Crows and the Great October Roost

By T.L.Kemp

It is  the time when the crows begin to form small roosting groups in the evening. Observers may note flights of crows all heading in one direction in late afternoon/evening or gathering in a group in the treetops. These gatherings are generally much smaller that the large winter communal roosts and we presume they serve as a sort of training ground for the sort of social interactions that occur later on when hundreds or thousands of crows gather in one location. One would also presume that the smaller roosts generally are comprised largely of crows closely related to each other by blood or mating and occupying territories adjourning or very close to each other.

According to Michael Westerfield,

“Roosting areas tend to be located where there are large, mature trees with open spaces in between. In cities and towns, cemeteries, college campuses, malls with adjacent trees, old rail yards, and older neighborhoods and industrial areas, and the like tend to be favored. If there is a river or other body of water nearby, its a definite plus. The crows generally settle on the branches of trees which have already lost their leaves, or on the uppermost branches of those that haven’t, so it is easy to spot their silhouettes against the still bright sky. At this time of year, the temporary roosts may be more loosely organized and spread out over a wider area that those in colder weather.

If there are crows in your neighborhood throughout the year, it’s likely that there will be one of these temporary fall roosts nearby. The amazing thing about these roosts, and even some of the gigantic winter roosts, is that one can be fairly nearby and most folks will be totally oblivious to its presence. I suppose it has to do with the timing, when people are still at work, commuting home, or just settling in for a long autumn evening. Probably the most common reason folks notice crow roosts relates to crow droppings on their cars or sidewalks in the morning. If your car is clean, and you want to find your local roost, just take a walk in the late afternoon – with your ears free of noise making devices. Choose an area with large, old trees and open spaces. Watch and listen for crows passing by up above and move in the general direction in which they are moving and, if you are lucky, you might just arrive at the place the crows will choose to spend the night. You’ll know it when you get there!”

Unusual Crow Sanctuary Flying High

Most people don’t mind having a cat or dog around the house, or even a rabbit.

But a Wolverhampton, UK  couple have gone a step further by sharing their life with dozens of squawking crows – some of which have even appeared on TV.

Mark and Lisa Edge run a sanctuary at their Wednesfield home for unwanted or injured crows, ravens, magpies and rooks and have 37 birds in their care.

The below video gives an intimate glimpse of the sanctuary, and features Jester the Jackdaw and Roxy the Raven, both superstars.

“I used to be so scared of birds,” Lisa said. “I didn’t like them flying near me or coming anywhere near me.

“A few years ago, we found a crow on the ground and brought it home. We looked after it for a few months and it just spiralled out of that really.

“We were then getting people contact us to ask if we would take their unwanted birds from them.”

The couple, who have two sons, Michael, aged 21, and Thomas, 15, keep the birds in aviaries in their back garden, although some will creep into the house on occasions.

Lisa, aged 48, said: “Sometimes Mark will sit on the chair and eat his tea with one of the birds.

“The birds are so tame, friendly and intelligent.”

Lisa, a lollipop lady, said some of the birds had a calcium deficiency in their wings, while others had been attacked by cats.

The couple keep them an average of three to four months before releasing them back into the wild.

She added some of the birds had even made it onto the small screen, with parts on the likes of TV dramas Midsomer Murders and Frost. “Roxy the raven was in Midsomer Murders and Frost,” she said.

The birds eat chicken and cat biscuits, although some like special treats such as scrambled eggs or ice lollies.

Source: Nicky Butler for UK’s Express&Srar

10 Really Weird Crow Facts

In our last top ten fact list about Crows we highlighted corvids from a scientific angle – they are intelligent, persistent, prolific, and hardy. In this list, we want to explore some of the stranger things about our favorite critter. Without further ado:

Crows living in suburban areas require only 10% of the nesting territory that crows living in in the wilderness do,  and are much more tolerant of range overlap. They also will build fake nests to fool predators.

Dubbed ‘Anting’ by John Marzluff, crows will crush an ant and rub it all over themselves like perfume! The Formic Acid in the ants helps ward off parasites.

Image of a Black Drongo 'Anting'

Pet crows give their owners names. This is identified by a unique sound they make around specific people that they would not otherwise make.

Female Crows mate for life, but males will cheat, which explains the next one:

Male crows have no penis.  Their sperm is transferred from their cloaca to the female cloaca and copulation only lasts 15 seconds. Its a wonder the females are so loyal!


