Karen Bondarchuk Crows: Scavenging Scavengers

Karen Bondarchuk, assistant professor of art, will be one of about 30 members of Western Michigan University’s Gwen Frostic School of Art faculty and staff who’ll display pieces in the annual art faculty exhibit, which opened on Thursday and runs through Dec. 23. The works will range from oil on canvas and mixed media to sculpture and, well, crows.  Karen originally began sculpting the birds from scavenged tire, wood, and polystyrene. “I’d see a heap of tires on the side of the road, and I’d imagine a claw sticking up in the air,” she said. “Crows are scavengers by nature, and so am I.”


Corvus Deflatus


Karen’s current sculpture and drawing work, focused exclusively on crows and ravens, examines the complex, interwoven relationship between humans and corvids.  Her artwork has been exhibited widely in the United States, as well as in Canada, Italy and England.

“Using tire scraps and an automobile headlamp, Autogenesis contemporizes the Haida and Tsimshian myth of the raven stealing the sun. Most traditional Native American and First Nations myths recognize the intelligence of these creatures by ascribing complex attributes to crows and ravens. These myths often include a corvid’s ability to shape-shift, wherein the bird will take on human qualities in order to achieve a goal or procure some desired object (which is typically shiny or luminous). The title alludes to both the process of autogeny (organic organisms developing from inorganic matter) and this raven’s genesis from automobile tires, while the form is suggestive of both a prize trophy head and a portal through which this raven is seemingly unable to pass.”




Of her painted body of work, Karen says,”The large charcoal raven portraits in this body of work— Speak, Memory and others—are scaled with the intention of creating a meeting of minds or reciprocity: in as much as we are contemplating these brainy birds, they seem to be equally contemplating us. The stark, high contrast and large scale also demands our attention and consideration (as birds in the corvid family—crows, blue jays, rooks, magpies, jackdaws, ravens, etc.—so often do), while the emphasis on individuality and personality with each portrait challenges the generalities we may have regarding what a raven is. ”

Speak,Memory IV

“The title of this series is from Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiographical memoir called Speak, Memory, and relates to my desire to understand the true nature of these highly intelligent creatures, as well as the futility of my desire to do so. In my ongoing research of crows and ravens, I have had various encounters with verbal corvids, including Julian the incredible talking raven (“who’s a good bird”), Blue, the feisty imprinted blue jay that imitates meowing cats and door alarms, and a cursing green-eyed British jackdaw, and I am struck by the fact that their ability to speak makes these birds even more inscrutable. The language they utter doesn’t speak of them or their memories, but of us and our desire to understand these intelligent creatures on human terms.”

Crow Magnus



Bondarchuk’s contribution to the art show is a six-foot charcoal-and-ink drawing titled, “In Defense of a Stolen Golfball” which was inspired by a story she heard about ravens stealing balls from a Virginia golf course.

“The ravens were fascinated by the golf balls. In this, the raven is defending itself.”


Karen Bondarkchuck’s In Defense of the Golf Ball


You may follow Karen by visiting her website at www.karenbondarchuk.com.


Crows & Ravens vs The World

Mobbing behavior by crows and others in the avian family is very common. The crows are reacting to the potential threat another lifeform or (until they quickly figure it out) an object poses as a predator to the adult crows and their offspring. The mobbing often serves to harass the threat into leaving the area. Occasionally, though, a mobbed hawk or owl will turn the tables and attack and kill the crow.

The following video is a chilling example of how a murder of crows will defend its turf, cornering an otherwise formidable opponent using intimidation and force, but the Owl is not about to lose…


In this clip, the crows are shown displaying a more common dive-and-swoop behavior on a Great Horned Owl that has entered their territory.


Mobbing is not the only way crows and ravens deal with threats, and there is some speculation that harassment behavior may be more than protecting a flock. There have been documented encounters between Crows, Ravens, Magpies etc  and a variety of natural predators, (the most common being hawks, owls, and cats) but also between the corvids and creatures which would normally not pose any threat to them whatsoever (such as squirrels, rats, smaller birds, or insects). Generally these can be attributed to hunting and scavenging, but not all.


During some encounters, the crows act as if they are simply doing it for sport, to alleviate boredom, or as a ritual of discovery. Bullying and teasing has been observed in many highly intelligent animals, including ourselves, apes, dolphins, rats, cats, and wolves, lacking the systematic signs of an instinct mechanism (such as those observed in ants). Does this indicate that the sense of self which factors highly into higher intelligence also brings with it the curse of jealousy, intolerance, and greed?

