American Crow

American Crow, Lincoln Park, West Seattle

Seattle is a city of crows. And they have a nasty reputation. Folks here know them as picnic terrorists, garden plunderers, and (on garbage-collection days) maniacal strewers of trash. We know them also as destroyers of nests (they eat eggs and baby birds) and as ruthless mobbers of hawks, owls, and eagles.

Crows are also brilliantly intelligent and highly socialized. And we keep learning more and more impressive facts about their minds and behaviors.

Crows mob a Red-tail Hawk

Crows mobbing a Red-tail Hawk

I recently grabbed a sandwich and took a stroll through a large forested park in West Seattle, under the watch of dozens of hungry crows.

An ethic among birders is never to hand-feed wildlife. Human food is generally bad for non-humans, and feeding wildlife makes them more likely to become pests. But I made an exception in this instance, figuring these crows were probably already getting 90% of their calories from the many picnickers nearby.

I placed a piece of bread on the rail beside the path, and experimented with how far I had to back away before a crow would venture to grab it. By avoiding eye contact, I could induce one crow to take the bread from my fingers. And so I fed several crows, took a few photos, and walked on.

Then things got interesting.

I was walking quietly when WHOOSH! a black figure swooped by from behind, pivoted, and hopped along the path ahead, eyeing me for another handout. Despite my refusals, two crows continued this behavior for the next hour or so.

Crows are known to identify individual people by face and other features (see book reference below). Will the crows I fed that day remember me the next time I’m in their neighborhood? My hypothesis: I’ll be recognizable to them. But they’ll all look the same to me. Stay tuned.

Do Crows Like To Play? My neighbor Andy recorded a video of a crow interacting with a tennis ball in his yard. Perhaps the crow thought the ball was edible, but then discovered it worked better as a toy? For best viewing , watch it on YouTube.


Gifts of the Crow (book)Recommended Reading:

Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, by University of Washington wildlife biologist John Marzluff and Seattle artist Tony Angell.

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