Crows can count to six!

Crows sunbathe for Vitamin D.

Odin the Crow Sunbathing

Healthy crows help crippled crows but they have a dark side. Crows occasionally murder each other for reasons that mystify scientists.

Crows have been observed chasing sparrows into buildings in order to stun them. The result is sparrow for lunch. Don’t worry, they  pick on birds their own size – mobbing crows can seriously injure hawks.  Scientists suspect an eagle was even killed by mobbing crows.

Crows have been reported to eat over 1000 food items, including insects, worms, berries, birds eggs and nestlings, small mammals, bats, fish, snakes, frogs, salamanders, animal dung, grain, nuts, carrion, fried chicken, hamburgers, Chinese food, french fries, and human vomit. They can be weirdly picky though – an experiment showed crows prefer French fries in a McDonald’s bag over those in a brown paper bag. To top it off, a nestling can eat 100 grasshoppers in 3 hours.

Crow With French Fry

Crow with a French Fry By Richard Brayton

The Chimney Cleaners – Jackdaws on the Roof

Both in the air and on the ground there is an irrepressible jauntiness about jackdaw movements. Yet perhaps the most useful distinguishing feature of this intensely sociable bird is its voice. The full range of calls is complex, although the best known is a monosyllabic, almost dog-like yap, of which the first part of the name is descriptive.

Jackdaws make another loud, resonant alarm note, an almost rook-like grating caw, and it is supposed that the bird’s old name of ‘daw’ is onomatopoeic of this sound. Another middle English word for the bird, Ca or Co is the origin for places such as Kaber in Cumbria, Caville in east Yorkshire and Lancashire’s Cawood.

Despite their wider reputation for guile and itelligence, jackdaws are well known for making heavy weather of the nest itself. They drop sticks into the cavity to make the foundations of the nest.

Sometimes it happens that a nice looking hole communicates with some bigger space below, and the sticks simply drop through. But once the birds have chosen a hole they may continue bringing and dropping in sticks for day and days until a really enormous pile accumulates.’In Hampstead, the workmen removed two or three cartloads of sticks from the towers, where a colony had nested, some people have been known to ‘harvest’ their jackdaw nests as kindling.

Enjoy our featured photographers this week in our nesting Jackdaws series:

By Law Keven

By cazjane97

by Chris Bolton

by Emma Rathbone

By Taco Meeuwsen

By Margareta Starring


Featured Creature: The Jackdaw

Jackdaw (Corvus monedula)

This month our focus is on a European bird, the Jackdaw.  These Jay-sized mini-crows are an extremely lively and social bunch, and are most (in)famous for their compelling infatuation with shiny objects.  Quite a remarkable character, the jackdaw prefers the glossy black – and sometimes purplish – coat of a gentleman, but is also commonly seen with a grey ‘hooded’ look about the nape. their legs and beaks are black as well, but perhaps the most stunning feature which sets it apart from all other corvids is the crystalline blue eyes.

The Jackdaw spends most of his time and brain power to the practice of thievery. For reasons known only to himself, he is very fond of human beings and will go through a lot of trouble to get himself adopted by one with a nice garden. He captures our attention with amusing tricks, and if especially ambitious, will go as far as to learn our language and strike up a raspy conversation, albeit with limited vocabulary.

His bright eyes are interested in everthing happening around him, and he will not hesitate to bark orders to your dog. Beware of caging this delightful chap however, for not only is it illegal but it will depress him beyond his ability to cope.  He also has a weapon of revenge – anger a Jackdaw and he might just nip you enough to dose you with Campylobacter jejuni, which will see you properly acquainted with your loo for several days.

Example of a Jackdaw who adopted a pair of humans:

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You see, Jackdaws possess the intelligent talents inherent to all members of the Corvidae family,including the cunning ability to plan ahead, but they are also adept readers of the human intent.  His chattering and pirouetting around your patio or kitchen windowsill is simply a ruse to distract you from that bit of foil or that lump of pie crust, and somewhere nearby he has a hip flat of shaggy twigs where he hoards such loot in his quest to be the most pimp bird in the ‘hood.

The species may be the only animal aside from humans known to understand the role of eyes in seeing and perceiving things, according to a new study by Oxford University. While humans often use visual clues to communicate, it wasn’t known whether other animals share this social ability until recently.

Jackdaw eyes, like those of humans, are unusually conspicuous, with dark pupils surrounded by silvery white irises.