In a tribute to Aesop’s fable of the Jackdaw and the Peacock, this crow attempts to steal a tail feather (or catch a ride)


All is not lost, however. Our beloved birds are not Hitchcock villains or devious devils looking to lie, cheat and steal at any opportunity. Like humans, corvids adapt to their environments and fortunes, or lack thereof, and as a result have a widely diverse set of skills and behaviors.  They also seem to be particularily fond of, or at least respectful of, the cat.




A Murder of Crows

This more poetic term for a flock of crows can be traced back at least to the 15th century, when it was recorded as a “murther of crowes”. Murther is a variant of Middle English murthre ‘murder,’ though the th sound had begun to be replaced with a d around 1300 C.E. There are several theories as to how this particular term came about, but all of them have to do with the supposed behavior of crows.

For instance, crows are scavengers and therefore often seen feeding on rotting bodies of various sorts. Survivors of wars have described how the battlefields were covered in black as crows (and ravens) came down to eat the dead. Another theory hearkens back to old folklore which told of groups of crows essentially holding court over members of their flock that had committed offenses. If they decide against the “defendant” crow, then the rest of the flock swoops down on it and kills it.

The basis in fact is probably that occasionally crows will kill a dying crow who doesn’t belong in their territory or much more commonly feed on carcasses of dead crows. Also, both crows and ravens are associated with battlefields, medieval hospitals, execution sites and cemeteries (because they scavenged on human remains). In England, a tombstone is sometimes called a ravenstone, all derived from this folk tale of the Murder of Crows.

By Peace & Love

Special for our Canadian Readers:

A Murder of Crows is a visually stunning one-hour documentary that recently had a one-year anniversary re-run on CBC (Canada) and will appear again later this month. It is a film that explores a unique pairing of science and cinema as world-renowned scientists, including crow expert Professor John Marzluff, joins forces with an award-winning camera team to explore the secret world of crows. A scientific exploration with a compelling twist, the film is a visually stunning HD documentary that reveals new insights and understanding into this haunting and elusive species.

The average crow knows a tremendous amount about us, from our eating habits to our traffic patterns, but the average human knows relatively little about the intimate life of crows. And there is so much worth knowing. Crows are one of the most common birds on the planet. They have more brain mass per unit than any other bird group except the macaw and as result they often behave more like primates or even humans than they do birds. Crows have a proven ability to reason and problem-solve and have long and dependable memories. They engage in complex social interactions that range from group play and hunting to gang-style killings and funerals.

If you are in Canada, you can watch the entire documentary here. If we find any other resources for those of you outside Canada, we will be sure to send out a Twitter or Facebook update!

Crows: Nature’s Scamps?

Love them or hate them, crows are some of the smartest and most adaptable birds around, and they’re a lot like us.

Photo by Tomi Tapio

People seem to be of two minds about crows. Some of us admire these big black birds for their intelligence, inquisitiveness, playfulness and other sterling qualities. Others despise crows for their raucous calls, messing with garbage and nasty habit of carrying off other birds’ eggs or nestlings.

In their defense, crows are good parents, have stable family relationships and gather with others of their kind, often in cities. They’re very adaptable and able to thrive in just about any habitat, so they can live happily anywhere in the continental United States.

Who else does this sound like? Yes, people and crows do have a lot in common, maybe more than many of us want to believe.

Crows used to be rural birds, but were relentlessly slaughtered in efforts to control their predation on grain crops.

Around the 1950s crows figured out that life is easier in urban areas. After all, cities prohibit the shooting of birds, and there’s a continually replenished supply of food on streets, at shopping centers and in dumpsters. Many cities also provide an urban forest, perfect for nesting and roosting at night.

Crows know how to have fun

I’m very fond of crows and have learned that it’s worthwhile to keep an eye on them — they’re always up to something. There’s no denying that crows are smart: Bird researchers John Marzluff and Tony Angell even assert that “mentally, crows and ravens are more like flying monkeys than they are like other birds.”

Their big, active brains allow them to quickly solve the problems of survival each day, leaving plenty of time for what some biologists call gratuitous behavior — anything that’s not related to breeding or surviving.

Basically, crows have time to have fun. (For a treat, read David Quammen’s essay, “Has Success Spoiled the Crow?” in “Natural Acts, A Sidelong View of Science and Nature.”)

For fun, they’re known to drop sticks in the air and then swoop down to catch them before they hit ground, over and over.

Crows have been reported purposefully sliding down snow-covered rooftops. I once saw a group of crows tumbling down a short, snowy hill on a winter day, running back to the top time and again to have another slide.

