Squirrel vs Crow

While we admire crows for their wit, grace, and beauty, one cannot deny that they are also opportunistic.  In this provocative video, its hard to choose sides – do the crows offer a cold and steady acceptance of death while being thorough recyclists, or is the squirrel due 100% of our sympathy?

Endangered Mariana Crow

“It’s an hour before dawn and our group is stumbling uphill toward our blinds. I’m carrying a small cat container that holds our captive Mariana Crow, Latte, and shredding my boots on the sharp limestone. Latte was once the breeding female in the territory adjacent to where we’re trapping, but she lost a wing during a fierce tropical storm. She was rescued by Sarah Faegre, the crow research field team leader from the University of Washington, who is as devoted and protective a mother as a bird could possibly have. Latte is amazingly calm for a wild bird; she was quite willing to take a katydid out of my hand on the first day we met.”

That is how the story begins as told by Kevin McGowan, Cornell University mentor and Corvid Champion. The post details his work with endangered Mariana Crows in the South Pacific a few weeks ago. He was helping out in a study led by researchers from the University of Washington, in an attempt to understand why this unique species is declining.

“Mariana Crows, like many southeast-Asian crows, forage in the forest canopy. Their behavior reminds me more of oropendolas than of “typical” crows of North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia, which forage on open ground. One proposed explanation for why crows never penetrated the Neotropical forests is that toucans and oropendolas were already occupying the role of big, canopy-dwelling, omnivorous bird.”

Read Kevin’s report here

Lazy Sunday Video – Arthur & Martha

Arthur and Martha, so named by Scottish vlogger Grandma Dorrie, are a very special couple indeed.  A carrion crow and a hooded crow are a very rare breeding pair, typically only found in situations where the male cannot find a suitable mate within its own group.  Hooded crows (or corbies/hoodies as they are affectionately called in Scotland and Ireland) are also very uncommon in this area, making it that much more extraordinary. That is not all, however! Typically crows will nest in the highest tree possible, with as much visibility as possible, to keep an eye out for owls and hawks. In Arthur and Martha’s case, the tallest tree around was a seven foot pine sapling.

Arthur & Martha’s tale is an overall heartwarming and calming one – but it does have its dramatic moments of prowling chickens, curious cats, death defying stunts, steamy sex and eerie knocks on the window. Enjoy the initial few chapters to see how these two get on and raise their young. Each one is only a couple minutes long, so sit back and enjoy a cup of tea!


Ninja Chickens, Drive Bys, and Near Death Experiences

Steamy Sex Scene

A Windy Day

Arthur Brings Home the Bacon

The Calm After the Storm

New Arrivals

2 Weeks Old

More About Hooded Crows

Leaving the Nest

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

Featured Creature: The ‘Alala (Hawaiian Crow)

Having spent my early childhood in Maui, Hawaiian wildlife is close to my heart.  I’ve grown up watching resorts spring up along the coasts, foothills cleared for cineplexes, and bird song grow ever quieter.  It is a reality which I hope never hits my current home of Zagreb, still bursting with chatter within our boreal dwellings.

The Alala, or Hawaiian Crow (Corvus hawaiiensis),  is sadly one of the most critically endangered birds in the world. It has suffered from the same threats that have caused the endangerment or extinction of many of Hawaii’s native forest birds–habitat destruction due to logging and agriculture, severe degradation of native plant life by introduced pigs, predation by introduced rats and mongoose, and avian diseases transmitted by introduced mosquitoes.

The Hawaiian Crow previously was found in wet ‘ohi’a-koa forest, scrub, and rangelands, but the few remaining birds are now restricted to high mountain forest. The species is omnivorous, but is especially fond of the fruit of native understory plants such as ieie. Hawaiian Crow is a rather secretive species, often detected first by its strange-sounding calls, but it can sometimes be seen flying high above the forest.

Literally ‘Alala means “to cry out loud.”  Their caw is very similar to that of continental crows. What sets the Alala apart from its Common Crow cousin  is a dark, sooty brown color, with paler feathers in the outer wing.

The breeding season of Hawaiian Crow stretches from March to July. The female lays one to five eggs, but with larger clutches, only two eggs survive. Hawaiian Crows are social birds with family groups, and these family groups remain together until young birds are old enough to feed themselves.

Hawaiian Crow was listed as a federally endangered species under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967. In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the ‘Alala Recovery Plan. The goal of the plan was to increase the number of Hawaiian Crows in the wild to 400 individuals, thereby removing the bird from the endangered species list. The Zoological Society of San Diego runs a captive breeding program in Maui now, which has allowed 27 young crows to be introduced into the wild since 1993. Unfortunately, by October 1999, 21 of these captive-reared birds had died or disappeared due to disease, predation by Hawaiian Hawks, and other factors; the other six birds were brought back into captivity until more successful introductions can take place. To help protect existing Hawaiian Crow habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service acquired 5,300 acres of land in 1997 and established the Kona Forest Unit of the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge.They have since published a new plan under the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office which begs community involvement to make this run a success.

