Looking from the balcony at the trees blowing in the breeze while the weather was inviting rain, a flock of crows flew in my direction. Then, I witnessed more of them flying in the distance that we also headed in my direction. The American crow congregate in family groups that are called “murders.” Who knows why they call them a murder? Answers include that they feast on dead animals, and may even eat one of their own dead kind. That is sort of gruesome.
However, there are happier thoughts about these very smart birds. For one thing, they can get to know a person if they want to. They can identify individuals and may develop a friendly affinity if you reciprocate. I know this because a murder of crows lives near the tenth floor where I do. I rarely feed them, but I sometimes talk to them while watering my flowers. They watch me and show as much interest as the neighbor’s dog.
When I am down on the trail starting my hike, they sometimes buzz by and caw to say hello. I sometimes caw back, and they follow me. The stop when I get to the edge of their territory.
I pick up another murder at Bon Air Park where they too seem to recognize me. I stop at a bench to have water, and they sit in the nearby trees to say hello in the way that they do.
I painted a scene of some crows that I saw flying over a field of flowers. See the photo.
While hiking in Great Falls National Park a few days ago, I witnessed something very rare. There were two male pileated woodpeckers competing for the same tree. They were fairly polite about the competition. They just nudged one another around. There was no murder or any crime involved in that.
“Something to Crow About
An expert on the behavior of the American crow, one of our most familiar avian neighbors, answers some frequently asked questions about the bird and its natural history
08-01-2008 // NWF STAFF
THE AMERICAN CROW, which ranges across most of North America from central Canada to the Gulf Coast, is among the largest, noisiest, most common and most social birds that visit urban environs, and its numbers in some cities seem to be increasing. We asked Kevin McGowan, a Cornell University ornithologist who has been studying American crows in the Ithaca, New York, area since the 1980s, to answer some questions about the birds. His answers provide a primer on crow behavior.
How intelligent are crows?
As birds go, some crows are very intelligent. A species found on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia manufactures and uses tools from objects such as twigs. American crows also use tools and are adept at learning new tricks, such as getting food out of plastic garbage bags.
Do crows always travel in groups?
On their territories, crows tend to forage and move around in family units consisting of a mated pair and young from up to several breeding seasons. Young birds may help with nest building, rearing younger siblings and standing guard at nests and feeding sites. Young mature birds eventually set out on their own to start their own families, although some crows may stay at home for up to seven years. Crows travel in groups while away from home territories, too. They congregate with crows other than their family members to forage and sleep.
What is a group of crows called?
The poetic term used in literature is a “murder.” Scientists would call them a flock.
Why do crows congregate in large numbers to sleep?
Crows take this approach primarily in fall and winter. Roost size ranges from fewer than 100 individuals to hundreds of thousands. One site in Fort Cobb, Oklahoma, holds an estimated 2 million crows. Why they sleep in large groups is largely a matter of conjecture. They may all be attracted to one spot that offers advantages such as protection from predators and weather. Roosts also may be located near a large food source. The congregations probably serve some as yet unknown social function as well. Not all crows join these groups, and many sleep at home with just their families near them.”