And check the skies on breezy days in spring and fall to see crows exuberantly soaring and swooping in the wind. Yes, crows know how to have a good time.

By late summer, this year’s young crows are roaming the neighborhood, learning the omnivore ropes from their parents and often an older sibling from an earlier nest who’s spending a year or two as a helper.

Photo by M@@ny

Clean-up crew

Crows perform a service as nature’s clean-up crew, scooping up road kill from our streets. However, much of their diet is fresher fare, including earthworms, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, small animals and insects.

Although they’re known to have a large vocabulary of sounds, crows don’t sing to attract a mate or define a territory as other songbirds do (yes, crows are classed as songbirds). They communicate with each other via a variety of calls and seem to end each day with a loud gossip session before roosting for the night.

Crows from coast to coast have been hit hard by West Nile virus, with the Midwest population devastated by this disease.

I’m hoping for the day when these handsome birds are again a more common sight, strutting through our parks, cawing from the trees and just generally causing mischief.


Val Cunningham, a St. Paul nature writer, bird surveyor and field trip leader, can be reached at valwrites@comcast.net.

Read more at Star & Tribune


Andrea Pratt “Corvus”

Life Death and Dinner

Andrea Pratt is a Vancouver, Canada native with more than 9 years of skill building and inspiration. She has worked in both photography and teaching and is now a full time artist.  Enchanted by the resident magi of Vancouver and all of BC , the carrion crow, her art reflects their mastery of their domain in a story-book way.

Flight Path

“I have a passion for symbolic imagery, colour relationships, organic forms and patterns. Being lucky enough to live where I do, the inspiration for most of my paintings and drawings is rooted in the natural world but I like to combine imagery in unexpected ways to create pieces in a highly distinctive style. Using my camera (currently a Nikon D70) almost every day has taught me to see possibilities everywhere. I love tribal/ethnographic art and admire the elemental nature, strength and symbolism in its motifs and images.”

Top Seed

Andrea’s collection tells an original story celebrating the nature of her environment, with a heavy focus on corvids, dream-like landscapes, and our favorite series – her Celtic Lunar Tree tiles. Each piece is beautifully composed and vibrant. View the entire series here.


Autumn Elder

If you live in or are travelling to the Vancouver, B.C. area, you can check out or buy Andrea Pratt pieces at any of the following galleries.

1033 – 7th Avenue Box 2322
Invermere, B.C. V0A 1K0
Telephone: 250.341.6877
Hours: Mon-Sat 10-5:30
Sun 12-4

Suite 201 – 938 Howe Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6Z 1N9
Telephone: 604.728.2249

216 East 28th Avenue
Vancouver, B.C. V5V 2M4
Telephone: 604.876.2785
Hours: Wed-Sat 11-6
Sun 11-5

The Jungle Crow

The Jungle Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) is a crow (or Karasu烏 in Japanese) specific to Southeast Asia, and most prevalent in Japan. They are slightly larger than the Carrion Crow, and are affectionately called Corvus Growus Biggust by some locals. The Corvus japonensis, or large billed crow, is just one of 11 subspecies of Corvus Macrorhynchos. Some of these subspecies are distinctive vocally, morphologically and genetically, leading to speculations that more than one species is involved and they may not all be ‘Jungle Crows’ at all!

By Daniel Ruyle

The Jungle Crow’s feeding and nesting habits vary little from that of other Crows, with the exception of the Japanese variety which are notorious for scavenging. Their nesting habits are also much the same as their cousins, with the addition that they will sometimes end up with a Koel (a kind of Cuckoo) egg or two in their clutch.

Crows in Japan are regarded with mixed reaction. There is a large population of Corvid lovers – naturalists and spiritualists, but also a large number of haters. Tokyo’s governor Shintaro Ishihara created a “special commando” whose only purpose is “crow extermination”. This commando is starting to destroy nests and kill crows all around Tokyo in an effort to control their numbers. More recently a much kinder approach has been implemented to give 50.000 blue nets toTokyo’s citizens to cover their garbage bags when they put them outside their homes in the morning – the real source of the Crow population boom.  In contrast, Jungle Crows in India are more revered than hated, as the crow is a sacred animal in the Hindu religion.


Jungle Crows in Japan are known best for their particular talent of cracking nuts, a behavior mimicked in other crows there. Researchers believe they probably noticed cars driving over nuts fallen from a walnut tree overhanging a road. The crows already knew about dropping clams high above the beaches to break them open, but found this did not work for walnuts because of the soft green outer shell. As shown in this BCC video, when the lights change, the birds hop in front of the cars and place walnuts, which they picked from the adjoining trees, on the road. After the lights turn green again, the birds fly away and vehicles drive over the nuts, cracking them open. Finally, when it’s time to cross again, the crows join the pedestrians and pick up their meal.If the cars miss the nuts, the birds sometimes hop back and put them somewhere else on the road. Or they sit on electricity wires and drop them in front of vehicles.