What Can You Do?
The Endangered Species Act has helped protect the Hawaiian Crow and made it possible to learn critical information about its biology. Audubon continues to work to ensure that this vital legislation is being used to protect our publicly-owned wildlife resources. Check out http://www.audubon.org/campaign/ to learn of the latest news about the Endangered Species Act and how you can help. To learn more about other species protected under this legislation, visit: http://endangered.fws.gov/

U.S. National Wildlife Refuges provide essential habitat for the Hawaiian Crow, and a great number of other species throughout the U.S. and its territories. Unfortunately, the refuge system is often under-funded during the U.S. government’s budgeting process. To learn more about how you can help gain much needed funding for U.S. National Wildlife Refuges, visit: http://www.audubon.org/campaign/refuge_report/

'Alala KinohiRead the dramatic story of  Kinohi, the last wild ‘alala , who has finally found a place to call home-away-from-home here at the Wild Animal Park.

Training an Alala for an Important Job



  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2002). Threatened and Endangered Animals of the Hawaiian Islands.
  • BirdLife International (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
  • BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Corvus hawaiiensis, Hawaiian Crow
  • Goodwin, Derek, Crows of the World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.
  • Pratt, H.D., P. L. Bruner, and D. G. Berrett. The Birds of Hawaii and the Tropical Pacific. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
  • [/list]

Hawaiian Crow – A Ghost of Our Past

A “State of the Birds” report released by the US federal government  in partnership with several conservancy programs estimates that a third of the United States’ roughly 800 bird species are in danger. The report is, in a word, depressing. It is the summation of a slew of depressing bird censuses, which together encompass 40 years worth of data. US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the report “should be a call to action” (New York Times). Half of the shorebird species have declined over the last four decades, and birds that breed in grasslands have dropped 40%. Also in trouble: any native bird on the islands of Hawai’i (including the Hawaiian crow, shown at right), which are threatened not only by human encroachment but by an army of invasive species . The usual culprits are to blame: loss of habitat, pollution, etc. But one Associated Press article provides a bizarre spin on the report by pinning much of the blame on alternative energy efforts. True, the report does mention wind turbines, but to my quick read it looks like much more space is spent discussing the consequences of traditional energy pursuits, such as oil spills and mountaintop removal.

Hawaiian Crow

It is in the perceived paradise of Hawaii that birds have declined the most, the report said.

“More bird species are vulnerable to extinction in Hawaii than anywhere else in the United States,” according to the report.

Before humans arrived in the Hawaiian islands, possibly as early as the year 300, there were 113 bird species that occurred nowhere else on Earth. Since humans arrived, 71 species have gone extinct and 31 more are listed as threatened or endangered. The main culprits are new plant and animal species introduced into the Hawaiian ecosystem, said George Wallace of the American Bird Conservancy, who wrote the report’s section on Hawaii.

“Most Americans would be surprised that a place that we usually associate with being an idyllic paradise would have so many serious bird conservation problems,” Wallace said in a telephone interview.

“These types of isolated island flora and fauna tend to be very, very sensitive to introductions of foreign organisms.”

John Fitzpatrick of Cornell University went farther, calling Hawaii a “borderline ecological disaster” and “the epicenter of extinctions and near extinctions.”

A revised recovery plan for the critically endangered Hawaiian Crow, or Alalā (Corvus hawaiiensis), was released in mid-April  by the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service. The species is recognized as being one of the “world’s rarest forest birds.”

Alala - Giclee Print by Patrick Ching

Alala by Patrick Ching

“With the release of this recovery plan, we reach out to Big Island communities asking for their support in helping restore the alalā to its native forests,” said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. “Wildlife does not recognize property lines or jurisdictional areas. Working together, we hope to bring this charismatic bird back to its rightful place in Hawai‘i.”

The plan calls for spending $14,380,000 to implement each of the recovery actions, with an ultimate goal of establishing multiple, self-sustaining populations on the island of Hawai’i – its historic range – that would allow the species to be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species.

More news on efforts to conserve the Alalā is available on the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Read our Hawaiian Crow feature here

[box]The Last of Their Kind
Cornell Lab’s expedition records last wild Alalas and other rare Hawaiian birds

The Crow Conglomerate (Pt.2)

[box]This Article appeared in the April 2001 edition of the now (sadly) defunct DoubleTake Magazine. View Part 1 here. [/box]

If more people in the future get a chance to know crows as I have done, they are in for a real treat. Because I must say, the crows have been absolutely wonderful to me. I like them not just as highly profitable business associates but as friends. Their aggressive side, admittedly quite strong in disputes with scarlet tanagers and other birds, has been nowhere in evidence around me. I could not wish for any companions more charming. The other day I was having lunch with an important crow in the park—me sipping from a drinking fountain while he ate peanuts taken from a squirrel. In between sharp downward raps of his bill on the peanut shell to poke it open, he drew me out with seemingly artless questions. Sometimes the wind would push the shell to one side and he would steady it with one large foot while continuing the raps with his beak. And all the while, he kept up his attentive questioning, making me feel that, business considerations aside, he was truly interested in what I had to say.

