Tag Archives: raven

The 45 Crow Species

It’s been a while…a bit over two years in fact. I completed my doctorate and had to spend a few years figuring out the next stages in my life and how I fit in the world. I’m still working on that second part, but things are a bit more stable in general. I now teach at a STEM school that I love (getting oriented with teaching secondary school took up ALL my available time) and I just got back from helping out with the Mariana Crow project on Rota/Luta this summer. I got some inspiring words there to continue with my blog, even though I often wonder if it’s having much of an impact. Thing is, corvids in general are still a passion of mine and continuing to communicate to the public about them is important to me, so I want to carry on.

Enough about my life, this is a blog post meant to help make people aware that there are ~45 species of crows (the genus Corvus). I find most people think there is a crow, raven, rook, and jackdaw, and that’s it. No, my friends, there are many different species of large, black Corvids out there and I’d like to introduce you to them by telling you what their names mean, where they are found, and their closest relatives. In an effort not to reinvent the wheel, I will link to information pages already built about each species. Some species we know a lot about and some species have only been documented a handful of times. I will also group them based on region and their closest relatives, because I’m that kind of a dork.  Note that Corvus literally means “crow/raven” so the meanings of each name will be the species designation (the second word in the scientific name). I will also list how many subspecies each species has, but will not specifically spell them out; those can be found in the associated links. Finally, the word “raven” does not actually denote a related group, it’s just a word used for some of crow species.

A few fun facts before we get started:

*Some systematics ornithologists think the two species of jackdaws should be put in their own genus apart from other crows, genus Coloeus.

*Some systematic ornithologists also want to see the thick-billed and white-necked ravens put into their own genus apart from other crows, genus Corvultur.

*The largest bird in genus Corvus, also being the largest corvid, is the thick-billed raven, weighing a whopping 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs).

*The smallest bird in genus Corvus is the Daurian Jackdaw at a mere ~120 g (0.26 lb).

*Most species of crows are found in the Asian region. This is because the genus originally evolved in this region and radiated across the world from there!

*Crows are found on all continents EXCEPT South America and Antarctica. It’s thought that they never expanded into South America because the toucans had already filled the niche that crows would have taken.

*Some of the most endangered species of birds on the planet are in genus Corvus, including the Banggai crow (<250 individuals estimated left), Mariana crow (<200 individuals estimated left), and the Hawaiian crow (extinct in the wild, with the only extant populations, around 125 individuals, in breeding/recovery facilities).

Without further ado, below are listings for the ~45 crow species currently recognized. Note that I say “currently” because with new data come new species elevations or demotions to subspecies, which may change soon after this post (for example, the Mesopotamian crow is often treated as a subspecies of hooded crow, but sometimes as its own species). Please click the photos to go to their original source.

  • Daurian Jackdaw
    • Scientific Name: Corvus dauuricus
    • Meaning: Comes from the Dauria region of Siberia, though the bird has a broader range than just Dauria.
    • Where in the World: East Asia
    • Closest Relative: Western Jackdaw
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Daurian Jackdaw photo by Sergey Yeliseev.

  • Western Jackdaw (Eurasian Jackdaw)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus monedula
    • Meaning: “to eat money” and is the literal Latin word for the jackdaw. It comes from a Greek myth where the greedy Arne of Thrace (a mythological princess) was turned into a jackdaw after betraying her country to Minos of Crete, for gold, and made to forever be attracted to gold or shiny objects.
    • Where in the World: Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East
    • Closest Relative: Daurian Jackdaw
    • Number of Subspecies: 4
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Western jackdaw photo by “hedera.baltica”

  • Jamaican Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus jamaicensis
    • Meaning: “Of Jamaica”, referring to them being endemic to and only found on Jamaica.
    • Where in the World: Jamaica
    • Closest Relative: White-necked Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Jamaican crow photo found on Geocaching.com

  • White-Necked Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus leucognaphalus
    • Meaning: “White mouth” which may just refer to the white feather bases on the neck/throat region of the crow. The common name is misleading as the bird is entirely black, which non-visible white feather bases. The most unique thing with these crows are their beautiful red-orange eyes!
    • Where in the World: Hispaniola, now extinct on Puerto Rico
    • Closest Relative: Jamaican Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      White-necked crow photo by “ZankaM”

  • Cuban Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus nasicus
    • Meaning: “Large-nosed”, referring to the bill.
    • Where in the World: Cuba and Caicos Islands
    • Closest Relative: Jamaican and White-necked Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Cuban crows photo by Dubi Shapiro.

