Jungle Crows: Decent Neighbors

By haythornthwaite.c

Crows in Japan have long had a bad reputation, perhaps moreso than anywhere else. They are prevalent, noisy, and very commonplace but does that mean they should be regarded as vermin?  Colin Tyner, Japanese resident, does not think so. He writes,

“The other day, I was looking out of my window and I spotted a large crow’s nest just outside. Not only was I struck by its size — it was huge, easily a couple of meters wide — I was amazed how something that large and inhabited by such big birds could have escaped my attention.

Jungle crows, the most common of the three types of crows living Japan, have a poor reputation. Along with the cedar pollen bloom, crow-human conflict is one of the more unpleasant signs that spring is here. This friction occurs in places where the lives of the two species intersect, which is usually early in the morning on our way to work or when taking out the trash. Otherwise, we rarely see them.

Adult birds take care of their nests and their young during most of the daylight hours. They have better things to do than pester us, unless we come too close to their young. The other reason is that they are asleep when people are coming home from work. There are probably good reasons why people in Japan think of a crow cawing in the evening as a sign that something odd is going to happen. For a crow, this is also not of the norm. Crows may be early risers, but they are not night owls.

Really, crows are decent neighbors. Their early morning hours are similar to senior citizens and they are generally quieter. It is also worth mentioning that for all the stories that I hear about people being woken up in the morning by noxious crows, the dogs living in my neighborhood are much noisier, and much more disruptive and frightening. How many children in Japan have to go to the hospital each year because of crow attacks?

Adult crows realize that constant cawing will hurt their chances of getting a meal and increase their chances of being eaten by a predator. I wish that my neighbors’ dogs had this kind of sense and the fear of being eaten. Maybe me brandishing a knife and fork, and licking my lips would do the trick?

I like to think of crows as barometers of the shared animal habitats that we call neighborhoods. They give human beings a reasonably good read on our quality of life and how well we dispose of our garbage. Jungle crows are accustomed to living in the mountains, feeding on seeds, insects and small animals — dead or alive.

By Lenora Genovese

However, they also work well in an urban environment. From the perspective of the jungle crow, the city and the forest have similar feels, and vantage points, and they not fussy about the aesthetic differences between the so-called natural environment of forests and the built environment of the city. A dead mouse from the top of a tree and a dead mouse from the top of a building is a dead mouse to be seen, and then eaten.

I would imagine that looking in a crow’s stomach would tell us a lot about how we live and the kinds of food we consume. Japanese waistlines are not the only things that have increased with a steady diet of junk food. So has the number of juvenile crows, which can be measured by their constant cawing.

Jungle Crow Family

Urban crow populations in Japan grew in concert with the increase of consumer garbage in the 1970s. More food in the open meant that crows could rear more chicks. Heaps of garbage from a crow’s-eye view must look pretty tasty. Certainly, the garbage heap in front of our house must look like a 5-star hotel from a crow’s perspective.

Forget about pigs, cows and horses. Crows are our companion species in an industrialized world. Before the transformation of Japanese society from an agrarian to an industrialized, urbanized archipelago, crows’ insides were probably filled with grains. Now? It is more likely they are filled with instant ramen and other processed foods.

Are we what the crows eat?”

[box]About the Author: Colin Tyner lives in Japan and is completing his Ph.D. in history.

This article originally appeared in The Japan Times Weekly: April 24, 2010[/box]

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!