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In Defence of Crows


willedoo
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Crows have a bad reputation with a lot of people, especially farmers. For most people, they are disliked because of their raucous vocalizing, in other words, they're noisy bastards. And they normally don't fit in the cute category, like a budgie, finch or wren. I've been lucky enough to live at close quarters with a breeding couple for about five years now, and the secret to getting to like them is to learn more about the crows. Up until a couple of years ago, when they made a racket, I'd go out on the verandah and get up them and try to get them to p*ss off.

 

What started the change in attitude was listening to an ABC Radio interview with a lady promoting her book. She had done the tree change thing and moved from the city to a country block, and the book was about her experiences. On the first morning she was woken up at sparrow fart by an enormous racket of noisy crows and thought 'my god,what have I done?' After a while she came to the conclusion that the only way to co-exist with them was to, in her words 'learn to love the crows'.

 

After that, I got curious enough to do some Googling of crows and learn more about them. Now the noise doesn't bother me any more as I know what they're saying and why. Instead of thinking 'damn those bloody noisy crows', now I'll recognize a call as their alarm call and know one of them is warning the other about a lurking goanna or some other threat. Instead of a racket, it now all makes sense. They even have a special call when flying through other crow's airspace to let them know that's what they're doing and that they are not on a raid. A bit like checking in with ATC and requesting airspace.

 

My pair of crows are Australian Ravens, easily identified by their throat hackles. Also, the ravens lean forward to a more horizontal position when calling, as opposed to other species that sit more upright when calling. They mate for life and usually have a brood every year. Last year was three chicks. The young hang around for a few months until independent, and then go off to find their own mate as a breeding pair, or will join the general flock and hang around with the mob. My pair usually nest in a tree within a few metres of the house, and they have become very tame, especially the male, so that makes it easy to observe them and learn their ways. The male sits on a branch outside the open kitchen window, two metres from the sink, so I'm fortunate enough to be able to daily observe him at very close range.

 

The more you get to know them, the more they grow on you and it's quite entertaining watching their habits and antics at close range. Their intelligence never ceases to amaze; some experts say crows are smarter than chimpanzees and dogs. I think it's just that they show it in different ways. Last year, I observed the whole breeding cycle, from laying of eggs to rearing and educating the young, to waving them goodbye when they left home. The home schooling of the young is interesting. One day I heard them outside, not far from the verandah, making the alarm/warning call( more like a racket). I went outside expecting to see a goanna or another hostile bird in their territory, but instead found Ma, Pa and the three kids all in a huddle. Ma and Pa crow were both doing calls and I realised they were teaching the kids how to do them.

 

Another day, I saw the whole family about seventy metres down the driveway. They were walking up the driveway, five abreast like an emu parade. Odd, I thought, hadn't seen that before. But then I noticed both parents were picking at insects and grubs as they progressed up the driveway. I think they were teaching the young how to forage. What backs that up is that the young were getting past the point of their parents feeding them, and being at the later stage of education and development, were preparing to soon leave home. That lesson and the call lesson were like a finishing school, running them through the preparations for independent life away from the parents.

 

Moral of the story is, don't underestimate crows. They are quite a likeable bird when you get to know them. In my situation, there are not many areas of conflict in the human/crow relationship. Others such as farmers would have more conflict potential and less compatibility, so their opinion on crows would differ greatly. But if you are in a situation where they don't impact on your life too much, try giving them a go. Crows aren't all bad.

 

 

AustralianRaven.jpg

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Your local wildlife can bring a lot of joy when you are able to interact with it. There was a pair of magpies at the airport when I was there. The would often join us for smoko and share a tidbit or two. We also had a fox who would walk through the hangar. The Boss had had more dealings with him, so could give him a bit of a scratch. We turned a blind eye to the fact that he was a feral and where he got most of his food we didn't care. It was just pleasant to have a wild animal show no fear towards us.

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Yes, I agree the Australian Ravens are very intelligent. They pick up on crow calls you make, hand gestures and loud noises. I don't like them around home because they raid rubbish bins, kill the little birds in their nests, steal eggs - and even eat my mangoes!

 

I caught two Ravens several years ago, standing on the ground under my mango tree early one morning, scoffing a couple of low-hanging mangoes. They were crafty enough to fly in without making any calls. Usually, they will call to each other when they find a supply of food that is good for more than just themselves.

 

But I spotted them from the bedroom window and tore outside, calling out the Raven warning call - a sharp, ARK! ARK! ARK! - and flapping my arms. They absolutely shat themselves and took off. They never returned, they knew immediately the fruit was being watched, and I've never lost any mangoes to Ravens since.

 

Once they get very used to humans, they can get very cheeky. They know humans mean food in the form of food waste, and on the likes of Rottnest Island, the Ravens are such a tame nuisance, they will fly into a tree right next to your dining table and make a grab at any food left unattended. 

 

They are so close you can nearly reach out and touch them, and you have to shoo them off with hand-waving to keep them away from the tables. They're worse than seagulls. The Govt is talking about doing a cull of Ravens on Rottnest, as they're becoming a real nuisance, with no fear of humans.

 

I'm constantly amazed at the intelligence of all the birds, not just the ravens. Even the smaller birds are quite amazing to watch.

We have a bird bath outside the office window, and its amazing how much the birds love taking baths, and preening themselves.

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40 minutes ago, onetrack said:

and make a grab at any food left unattended. 

Many years ago my late brother in law was having a BBQ near a river, and a kookaburra came down out of a tree and grabbed a sausage right off the hotplate.

