Monthly Archives: June 2013

An Introduction To Corvids

I am beyond, and I mean beyond flattered and excited that Audubon California featured my blog on their FaceBook page (THANK YOU!).  With such an influx of new viewers, it made me realize a brief introduction to corvids might be in order, for general knowledge.  Some of you may already know this information, but I think it’s worthwhile putting out there for people just getting interested in corvids, and birds in general.

Edit: I don’t follow Twitter, so I just got word that apparently my blog has also been getting tweeted around there.  WOW!  THANK YOU EVERYONE!!!!

So just what are Corvids?

Corvids are a group of birds, specifically birds found in the family Corvidae, which is a subgroup of the much larger group of perching/songbirds (Passerines).  Members of the corvidae include crows, ravens, magpies, jays, treepies, choughs, nutcrackers, the piapiac, and the Stresemann’s bushcrow.  This means that all of these birds share a common corvid ancestor that radiated into ~23 genera containing ~126 species originating in the Australasian region of the world (now found everywhere except Antarctica).  This means this blog has a lot of species to draw from and talk about.  Of course, the most charismatic and well-known of the corvids are the crows (which includes the ravens, rook, and jackdaws), as well as jays and magpies.  I hope to touch on at least some of the lesser-known corvids and convince you that they too are interesting!

Let’s take a moment to get something clear about magpies.  Not all birds with the word “magpie” in the name are corvids.  You have magpie geese, magpie shrikes, and, of course, the Australian magpie, none of which are corvids!  I can’t tell you how many times I find articles about corvids that feature an Australian magpie or a currawong (or any kind of Cracticid) photograph to accompany.  However, you now know that they are not corvids!  Go forth and correct your friends and family!  BE that guy/gal! 😉


Why do you care about them so much?  Why should I care about them?

Personally, I find them endlessly fascinating.  Corvids have such rich social structure, behavior, and ecology, and many members have shown feats of intelligence that rivals, and sometimes exceeds, that of many primates (including chimpanzees!).  How’s that for bird-brained?  I also find them aesthetically beautiful.  You may wonder what’s so beautiful about big black birds, but their form is so elegant and many of the corvids are actually quite colorful!  The oriental magpies and the new world jays have an astonishing array of colors, interesting crests, and some have extravagantly long tails.  However, my heart truly does belong to those “big, black birds”…so I have to admit that this blog will likely be biased toward them.  (I have spent the past six years of my life studying a population of wild American crows [Corvus brachyrhynchos] and every passing day they just endear themselves to me more and more.)

You should probably care because corvids play interesting roles in the ecology of the natural world and, like any other species, warrant study and investigation to understand them further.  Closer to home, you should probably care because you likely have corvids in your backyard, neighborhood, park, city, etc.  Many corvids have adapted to the challenges of human-dominated environments and thrived.  Because of their ability to take advantage of us, corvids are featured porminently in our myth, folklore, and are deeply embedded in much of our past and current culture.  These are birds that made our ancestors sit up and take notice (mostly by stealing our food and being a general nuisance of themselves), and I think it’s just as important to notice them today.  The secret lives of these birds are endlessly fascinating and will likely surprise you!

So, I hope you enjoy this blog and learn something about my favorite group of birds.  I hope they become your favorite group too!

Finally, here is a photo of a posture crows take on when they are observing humans…because I really like pictures.


I have joined the Network!

The Corvid Blog and myself have joined the ranks of the network and I’m excited to be here!  For my Tumblr followers, I encourage you to check out this network of interesting biodiversity blogs!  My posts will still show up on Tumblr, but they will be created and primarily managed here.

I feel this image is relevant to this development:

This image was taken by Dave Stiles in Yellowstone National Park, found via his Flickr account. Click the image to visit the original page for this image and let Dave know how awesome this photo is!

Ravens tend to materialize, as if by magic, when it comes to kills by large predators.  Coyotes, while excellent hunters in their own right, also take advantage of mountain lion and wolf kills, so both raven and coyote are common to see around such sites.  Nothing like the two mythological tricksters spending a moment together 😉

Crow Display Question

From combackzinc via Tumblr:

“I have three non-releasable American Crows, and my wild-reared adult ‘male’ displays some interesting calls and behavior. Could I get you opinion on what’s going on here? w w o m/watch?v=LaGR4WXi4FQ”

The short answer, unfortunately, is that I don’t know (I’m referring to the bird that begins standing on the “stump”).  The long of it is that I’ve seen this kind of call/display (bow followed by a guttural/soft/odd vocalization) before, in many contexts.   I’ve seen it used when two birds greet one another at a communal foraging site or at their home territory.  I’ve seen it used after a territorial issue is resolved between two families.  I’ve seen birds, totally alone (i.e. no one to signal to), just sort of start up these kinds of calls.  I’ve also seen it as a common posture for birds in captivity to mimic certain sounds. It could also be a self-soothing, and sometimes even aberrant, behavior in the context of captivity.

As it stands with American crows, we still have a lot left to uncover about their vocalizations.  Heck, many people don’t even realize crows make a lot more sounds than just the classic “CAW!”.  Their repertoire includes the sounds in the above video, soft cooing (a personal favorite), atonal rattling, musical rattling, and mishmashes of bizarre clicking and gurgling noises, not to mention they can mimic humans.  (Here’s a website that has the atonal rattle call followed by the cooing.  And here’s another site with lots of American crow calls and some other corvids.) …I’m sure you know all this, having raised and kept captive crows, but I thought I’d mention these things for my other readers.

I apologize that I can’t give you much insight in to your bird’s behavior, but I do recommend recording the context in which it occurs and trying to work from there.  I’d love to know what you find, or have found!  I firmly believe crows have far more complex vocal communication than what we are currently aware of, and that it’s highly, highly context dependant, the work just needs to get done 🙂

Also, thank you so much for including the second paragraph disclaimer on your video 🙂

The Alala

Did you know that one of the world’s most endangered species of bird is a crow?  The Hawaiian crow—ʻAlalā to native Hawaiians—is a species of crow endemic to Hawaii and is currently extinct in the wild, but conservation efforts to save and breed the species has taken the captive population to over 100 birds.  Expected reintroduction dates for this species are tentatively set for 2014.  Here’s a blog article (with video) about the progress of the Hawaiian crow.

(Image from the San Diego Zoo blogs.)