Monday, June 20, 2011

Stinky crows

In the temperate rainforest that is Seattle, crows occupy the niche that parrots occupy in tropical rainforests. They’re the smarter guys in the room, the mischief-makers. They learn to recognize people they see regularly and they know who’s a potential threat and who isn’t. Knowing I’ll leave them alone, they’re untroubled when they hop on the roof of the main floor of the house and I appear at the window of my second floor study that overlooks part of that roof. They simply go, “Oh, her again,” and get back to throwing twigs out of the gutter. If only they’d dig more thoroughly at the gutters, I wouldn’t have to clean them at all.

Last week, hearing scratching, clattering, and muttering in the bathroom next to my study, I walked over to see two crows on the skylight right above my head. It’s a flat, glass skylight with no special reflective coating; but apparently the crows couldn’t see me standing below them because they kept slipping around and pecking at bits of whatever stuff flies off trees in the spring and sticks to skylights. They were helpful about cleaning up the skylight and not pooping on it while I watched. When you stand right under a crow, you can see how large and pointy their beaks really are. They can’t bite like a parrot but I don’t think I’d want an argument with an adult crow.

We get a lot of young crows at the wildlife center. I suspect that’s partly because their size makes them easily visible, as compared to a young nuthatch as small as a marble. Some of the crows are injured; some are brought in because they’re too young to survive on their own. Along with baby bird formula squirted down their throats, they get a special corvid mix consisting of seeds, chopped fruit, balls of soft food, and chopped smelt.

At feeding time, I open the covered door to their cage and unleash a gust of ripe fish. I look at the dish of jumbled food and see a silvery eye gleaming in the mess. I look up at the crying crow whose blue eyes are focused on the hemostat (forceps) in my hand. I pick up the food with the hemostat and either offer it to the crow or shove it down the bird’s throat, depending on the crow’s stage of development--a clump of the soft stuff with tiny sunflower seeds stuck on like cookie decorations, a bit of apple, a smelt head that looks back at me. If the crow is screaming at me, it means his beak is open and he’s willing to eat. The crows around my house don’t know what they’re missing.

You can read more about crows at


  1. Interesting, there were several cases of crows attacking students at the University in my city, I wonder what that was all about?

  2. Growing up there were always lots of crows around. I don't see too many here.

  3. We have a couple of crow bands that hang around our area. They usually don't come in the yard much because of the 23 cats!

  4. We have a fair amount of crows here in our garden. They are smart..too smart, they know where all the pumpkin and squash seeds are planted.
    Yesterday we heard all this bird fighting and ran out to find a dead Blue Jay that the crows had and territorial.

    Wyatt's Mom

  5. I shall think more positively about crows now that I can think of them as temperate parrots!

  6. That's really fascinating stuff! Loved your comparison of crows to temperate parrots! :)