oh and although they love bread and pasta leftovers, they are a bit finicky and prefer gluten-loaded as opposed to gluten free carbs!

    I adore my crows. Just so you know how much, there’s only one thing on my Bucket List, and it’s to have a personal relationship with a crow, starting from their “chick-hood” on…💘

    Enjoy Marilyn, and if you haven’t seen it, check out the PBS special, A Murder of Crows on Nature (filmed in Seattle)

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    • What a great story! I didn’t know we had any crows, but obviously we do. I hope I’ll see them again one of these days. I hear them, though. There was was doing a bit of yelling this morning, but I didn’t have my glasses on and I couldn’t see anything. But I don’t think there was anything to see. He may have been on the roof or way up in the tree. I also have never seen a raven — that I know about. I see hawks and I usually hear that they are nearby because the birds start squealing.

      I may pick up some dry cat food. Most of the other stuff would just as likely lure raccoons and rats. And chipmunks and who knows what else. Everything is hungry right now, especially since it is snowing and very cold. We’ve had such warm winter, we almost forgot that this IS New England and the weather comes. I’ll have to check out PBS.

      I’m watching the news and they keep saying ANY DAY NOW we’ll be getting vaccines! I’m not holding my breath.

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  2. Isn’t a murder of crows such a great expression? I didn’t know all of this about crows, Marilyn, but ravens have a bad reputations for aligning themselves with evil creatures. I am also interested in birds but we aren’t seeing as many recently other than our ‘pet’ hadedas who have taken up residence [or should I say taken over] our garden.

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    • We had different birds last year than this year. They keep changing. Last year, we had an invasion of Brown-headed Cowbirds. This year, I haven’t seen a single one. The Grosbeaks are missing too as are the Bluebirds. Part of that is that it hasn’t been such a cold winter and I think there’s a lot of food in the woods … and some of these birds prefer insects and will only eat seeds if nothing else is available. This year, though we have a LOT of Blue Jays and when they show up, the rest of the birds — except the woodpeckers — leave. And no gray squirrels this year, only the smaller red ones. NO idea why. But it is an everchanging variety. Some years, it’s all finches and warblers. This year, we are heavily into Blue Jays and have groups of three and four of them at a time on the flat feeder. Last year we had raccoons, but no sign of them this year. We also have different feeders. When we had the big feeders, we got tons of flying squirrels, but this year, since the raccoons stole the big feeders (they took them down and literally dragged them away into the woods), I haven’t seen any sign of the flyers, though I am sure they still live here.

      Also, because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean birds aren’t there. If a some birds are “crowding” the feeder, other (smaller) birds will come very early in the morning, at dawn or just before dark. And some years, whole groups of birds decide somewhere else is a better place to eat. No one really knows why, but it may have to do with changing nesting areas from year to year. But that’s just a guess. I don’t think anyone has an answer. Or maybe a neighbor has set up a feeder with different food. Or the hawks are active and the birds search for someplace where there are fewer killer birds.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is very interesting, Marilyn. Your area is quite different to ours. We get the same birds year after year. We have had hadidas for four years, they nest in one of our trees. The babies stay here and the cycle continues. We also have loeries, mousebirds and weavers that nest in our garden every year. They like our fruit trees and vegetable patch.

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        • We get some birds every year — probably about a dozen — migratory and permanent. We have about a dozen “full time” non-migratory birds and some who may or may not migrate (the Goldfinch sometimes migrate, but others stay all year). The Chickadees are year-rounders as are the Blue Jays, Tufted Titmouses, some of the sparrows and all of the woodpeckers (I think we have four of them. The hawks are also here all year round. Cardinals don’t leave. Crows, Ravens, Magpies and all the water birds. The geese used to migrate, but these days, more of them stay here than migrate. Changing weather has made our winters warmer. Nuthatches — two kinds. This is a pretty rich area for birds and of course we live in a woods and I feed them.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. By the way I forgot to mention your crows look a bit more streamlined than ours and also smaller.

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    • I just wrote a long answer and then my computer lost it’s connection and the comment too. So I’ll write in the next comment. We have terrible wi-fi service these days. Too many people, too few servers, and they always have an excuse why they don’t fix them. But they sure know how to raise prices!

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  4. Now that was interesting. I have been living next to a murder, tribe of crows for the past 20 years. they make a lot of noise, going flying together and dominate the place. When they arrive to have a feed the sparrows disappear and the magpies wait in the tree until they have gone. They are the only birds here that enjoy a walnut as their beaks are big enough to carry them away.
    The ravens at the Tower of London are really stately birds. As the Tower of London was quite near to where I grew up I got to know them quite well.

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    • Way up in our oak trees, it looks like there are birds there sometimes, but I thought — since my vision isn’t as sharp as it was (maybe it’s because I’m wearing my computer glasses and they are not great for long distance viewing) that it was just clumps of old leaves clinging. Now, I think it’s the crows. They don’t seems to have any interest in the food we put out. They like corn, preferably whole in the shells, but I’ve not put any out because it’s expensive (didn’t peanuts used to be cheap?) and because they will make an unholy mess of my deck. It’s already pretty messy, but I think if you added piles of peanut shells, it might become a danger to the community, such as it is.