Crows: We Want to Be Your Only Bird.™ I think this slogan is worth repeating, because there’s a lot behind it. Of course, the crows don’t literally want (or expect) to be the only species of bird left on the planet. They admire and enjoy other kinds of birds and even hope that there will still be some remaining in limited numbers out of doors as well as in zoos and museums. But in terms of daily usage, the crows hope that you will think of them first when you’re looking for those quality-of-life intangibles usually associated with birds. Singing, for example: Crows actually can sing, and beautifully, too; so far, however, they have not been given the chance. In the future, with fewer other birds around, they feel that they will be.

Whether they’re kindly harassing an owl caught out in daylight, or carrying bits of sticks and used gauze bandage in their beaks to make their colorful, free-form nests, or simply landing on the sidewalk in front of you with their characteristic double hop, the crows have become a part of the fabric of our days. When you had your first kiss, the crows were there, flying around nearby. They were cawing overhead at your college graduation, and worrying a hamburger wrapper through the wire mesh of a trash container in front of the building when you went in for your first job interview, and flapping past the door of the hospital where you held your first-born child. The crows have always been with us, and they promise that by growing the species at a predicted rate of 17 percent a year, in the future they’ll be around even more.

The crows aren’t the last Siberian tigers, and they don’t pretend to be. They’re not interested in being a part of anybody’s dying tradition. But then how many of us deal with Siberian tigers on a regular basis? Usually, the non tech stuff we deal with—besides humans—is squirrels, pigeons, raccoons, rats, mice, and a few kinds of bugs. The crows are confident enough to claim that they will be able to compete effectively even with these familiar and well-entrenched providers. Indeed, they have already begun to displace pigeons in the category of walking around under park benches with chewing gum stuck to their feet. Scampering nervously in attics, sneaking through pet doors, and gnawing little holes in things are all in the crows’ expansion plans.

I would not have taken this job if I did not believe, strongly and deeply, in the crows. And I do. I could go on and on about the crows’ generosity, taste in music, sense of family values; the ‘buddy system’ they invented to use against other birds, the work they do for the Shriners, and more. But they’re paying me a lot of bottles to say this—I can’t expect everybody to believe me. I do ask, if you’re unconvinced, that you take this simple test: Next time you’re looking out a window or driving in a car, notice if there’s a crow in sight. Then multiply that one crow by lots and lots of crows, and you’ll get an idea of what the next few years will bring. In the bird department, no matter what, the future is going to be almost all crows, almost all the time. That’s just a fact.

So why not just accept it, and learn to appreciate it, as so many of us have already? The crows are going to influence our culture and our world in beneficial ways we can’t even imagine today. Much of what they envision I am not yet at liberty to disclose, but I can tell you that it is magnificent. They are going to be birds like we’ve never seen. In their dark, jewel-like eyes burns an ambition to be more and better and to fly around all over the place constantly. They’re smart, they’re driven, and they’re comin’ at us. The crows : Let’s get ready to welcome tomorrow’s only bird.

Crow Takes a Bath

The internet is full of memes of bathing cats, pugs, babies, and hamsters – all of which can be cute – but how often do we get to watch a crow frolicking in the tub?


Crows & Ravens : The Difference


Today I thought I would post a short feature outlining the difference in the Crow and Raven for those of you who may not know. Many people use the terms ‘raven’ and ‘crow’ interchangeably, but they are actually quite different. Technically, since ravens belong to the crow (corvus) family of birds, they can be called crows – but not all crows are ravens. The two differ in a variety of ways.

The following illustration shows the primary field mark. Crows have a fsquare fanned out tail, whereas a raven’s is long and wedge-shaped (top).

  • A raven weighs about four times that of a crow.
  • The wingspan of a crow is ~2.5 ft., ravens about 3.5-4 ft. (Ravens are “freaking huge”)
  • Ravens have pointed wings, while crows have a more blunt wing tip.
  • A raven’s bill is curved with a tuft of hairs on top, while a crow has a more-or-less flat, tuftless, bill and ravens have fuller neck feathers

Their particular color can also be noted. Both are iridescent black, although a crow’s feathers can have lighter markings as seen in the Hooded Crow. A raven’s feathers shine with a blue or purple tint when the sun hits them, while a Common Crow may look purple with green-tinted wings. Crows can fluff their feathers into a mane to show off, while a raven’s individual feathers are larger and pointier. Finally, if you see the bird with its tail spread, a crow’s tail curves evenly like a seashell while the tail of a raven meets at a triangular point.