By Daniel Ruyle

The Jungle Crow is best distinguished by the blue-violet sheen to its feathers, its large fat beak (making it almost appear like a very large jackdaw). In Japan, this species is larger than a Carrion Crow.  Due to the size difference, Jungle Crows are sometimes referred to as Asian Ravens, although they do not really possess the characteristics that would qualify it as such, and further west (such as in India) Jungle Crows are much smaller and sleeker. Their call is reminiscent of the Common Crow with a slightly deeper pitch, and they have been documented as mimicking woodpecker knocking.

Crows Chasing Crane, By Daniel Ruyle

By Daniel Ruyle

To view more incredible photos of Jungle Crows and other wildlife in Japan and India from Daniel Ruyle, click here

Stay tuned this month as we cover mythology and photography from India and Japan featuring this wonderful creature!

What Smells Fishy?

Fish Crow

Once found only along the Southeastern coast of the United States, fish crows have spread north. They’ve also moved inland, chowing down on a half-eaten Filet-o-Fish as well as a beached red snapper.

Robert Miller of Newstimes.com writes,”I hear it when I walk across The News-Times parking lot on the way into work in the morning — a sort of sneezy nasal caw, like a crow with adenoid problems…and I know a fish crow is nearby.”

It’s actually a good habitat for corvus ossifragus — the only crow that, at the moment, is a totally American bird. It likes streams and rivers, and the Still River and all its tributaries run through the neighborhood.

“A Dumpster and a stream,” said Pat Comins, director of bird conservation for Audubon Connecticut. “It’s good habitat for fish crows.”

Comins speculates that 10 years ago, when common crows, or Corvus brachyrhynchos, were hit by West Nile virus and had a dip in their populations, fish crows might have found a little room to move in.

Fish crows look pretty much like common crows, except they’re a little smaller — their wingspan is about 33 inches across and the length of their bodies can range from 14 to about 16 inches. Common crows have a 36-inch wingspan and can be 15 to 21 inches long.

“I can identify them in flight,” Comins said. “But the correct way to identify them is to hear their call.” (Again, think of a badly congested caw.)

And at the same time that fish crows are coming up from the South, the common raven — Corvus corax — is moving down from the North.

Comins said it isn’t right to think of ravens returning to Connecticut. Until recently, they haven’t been here.

They’re birds of the woods, and because Connecticut was largely farmland until the turn of the 19th and 20th century, they had no habitat.

“In the early records of birds in the state, they were considered rare,” he said.

But as the pastures-turned-woods grew back into forests, ravens began coming down to northern New England to set up nests in Litchfield County.

They’re the grandest of the corvids, with a wingspan that can be 45 to 50 inches across, a heavy bill, and a shaggy ring of neck feathers.

They don’t caw, they croak hoarsely — that is, when they’re not vocalizing with a wild variety of clucks and gurgles.

And like their black-feathered cousins, they’ve learned there’s good eating downtown.

Ravens — the mythical bird of the woods and mountains, the winged companions of Norse god Odin, chosen because of their intelligence — are becoming dumpster divers par excellence.

Comins said he’s seen all three — fish crows, common crows and ravens — at the same fast-food joint in Meriden, where he lives.

Give corvids an inch and a free meal, and smart birds that they are, they’ll take it.

“It’s a tribute to their adaptability,” Comins said.

[box type=info]

About the Photographers:

Vladimir Noumoff is a Montral , Canada native. View his photostream here.

Corey Finger is a writer and birding photographer from New York and is part of 10000 Birds.com



10 Amazing Crow Facts

Corvids can be found all over the world except southern S. America, the Poles and various islands. They are believed to have originated in central Asia and species diversity is still high there. The oldest corvid fossils have been found in Europe from 20-25 million years ago; from an ancestor called the Miocene. Below are ten more interesting facts about our favorite bird:

There are about 45 species of crow worldwide known by a variety of names, including treepies, corbies, nutcrackers, bushpies, choughs, and the pica pica.

Mating crows will often remain together for years and some until parted by death. Most of the offspring will leave the nest after a couple months never to return. Some, on the other hand, remain, assisting in co-operative breeding.

Corvids are absolutely fearless, particularly when chasing bald or golden eagles. On other occasions, they’ll pick up and drop stones, pinecones or sticks on predators or people they come in contact with.

