Crows are everywhere

By Maddi Dunlap

Special to The Express

Most of us easily can identify a few of our more common bird species. Take the American crow — a large, black bird with a very recognizable call of “caw, caw” is easily identified, even by young children.

Crows are seemingly everywhere, in urban areas and rural areas alike. There is hardly anywhere in the Susquehanna Valley that you won’t find them. But how much do you really know about these large, noisy birds?

Crows are members of the corvid family which includes crows, ravens and jays. We are all familiar with the American crow, but did you know that we also have another crow species in Pennsylvania?

We have fish crows, which are a little smaller but look essentially the same as their American cousin. The best way to tell the difference between them is by the call. Fish crows have a very nasal, throaty “eh eh” rather than the “caw” we all know.

Larger, bulkier and with a thicker bill is the common raven. They are found throughout the hemisphere and we do see them here in our area on occasion. They are the largest songbird in the world, but their croaky “raaah, raaah” is not exactly melodic.

Crows are thought to live fairly long lives and they have a complex social structure. They don’t breed until somewhere between 2 and 4 years of age, so young crows will stay around to help their parents raise the next batch of nestlings.

They flock together in huge winter roosts and it is not unusual to see dozens and dozens flying together near dusk here in our valley.

Corvids are among the most intelligent of birds. They have big brains for their body size, with large forebrains like primates. Some crows are thought to be as intelligent as young human children. They are good learners and problem-solvers.

Scientists have studied crows and other corvids and the results of their observations and experiments are fascinating. They have been shown to not only use tools but to actually make tools by bending wire into a hook or by shaping wood into a stick to poke inside a hole.

Studies have shown that while crows may all look alike to us, they are able to tell us apart; they are capable of facial recognition. If you feed them, the crows will not only recognize you but possibly even your car.

Crow intelligence and their gregariousness is likely what has helped them to adapt so well to different environments, ensuring their very survival. That complex social structure allows them to teach each other new foraging techniques as they adapt. They often will work together as they hunt for food.

Crows are raucous, noisy and, yes, they can be annoying. They are so common that we often take them for granted. But they deserve our grudging respect. Smart, crafty and resourceful, these birds continue to show that we have much more to learn about our feathered friends.

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Dunlap loves birding in her spare time. She is a member of the Lycoming Audubon Society and is a contributor to its quarterly online newsletter. She may be reached at madwoman@chilitech.net. The Lycoming Audubon Society is a chapter of the National Audubon Society with responsibility for members in Lycoming and Clinton counties. Information about the society and events may be found at http://lycomingaudubon.blogspot.com. The public is invited to share local sightings and join discussions at www.facebook.com/groups/lycomingAudubon.

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