Jeff Green | Feb 09, 2006
Back toHomeNature Reflections - February 9, 2006
The American Crow
by Jean Griffin
Is there anyone in Eastern Canada (or in fact most of North America ) who has not seen the American or Common Crow? And heard its very unmusical call - “caw, ca or car”? But during the winter I do not see or hear them around my home. Why? It seems they have ‘migrated’ to winter roosts - areas usually much more southerly or where they can find more food (such as close to city dumps) and protection.
In these winter roosts they may number in the thousands from which they spread out daily to find food. In late afternoon they will fly as much as 80 km as they begin returning to the roost sites, where the large numbers provide a sort of protection from predators such as Great Horned Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, or Raccoons, not to mention man. Now when February gives way to March, I expect to see first one pair then another as they return to their breeding grounds of the previous year.
Often described as one of the most intelligent of birds, it is reported they have the largest brains in relation to their size as compared to all other birds. This gives them the ability to adapt to a variety of habitats. The fact that they will eat almost anything that does not eat them first means they can find food almost anywhere. Once, and often still, considered vermin and only worthy of destruction because of a tendency to devour crops, they are also beneficial by destroying large numbers of plant-eating insects. Also known for nest plundering of smaller birds, is it possible that by so doing they weed out the weak and feeble?
During courtship, on the ground, a male will face the female, fluff his feathers, spread his tail and bow repeatedly while uttering a rattling call. After mating they will perch together and touch bills and preen each other’s feathers. Since they mate for life, most of this is not seen in a pair returning to their breeding ground. They like to nest alone, though if suitable nesting locations are scarce, several pairs may nest close to one another. The nest, often high in a tree (where the term ‘crow’s nest’ is derived) will contain four to six eggs, and both parents will share duties. Young of the previous year may help care for the young, which are born blind and naked.
Wary and suspicious of humans, while a flock feeds on the ground there will always be one or two in the trees as lookouts. The habit of proclaiming ‘danger’ also warns other birds and animals. If one crow sees a predator such as an owl or a hawk, it will give an assembly call, which quickly brings every crow within earshot to the source. The resultant behaviour, called “mobbing”, will have them diving repeatedly at the predator, and if they succeed in forcing it to fly away, they will chase it until out of that territory. An injured crow may give a distress call, bringing other crows to its defense.
The English language uses various expressions probably based on assumptions (right or wrong) about the crow. “To eat crow” means to be forced to admit one’s mistake. To “crow” is to brag obnoxiously. Wrinkles around the eyes are called “crow’s-feet”. A flock of crows is known as a “murder” of crows or a “crow bar”.