“The physical similarities hint that jackdaws use their eyes to communicate in the same ways humans do”, says study leader Auguste von Bayern, a zoologist currently with the University of Oxford. “We can communicate a lot via the eyes, and jackdaws do that as well, in my opinion.”

Von Bayern’s study of hand-reared jackdaws shows that the birds can use a human’s gaze to tell what that person is looking at. “They are sensitive to human eyes because they are sensitive to their own species’ eyes,” she says.

By contrast, previous studies have shown that other animals regarded as intelligent, such as chimpanzees and dogs, find even their own species’ eyes hard to read.

Conflict and Cooperation

In one test, Von Bayern and colleague Nathan Emery timed how long a jackdaw took to retrieve food if a person was also eyeing the prize.They found that the birds took longer to retrieve the food if the human was unfamiliar—someone the bird apparently didn’t trust. The birds were equally sensitive to the gaze of a single eye, such as when the person looked at the food in profile or kept one eye closed. This suggests the jackdaws made the decision to risk conflict solely based on eye motion and not on other cues, such as the direction a potential rival’s head was facing.

In a second experiment, the birds were able to interpret a familiar human’s altered eye gaze to “cooperate” to find food that was hidden from view. The study authors add that more tests will be needed to tell if the birds were able to read eye movements based on their natural tendencies or if it is a learned behavior from being raised by humans.

Jackdaw & Rook

Jackdaws are the second smallest corvid, with the Jay being slightly smaller. Above you can see a Jackdaw in comparison with a Rook (which is about the size of a crow).  Unlike Crows, Rooks, and Ravens, Jackdaws rarely (if ever) feed on carrion or kill other animals and prefer to feed on mostly ground level fare such as berries, seeds, and grubs.

Jackdaws work together to build their swank apartments by dropping sticks into hollow trees, or any other crevice or burrow they can find (such as your chimney, so remember to keep a cap or net on it!). The resulting platform supports the eventual walls and roof which will usually contain a large percentage of fine material such as coins, foil, pop-tabs, cigarette butts, and so-on.

The Jackdaw call, which lends itself in part to their common name of just ‘Daws’, is a cute kak-kak, and distinguishes itself from a crow in its higher-pitched and more chipper cadence. Like the crow, they adapt easily to song and are known to mimic everything from opera to Madonna.


The Jackdaw appears in many historical and current works, most notably in Aesop’s fables and the The Ingoldsby Legends written by Richard Harris Barham.

The legends were first printed in 1837 as a regular series in Bentley’s Miscellany and later in New Monthly Magazine.They proved immensely popular and were compiled into books published in 1840, 1842 and 1847. They remained popular through the Victorian era but have since fallen out of fame.

The best known poem is the Jackdaw of Rheims, about a jackdaw who steals a cardinal’s ring and is made a saint. As a priest at the Chapel Royal, Barham was not troubled with strenuous duties and he had ample time to read and compose stories. Although based on real legends and mythology, such as the hand of glory, they are usually deliberately humorous parodies or pastiches of medieval folklore and poetry.

Ancient Greek authors tell how a jackdaw, being a social creature, may be caught with a dish of oil which it falls into while looking at its own reflection. The Roman poet Ovid also saw them as a harbinger of rain (Amores 2,6, 34). In Greek legend, a princess Arne was bribed with gold by King Minos of Crete, and was punished for her avarice by being transformed into an equally avaricious jackdaw, who still seeks shiny things. Pliny notes how the Thessalians, Illyrians and Lemnians cherished jackdaws for destroying grasshoppers’ eggs. The Veneti are fabled to have bribed the jackdaws to spare their crops, and finally in another ancient Greek and Roman myth, “The swans will sing when the jackdaws are silent,” meaning that educated or wise people will speak after the foolish become quiet.

In some cultures, a jackdaw on the roof is said to predict a new arrival; alternatively, a jackdaw settling on the roof of a house or flying down a chimney is an omen of death and coming across one is considered a bad omen (this is more commonly attributed to crows).

Similar to Crow Augery, jackdaws standing on the vanes of a cathedral tower are meant to foretell rain. Czech superstition formerly held that if jackdaws are seen quarrelling, war will follow, and that jackdaws will not build nests at Sázava, having been banished by Saint Procopius.