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Crows seem to be very aware of risk and their own safety. I have a visiting kookaburra that will let you pat him on the back as long as he's eating. But the crows still have a minimum safe distance. That's been whittled down to a few feet from previously a 20 or 30 foot minimum. Naturally, the increase in trust on their part is based on food. That and the fact that they've trained me to not be a threat to them. The female is still a lot more wary than the male. The male is bolder and more outgoing, but maybe that's standard in the bird world.

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3 hours ago, willedoo said:

Another thing with the crows - they've learned how to skin and eat cane toads without getting poisoned.

On that basis alone, we should learn to love them...

 

5 hours ago, onetrack said:

 

But I spotted them from the bedroom window and tore outside, calling out the Raven warning call - a sharp, ARK! ARK! ARK! - and flapping my arms. They absolutely shat themselves and took off. They never returned, they knew immediately the fruit was being watched, and I've never lost any mangoes to Ravens since.

 

 

 

I have to admit, if I had seen you tare out of your bedroom like that, I would also poop my pants!!

 

We have pigeons, rooks, robins, finches, and a few blackbirds... they come and bathe on the birdbath outside our kitchen door.. They are all OK if we watch them from nehond the kitchen door, but as soon was we open it, they shoot off. They all have their calls, which are serene to listen to. However, there is something about being in the bush in Australia (except when koels are about) that is magical when listening to the birds...

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7 minutes ago, spacesailor said:

There used to be an "edit" button, were oh were as it gone.

spacesailor

space, you click on the 3 dots top right of the box you post in. It has a pop up menu with edit as an option.

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18 minutes ago, Bruce Tuncks said:

Once on a radio talkback I heard about a crow which walked in circles around a chained dog to wind its chain up so tight it could no longer defend its food bowl. Whereupon the crow helped himself.

I reckon that shows amazing intelligence.

Bruce, I wouldn't even think of that one. Mind you, I don't claim to be smarter than crows. I might like to think I've trained the crows via food, but the reality is they've trained me.

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I can recall Dad telling us about a pet crow (kept in a cage) on a station in the Murchison region in the 1930's, being able to talk, after having been taught by its owner.

Apparently, it would mimic callers into the homestead perfectly, such visitors saying, "Hello, is there anyone home?" - and the crow would repeat the words like an echo.

 

Then there was the story he told us about when he was in a fencing gang in the same area. They would load up the (cast iron) camp oven outside the tent, with a stew, in the morning, and leave a low fire going, so it was cooked by lunchtime.

Then after a couple of days, they came back at lunchtime to find the camp oven lid off and the contents scoffed. They couldn't figure out what had pinched the food, and they were pissed off about going hungry.

 

So the next day, they left a bloke hiding in the tent to see what was going on. But nothing happened all day. They were further mystified. The next day, they got everyone to leave the camp in the morning, and the fencer spy hid in the bush a couple of hundred metres out from the tent - but, so he could still see the camp oven.

 

This bloke was stunned to see a Raven fly down and land near the camp oven, then call all his mates in. As soon as a group of them had gathered, one flew up onto the camp oven lid, stuck his beak through the handle loop, and flew off with the lid, which he dropped a short distance away! 

As soon as this was done, the rest of the Ravens flew up onto the rim of the camp oven base and started scoffing the stew!

 

The spy was amazed and returned to shoo them away, and place a heavy stone on top of the lid to prevent a recurrence. The fencers figured out that the Ravens counted the number of people leaving the camp (I seem to recall there were five in the fencing crew), and that's the reason they never showed up, when the spy hid in the tent.

 

The blokes were amazed that a Raven could pick up the camp oven lid and fly off with it - but I've watched a Raven pick up a full-grown road-kill rabbit off the road, in its beak - and fly off the road and over a fence into a paddock with it, where it could devour it without fear of passing traffic ruining its meal.

Edited by onetrack
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I heard  lots of stories on the NewZealand KEA parrot.

The Kea could take a shotgun pellets hit and fly away. ( thick plumage )

SO

They ( farmers ) and firearm dealers made solid 10 gauge slugs to Kill those pesky Kea,s.

The shortend 10 gauge shotgun is known as a " keagun ", it was deadly to them.

BUT

It turned out all that bad rep they had  ( eating newborn sheep )was wrong & they are now protected. ( they ate the after-berth ).

spacesailor

Edited by spacesailor
Trying the Edit button
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6 hours ago, Jerry_Atrick said:

Sorry.. .Using a British spell checker.. apparently invented by the same people that invented the P76... 😉

 

Hey! The P76 was designed by Australians. Your spellchecker software was probably written by Rootes, the great British car manufacturer who gave us the Hillman Hunter, the car whose rocker lock nuts regularly came undone without the touch of human hands.

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10 hours ago, Jerry_Atrick said:

Sorry.. .Using a British spell checker.. apparently invented by the same people that invented the P76... 😉

 

Nothing wrong with koels; it's a correct spelling. Speaking of which, I thought they'd all gone until being woken up by one at 3am this morning.

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Don't know what the damned thing is, but it starts calling at 5.00 - 5.30 each morning - loudly, and it sounds like it is right outside my bedroom window. The call sounds like "Chook , Chook, Chook, Chook". Always four times, and repeated 30 seconds later. Just goes on and on.

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For an annoying bird noise try the barking owl.

Crows are intelligent, but so are most birds. What i want to know is how do birds pass on info from generation to generation.

I was pestered with Peewees pecking at the glass doors and making a terrible mess. One day a peewee was pecking away and I saw a black shape dive under the 2.4m overhanging verandah and chase the peewee.

I suspect it was either a black or whistling kite and it probably took that peewee. Since then the peewees avoid our glass doors and windows like the plague. You can see them walk by and studiously avoid looking at the reflections in the glass. This has worked for about twenty years, how do the convey the info from generation to generation?

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