      These crows looked relatively small and sleek. Maybe these were young ones because we used to have a lot of them where I grew up in New York and I recall them being bigger. But these were definitely crows, not fish crows because fish crows (and ravens) don’t “mob” like that. Only crows form packs.

      Crows aren’t great hunters and they actually can’t hurt the bigger birds they drive away. What they do is annoy them. They are, apparently SO annoying, the bigger birds give up and leave. And they won’t try to take on the bigger birds unless they can form a mob. They have special “mobbing” calls that tell other crows “come on over, we have some work to do.” They are very interesting birds.

      I looked up your crows on an English birding site and they so look bigger than ours. They also seemed to have more of those shaggy legging feathers, especially your ravens. They are gorgeous birds. Apparently our ravens are expanding their range since no one is hunting them these days. They used to be shot at a lot, but now that people have taken to shooting each other, so a raven is hardly worth the price of a bullet.

      The more I watch the birds, the more interesting they become. I joined Cornell’s Ornithology Lab a few months ago — at the lowest price which is $8/month. It’s all I could manage, but at least I’m putting my money where my interests lie. I used to send money — when I had it — to Durrell’s zoo on Jersey, but this year, we are SO broke I had to make choices — and Cornell won. I also joined up for the February bird feeder count. All over the country, you watch your feeder and try to count how many of which kind of birds you see. This is the time of year when you’ll only see local birds because all the ones who migrate are gone until March or even later. I’m still trying to figure out how you know if what you are seeing is a new bird or the return of the same bird who was there before and has come back for another seed. They have a group zoom in the beginning of February, so hopefully I can get that question answered.

      For some reason, we have fewer squirrels this year than usual and no raccoons or flying squirrels — or at least I haven’t seen them. The squirrels are mostly the smaller red squirrels, not the big gray ones. I wonder if the hawks have been picking them off. To one of the big hawks or eagles, a fat squirrel looks a lot like lunch.

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  5. Wow, I learned something today! Thanks.
    PLEASE don’t feed magpies. They are murderers too and they chase any other bird from their place. Plus, they make an incredible racket. We have had, at times, 3 couples and it was ‘war’ outside. They screech and it’s hurtful to see how they chase any other birds away (for good).

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    • I know we have magpies, but I’ve never seen them. Wherever they live, they aren’t interested in our feeders. I hate to say it, but most of the larger birds including blue jays and cowbirds are killers. They will ALL eat the eggs and babies of smaller birds. This is also true of water fowl. Herons will eat baby swans and swans will eat baby geese. That is how it works in the wild. It’s not like a Disney movie. They will also kill each other. Rabbits are brutal to each other as are squirrels and even chipmunks.

      Since we’ve been feeding the Blue Jays, they are much less aggressive. I think not being so hungry probably helps calm them down. Meanwhile, the hawks will happily eat anything they can get their talons on, including your puppy or cat. We also have eagles and they will eat absolutely ANYTHING, though they prefer fish. But they especially like fish you’ve already caught and will steal it right out of your boat or off your line. Since American Eagles are really really BIG and STRONG, you just let them have the fish. No one wants to fend of an angry eagle!

      I try not to think too hard on who is murdering who back there in the wild. I do the best i can to keep the little ones well fed, but nature is not kindly to small creatures. We would like to think so, but reality is a lot more brutal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I know – and I certainly would fight with an eagle, not even a European one, not even a tiny, tiny one….
        I think it’s more having to WATCH how those magpies ‘treat’ the small birds I so lovingly fed over the years. And also I would never try to wrestle with a swan nor a goose!

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  6. Pretty cool to see so many. Although I rarely see crows around my house, I see them most of the time I walk, and occasionally ravens. Typically I’ll see handful of crows together, 10 at the very most, but never dozens at once.

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    • They have special “mobbing” calls that tell the other crows to come join the “army.” I’d never seen anything like that before. It got me interested, so I started reading about it. Really interesting birds. All the other crows — Ravens, Magpies, Fish Crows — are loners. ONLY American Crows will form mobs. And usually only to attack hawks or other raptors — and ravens. They REALLY hate ravens.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I walked with some ravens at the Tower of London. It is said that if they ever leave, the Tower will fall, and it will be the end of England. They were beautiful birds, looking for treats from the tourists.

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    • Ravens apparently make pretty good pets. We have them around here, but I never see them. They are loners and they aren’t feeder birds — and they are high flyers and don’t come down low enough for us to easily see them. I didn’t even know we had any crows! That was the ONLY time I’ve ever seen them.

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  8. A few weeks ago we were awakened by the sound of hundreds of crows. One of them must have been in distress, and they did their thing in support. The next day while out for a stroll I found out that the gathering point was three blocks away from our apartment. This was evident from the vast amount of droppings on the sidewalk and several parked cars.

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    • They will mob up like that against any hawk or eagle — and they hate ravens and will always mob up and attack them. They will also protect small birds that are NOT crows. Just because they have a “thing” about birds that eat other birds.

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  9. The guardian crows of my yard like peanuts–as do the jays, cardinals, wrens, squirrels, etc.

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