Mostly because I can, and also because it is a pet peeve of mine.NO NOSTRILS!!!
Quote from: Madge, S. and Burn, H. 1999. Crows & Jays. Princeton University Press, New Jersey. [link]
Black Currawong: JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons
Australian magpie: Aviceda via Wikimedia Commons
Blue Jay: DickDaniels via Wikimedia Commons
Green Jay: Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons
Eurasian Jay: Mark Medcalf via Wikimedia Commons
Clark’s Nutcracker: Jason Popesku via Wikimedia Commons
Black-Billed Magpie: David Merrett via Wikimedia Commons
Green Magpie: Thomas Ruedas via Wikimedia Commons
Rufous Treepie: Jon Connell via Wikimedia Commons
Pander’s Ground-Jay: Alastair Rae via Wikimedia Commons
Alpine Chough: Ken Billington via Wikimedia Commons
Common Raven: David Hofmann via Wikimedia Commons
American Crow: cuatrok77 hernandez via Wikimedia Commons
Jackdaw: Tony Hisgett via Wikimedia Commons
House Crow: J.M.Garg via Wikimedia Commons
Jungle Crow: aomorikuma via Wikimedia Commons
White-Billed Crow: Josep del Hoyo via The Internet Bird Collection
New Caledonian Crow: original author unknown via Google Search
Pied Crow: Lip Kee Yap via Wikimedia Commons
White-Necked Raven: Greg Hume via Wikimedia Commons
Thick-Billed Raven: original author unknown, via Wikimedia Commons
White-Necked Crow: ZankaM via Wikimedia Commons
Australian Raven: Brett Donald via Wikimedia Commons
Rook: Andreas Trepte
Grey Crow: Brian J. Coates via The Internet Bird Collection
Grey Crow: mehdhalaouate via The Internet Bird Collection
Oh no, a not-corvid! However, I thought I’d share what has been keeping me so busy. Meet Rusty, my red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), beautifully photographed by my friend Melissa Penta.
My husband and I obtained our apprentice falconry licenses and Rusty here is our first bird. He’s a juvenile (hatched in the wild this April or May) and was trapped in January. He’s a small male and his personality has made him an absolute delight to work with. If you have any questions about falconry, feel free to ask, however, since this IS a corvid blog, I’m going to briefly talk about the relationship between these guys and corvids.
I’m sure if you have spent any time observing or reading about crows you know they exhibit mobbing behavior. This means they dive-bomb, peck, chase, and scream at predators they find threatening, even going after predators many times their own size. (I have certainly been mobbed during banding season!) What makes it “mobbing” behavior is that they recruit family, friends, and neighbors to help them drive the predator away, or anything perceived as a threat, no matter how seemingly benign. Smaller crows will even mob bigger crows. It’s not just the crows that do this, many corvids show this behavior such as magpies and jays (but seriously, what won’t jays scream at?), however, this post will focus on crows.
This behavior often looks quite dickish, as many times the target of the crows’ ire is simply sitting still in a tree or trying to eat a meal. However, raptors are quite a threat to crows. Even if one may seem too small to be a threat you need to keep in mind that raptors are quite powerful for their size (here is a video of a sparrowhawk on a jackdaw; please note this is a predator/prey interaction video and it may be distressing to sensitive viewers…though spoiler alert, the jackdaw survives). Even cousins aren’t sacred as ravens are often chased off as vigorously as a raptor because they can certainly be a threat (here is a juvenile raven eating a fledgling crow).
So, is it a mystery why crows might act so defensively to any predator/threat they see? Not really. I find anti-predator behaviors quite interesting. When mobbing occurs (note: this is also seen in other animal taxa, not limited to corvids or even birds) you don’t just see kin helping kin, you sometimes see entire communities of unrelated individuals banding together to make their neighborhoods safer. Sounds a lot like what we do!
So as I fly Rusty and hunt small game with him I fully expect to get some crow visitors who are none too pleased to have a hawk in their domain (in fact we’ve already had a few at a local park), but in the end, can we really blame them?
One myth I’d like to dispel is that you have to split a pet crow’s tongue to make it talk. First off, birds do not use their tongue the same way we do to make sound, in fact birds don’t even use their larynx to make vocalizations like we do. Birds utilize their syrynx, which is found in the chest just before the bronchi branch off to each lung. Each bronchi can produce a sound using air vibrating through the external labia and the internal tympaniform membranes. (This means that birds can produce two different sounds at once! It’s way cool!) Movement of the avian tongue may change the shape of the mouth as sound is coming out, but not in the same ways as we use our very flexible tongue. So the point is that the tongue (which is fairly rigid in corvids) is not used in creating vocalizations the same way humans do, therefore altering the tongue has nothing to do with the sounds a bird makes or the ability of a crow/raven to mimic human speech. (If you would like to read more about how birds produce sound please click here.)
Most Corvus learn to speak human words, especially when living amongst humans. I have personal theories that it relates to group identity, but let’s just go ahead and move on to the cute videos:
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis) that could seriously use a bill trim. (Notice that there is a bit of tongue movement likely to alter the shape of the throat as sound goes out.)
White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis) saying “hello” and “hi” (with a much nicer bill!)
Julian the Common/Northern Raven (Corvus corax) not only mimicking one person saying “What’s up”, but two different voices.
A crow from the Phillippines, either a Slender-billed Crow (Corvus enca) or a Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos). It’s surprisingly tolerant to being held like that, haha! It’s very cute! And I have zero idea what they are saying.
An American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) saying quite a lot of things! He/she is quite adorable!
Here are a few non-Corvus also mimicking human speech:
A Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) saying her name. (Please note that is is illegal to have a pet blue jay…or any native corvid…as a pet in the United States without federal permitting.)
I think that probably covers a bit of the corvids, especially Corvus. No tongue splitting needed!