The common crow will usually live for about seven years, although some have lived as long as 14 years in the wild.

Almost all corvids have been observed using tools, and the Raven can be taught to speak basic human language.

Crows are emotional animals, too. They react to hunger and invasion by vigorously vocalizing their feelings. They display happiness, anger and sadness.

Crows are considered song-birds and posses a deep repertoire of melodies. And, like humans, the more melodious the song, the more soothing the effects. Some crows have even been taught to recite opera.

Crows have an excellent memory. They’re masters at stashing food in many caches, moving it sometimes two or three times, and remembering exactly where they placed it. In fact, for their size, crows have the largest brains of all birds except some parrots. Their brain-to-body ratio is equivalent to that of a chimpanzee and amazingly, not far off that of a human’s.

Magpies, Choughs and Nutcrackers are all basically modified crows.

Crows, rooks, Ravens and Jackdaws are the most successful members of the group except in Central and Southern America where only Jays have reached. Corvids are believed to have reached the Americas via the Bering Land Bridge. Jays, being the oldest corvids, reached America first and rapidly spread south but have not yet reached the southern half of S. America. American Jays are predominantly tropical or sub-tropical whereas in the Old World they are temperate and/or alpine species.

The Common Crow

What better subject to exalt in this first, our creature feature, than the Common Crow?

Kevin McGowan

North American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos)are familiar over much of lower Canada, Continental US, and northern Mexico: large, intelligent, all-black birds with hoarse, cawing voices. They are commonly arboreal, but frequently jet-setters. They are opportunistic feeders, diligent scavengers, and feared succubi.

Wild crows can recognize individual people. They can pick a person out of a crowd, follow them, and remember them — apparently for years. This is hardly a problem for them, as they can live to be nearly 15 years old. I often wonder if I were to return to the suburb where I grew up – its once forested acres now marred with TGI Fridays,Gas Stations and Muli-Plexes – one such crow would remain and remember me. I had rescued the nestling while it was being picked on by a gang of other birds, hopping around uselessly on the forest floor. When I brought it home (thinking it would get on just fine with our three parakeets) all my mother could manage to say was, ” Dear god, why did you bring that evil thing into our house??”

Contrary to this common belief, Crows are far from evil and have been revered across several cultures and religions, from Native American to Hindu. Their larger cousin, the Raven, was in fact the first bird released by Noah from the ark, only followed by a dove when the raven decided not to come back.

I raised the Crow for as many days as I could manage as an 8 year old, and then I had to put it back. Leaving it alone in the woods beyond my school, a little ways from where I had found it, is a memory that haunts me still. The treetops above were full of its feathered brethren peering down.

It surely died without care. Young crows are helpless at birth and require parental care. They are fed by both parents as well as by helpers who are their older siblings. After they leave their nests, young are still clumsy for several weeks and must be fed and protected by family members during the summer. Parents have been observed to feed babies even after they can find food on their own, which to me is a testament to their loyalty and empathy.

The typical crow’s nest is a well-built structure of  twigs woven tightly together and lined with grasses.

In the wild, the American Crow mates for life. The pairs may join up with members of its own clan – brothers, mated sisters, offspring and their offspring, often forming flocks of hundreds.  These clans are predominantly male; those who have stayed to inherit territory, taken on neighboring territory, and so on. They roost at the very top of tall trees, as do all of their corvid kin, to avoid being plucked from their slumber by the talons of a hungry owl.

Photo by Victor Loewen

As Communal Breeders, several may stay close to the place where they were born to help raise young and defend the area against predators. It is not well understood why these offspring do not obtain mates and raise their own families, but pairs with such helpers  appear to be more successful at fledging offspring than those without helpers.

Crows are used as popular icons in many art forms including literature, film, dance, and visual.  This column will highlight the history and peculiarities of the Crow and its sister types (Ravens, Corbies, Jackdaws, Rooks, and Magpies to name a few).

Facts About Crows

  • Crows are found on every continent except Antarctica.
  • Crows have an exceptional ability to remember and pick a single human face out of a crowd.
  • Crows are far more likely to be found living close to cities and suburbs than out in the country.
  • Each generation of crows is capable of building on an earlier generation’s knowledge.
  • New Caledonian crows are one of only three species, besides human, in the world capable of making tools.
  • Crows live with a mated pair, their kids, and offspring from previous years in an extended family.
  • Crows have different warning calls – one for cats, and one for hawks, and another for humans – 250 in all.
  • Crows are omnivores and eat fruits, vegetables and meat.

Read more at AllAboutBirds

Read the Wikipedia page