Crows are tolerant of noisy, populated areas with people and other animals. This gives them their reputation for harassing the cornfields of farmers, since they like scavenging seeds, fruits, and vegetables in groups.

Ravens like privacy in their solitary hunt for insects, fruits, and carrion, so they’re more likely to be found in remote woods, meadows, and hills.

A raven often lives 30 years or more, while a crow only has an eight-year average lifespan.

Another easy way to tell from a distance is to listen to the voice: a Raven’s throaty croak sounds nothing like the “caw” of a crow. Click here for various sounds.

The below video shows the difference in size between an American Crow and hybrid Raven. Edgar is an African Pied Crow/White-necked raven hybrid: a “Craven”. The raven is quite a bit larger than the crow, but STILL not as large as a Common Raven!


Overall, the most obvious factor is size. Ravens are extremely large birds compared to what you may normally encounter, and will typically command a gasp or state of speechlessness for a moment if you happen to see one perched on a fencepost.

Here is a quick look at how crows and ravens size up to other corvids:

(From top to bottom) Raven, Rook, Crow (shown here as a hoodie), Jay(left) and Jackdaw (right),Magpie (left) and Nutcracker (right)

How often have you seen a Raven where you live?

Oxford Studies: Crows Using Tools

A few years ago, scientists were astonished when they saw their crow, Betty,  invent a new tool. Betty’s ability was first noticed after she and her mate  were shown a clear tube that had a small bucket with food at the bottom. The bucket had a handle, and they were given a hooked wire and also a straight one, then observed to see if their choices for solving the puzzle were based on intelligent choice. Betty chose the hooked wire, and after her mate took it from her, she adapted  by bending the straight wireinto a hook of her own. She repeated this skill 9 out of 10 times.


But this was a captive crow that lived in a lab. What researchers really want to know is how wild crows make and use tools. So, to find out, they trapped wild birds on a tropical island and attached video cameras to them.

The footage from this Crow Cam is not the most beautifully produced nature documentary, but keep in mind, it was shot by wild birds.

One scene is labeled “4:21 pm. Flight.” You see a tree branch and black crow legs. Then the bird takes off. The shaky video shows blurry trees far below, bright sky, and black flashes of wing. You hear wind and cawing.


An Unusual Perspective

Christian Rutz at the University of Oxford is a member of the group that conducted the Crow Cam research.

“Most people struggle to understand what’s going on because it’s a very unusual perspective,” Rutz says. “Everybody would expect the camera to sit on the head. Or possibly on the belly or the back.”

The camera comes down through the feathers and then points forward. The view is like what a quarterback might see as he looks through the legs of the center who is holding the football.

Rutz admits that the odd perspective takes some getting used to. “To have this view where you see a look through the bird’s legs is very unusual,” he says.

They caught 18 wild crows  in New Caledonia and attached the cameras, which weigh less than half an ounce. A timer kept the cameras from filming for a couple days, otherwise they would just record crows trying to tear them off.

When the cameras came on, the team set up a receiver and watched the crow channel.

“We see the live footage coming in on this little camera, so we are live and in color on the wing with the New Caledonian crow,” Rutz says.

Crows Seen Selecting Best Tools

In the online edition of the journal Science, the research team says it got about seven hours of video. The team saw two male crows using sticks and dry blades of grass to probe around on the ground. The birds held the tools in their beaks and even carried them from place to place, suggesting they might hold on to especially “good” tools.



The Crow Paradox

The mind numbing Raven paradox, also known as Hempel’s paradox or Hempel’s ravens is a paradox proposed by the German logician Carl Gustav Hempel in the 1940s to illustrate a problem where inductive logic violates intuition. It reveals the fundamental problem of induction – All Ravens are black, thus anything that is not black is not a Raven.

On the contrary, here is a white raven.

By Mike yip


Not to be daunted, John M. Marzluff, co-author of the award-winning In the Company of Crows and Ravens, was featured in an NPR interview last year discussing the “Crow Paradox.”

In the interview, Marzluff discusses research he conducted at the University of Washington, concluding that while most humans can’t differentiate between individual crows (or even between species of similar birds), crows have the ability to recognize and remember the faces of people they’ve encountered before. This adaptive skill enables crows to distinguish between a man who throws breadcrumbs and another who carries a rifle.

In their book, Marzluff and co-author Tony Angel argue that crows and people share similar traits and social strategies. “To a surprising extent,” they contend, “to know the crow is to know ourselves.”


This popular broadcast originally aired on July 27th 2009, but can be accessed online here. Be sure to check it out and take the Crow recognition test.