Jackdaws in Art

Stay tuned this month as we continue to feature Jackdaw art and photography. Enjoy some of our favorite shots from our featured Jackdaw photographer, and be sure to visit his Flickr Gallery here.  You can also jump over to Ted’s gallery here, which we featured last month.


References: UNEP ; The Eugene, OR. Register-Guard, 1972; Systema Naturae & Wikipedia; The University of Oxford press; National Geographic Magazine, April 2009


Obscured by Light – Remains of Winter

Sometime back in January, I was sitting in my office on a particularily cold mid-morning. Everything beyond my windows was a shade or two of grey, interrupted only by streaks of icy white cruelty. Since moving permanently to Zagreb in 2007, I had never experienced cold such as this, nor for so long.

I was pondering how many sweaters to put on when a jackdaw slammed into the north facing window. The sound was so loud I thought one of the neighbor’s kids had thrown a soccer ball at it.  I shot up out of my chair, ran over to the ledge, and leaned into the window-well to view the tiny lifeless body cushioned eight feet below in the snow beneath our pear tree.  After several moments of ringing my hands and standing there saying ‘oooh no. oh no no no’ over and over again, I finally grabbed a coat and my sneakers and went outside.

The cold immediately seized my lips for thought to speak. Each breath was like inhaling needles. As I approached the bird, I could see red trailing from his little beak. My face scrunched up in a rictus of horror. His eyes were half closed in the slumber of death. Under normal circumstances, I would have grabbed my camera and shot an entire series, but for some reason it seemed more apt to remain in the moment. I took him in my hands, checking his warm little chest for a heartbeat. His head lolled loosely on his shoulders, and as I sniffled away my first tear, should it freeze upon my cheek, I chuckled to myself upon closer inspection of the beak – it was smeared with the remains of his last berry, likely fermented in the clutch of winter. The cold and the poor food had probably addled his mind, and he misjudged his launch from the tree branch to another likely reflected within my window.

I cradling him along one sleeve of my coat, and walked half a mile into the forest to lay him to rest in the nook between a young chestnut’s sprawling roots. To this day, I am haunted by how warm his little body was.  Today, it is 24C and beautiful, and my hooded crows Kara and Kaine are busy meeting the demands of their hatchlings.

This past winter hit Bucharest equally as hard, and one of our readers captured the compelling photos in this post to document the effect it had on corvids in the area.

As he describes it, “The Remains of Winter series refers to the dead birds lying in the parks, killed by the cold weather, hunger or thirst, during one of the most bitter winters in the last twenty years. Among the children’s playgrounds you can spot these creatures lying on the ground.”

To view more Obscured By Light photography, visit the artist’s photography blog here.

Earth Day: How You Can Help Corvids

Earth Day is dedicated to celebrating the lands, waters and animals that we care for the most. It is also a day to honor those people who care so deeply for nature and for the future of our natural world.

That is why we wish to thank you for supporting this cause.  You have helped to build a community of caring individuals that use their unique voices to challenge, support and inspire others into taking action for our natural world.

A group of caring individuals really can make a difference, and here’s how you can help bring nature into the spotlight today:

Send an Earth Day E-card
Use Reusable Bags

The world uses over 1.2 trillion plastic bags a year ie we are using one million bags per minute. On average we use each plastic bag for approximately 12 minutes before disposing of it. It then can last in the environment for centuries.

It’s estimated that over 10’s of thousands of birds choke or get tangled in plastic debris every year, and about 100,000 seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and sea turtles suffer the same fate, although some scientists believe this figure to be much higher.

Green Your Garden

Pesticides cause significant bird mortality each year. Repeated exposure to some pesticides can also lead to sub-lethal effects such as decreased breeding success. These effects are hard to detect but nevertheless can produce dramatic species declines over time.



Support Your Local Foundations with a focus on birds:



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Proceeds go to support Corvid research and conservation. Everyone wins!

Claire Morgan – Visual Artist

Claire Morgan is an irish visual artist best known for her geometric 3-d nature installations.  She creates surreal moments frozen in time by using thread,each piece conveying a natural statement within the confines of its wholly unnatural shape.

Claire has appeared in over a hundred printed and online magazines and several galleries across the globe. Beginning April 27th, those of you in the states can enjoy her On Top of the World installation as part of the Dead or Alive show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.   For more information click here

Among her most compelling pieces are those in which she depicts the plight, existence, accidental quandary, or ephemeral quality of her subjects. Below are selections featuring jackdaws, crows, or rooks.