American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
This week we kick off the spooky season with a clever corvid. Meet the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos).
Fun fact: Locally speaking, if you see a group of shiny black corvids hopping around a grassy lot in Cave Junction, odds are they are American crows. If you see a big, black bird cawing atop one of the parking lot light posts in the Eagle Point Walmart parking lot, they’re probably shouting “Nevermore!” because they are a raven.
That said, American crows can be seen throughout our area, and throughout nearly all North America. Crows are nothing if not adaptable and live anywhere and everywhere – cities, suburbs, forests and fields. The only place they don’t favor are the U.S.’s southwestern deserts.
A key factor in the American crows’ ability to live anywhere and everywhere is their diet. They are omnivores in the broadest sense of the word. Clever scavengers who never turn down a free meal. Their definition of “free” often includes “free because we tricked someone else out of it.”
One of the few free meals crows often have to pass on is carrion. Despite their large beaks, they are unable to tear open the skin of even the smallest deceased animal. If they have an urge for roadkill, they have to wait around for a larger bird or mammal to come along and start the feast, then hope they can grab some leftovers.
Following carnivores is a big part of crows’ daily routine. Generally, they do so in groups, because like pickpockets, they are masters of the “Distract and Grab” form of thievery. Crows have been observed distracting a river otter by causing a commotion, while their companions snag the otter’s recently caught fishy fare.
American crows will also catch small fish on their own or follow other fishing birds such as mergansers and snap up minnows the mergansers have startled into the shallows.
None of this means crows are “lazy,” however, just smart. So smart they’ll even make tools to get a meal. They’ll use sticks to poke around rotten logs looking for food and drop rocks on closed nuts to open them. They’ve even been seen dropping bits of pinecone on potential prey to dislodge the maybe meal from the side of a tree.
Crows form tight family bonds and protect family territories. Families consist of a breeding pair and their offspring from the previous two or three years. Everyone helps with nest building and caring for the young.
Fun seasonal fact: A group of crows is called a “murder of crows.”
Families also go out into the world and socialize within larger murders. When in their own patch, they stick together, but when a family group joins a murder to forage in a field, they’ll separate and go meet, greet and eat with members of other crow families.
While ravens and crows are seen as symbols of Halloween, Native Americans see them as bringers of good luck.
In the case of The Rainbow Crow of Lenape legend, crows were also the original bringers of fire. The rainbow crow sacrificed their beautiful rainbow feathers by charring them black as they carried fire up to kijilamuh ka’ong to warm them, so they in turn would warm the frozen world.