  • Black Crow (Cape Crow)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus capensis
    • Meaning: Named for the Cape of Good Hope in Africa where they are typically found.
    • Where in the World: East-central and Southwest Africa
    • Closest Relative: Not well resolved, but right now best connected to the Fish, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Palm, and Cuban Crow lineage.
    • Number of Subspecies: 2
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Black crow photo by Dave Curtis

  • Sinaloa Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus sinaloae
    • Meaning: Named for the Sinaloa region of Mexico.
    • Where in the World: Western Mexico
    • Closest Relative: Tamaulipas (they used to be lumped together as the “Mexican Crow”) and Fish Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Sinaloa crow photo by Petr Myska.

  • Tamaulipas Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus imparatus
    • Meaning: Means “unprepared or unprovided”, and I’m unsure why they got this designation.
    • Where in the World: Eastern Mexico into Southern Texas (USA).
    • Closest Relative: Sinaloa (they used to be lumped together as the “Mexican Crow”) and Fish Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Tamaulipas crow photo by Luis Enrique Andrade.

  • Fish Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus ossifragus
    • Meaning: “Bone breaker”, which may come from them eating carrion.
    • Where in the World: Eastern North America
    • Closest Relative: Tamaulipas and Sinaloa Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase, All About Birds

      Fish crow photo by Paul Tavares

  • Palm Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus palmarum
    • Meaning: “Of palm trees” relating to the trees they are often seen in.
    • Where in the World: Cuba and Hispaniola
    • Closest Relative: Fish, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 2
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Palm crow photo by Dax M. and Roman E.

  • Hawaiian Crow/ʻAlalā (EXTINCT IN THE WILD)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus hawaiiensis
    • Meaning: “From Hawai’i”
    • Where in the World: Extinct in the wild, but endemic to Hawai’i. Found in captive rearing facilities on Hawai’i with ongoing efforts to re-introduce them into the wild.
    • Closest Relative: Rook (oddly enough)
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, AvibaseʻAlalā Project

      Hawaiian crow photo from San Diego Zoo Nooz.

  • Rook
    • Scientific Name: Corvus frugilegus
    • Meaning: “Crop-picking or fruit eating” from rooks commonly being found in farmland.
    • Where in the World: All across Eurasia and introduced to New Zealand.
    • Closest Relative: Hawaiian Crow (oddly enough)
    • Number of Subspecies: 2
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Rook photo by Brian Snelson.

  • Dwarf Raven (Somali Crow)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus edithae
    • Meaning: Named for Edith Cole, a British botanist and entomologist in Somaliland, Africa.
    • Where in the World: Eastern Central Africa
    • Closest Relative: Pied Crow (they sometimes naturally hybridize) and Brown-Necked Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Dwarf raven photo by Marco Valentini.

  • Pied Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus albus
    • Meaning: “White”, for the white patch prominent on the crow.
    • Where in the World: Southern Africa and parts of Central Africa.
    • Closest Relative: Dwarf Raven (they sometimes naturally hybridize) and Brown-necked Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Pied crow photo by Krzysztof Blachowiak.

  • Brown-necked Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus ruficollis
    • Meaning: “Red or ruddy necked” referring the the reddish-brown plumage on the head, neck, and chest in the species.
    • Where in the World: Northern Africa and the Middle East.
    • Closest Relative: Pied Crow and Dwarf Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 2 (maybe)
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Brown-necked raven photo by Daniele Occhiato.

  • Fan-tailed Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus rhipidurus
    • Meaning: Literally means “fan-tailed” referring to the shape of their unusually short tail in flight.
    • Where in the World: Parts of Northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula
    • Closest Relative: Pied Crow, Dwarf Raven, and Brown-necked Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 2
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Fan-tailed raven photo by Joniec Naturalnie.

  • White-necked Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus albicollis
    • Meaning: Literally means “white-necked” referring to the white patch on the back of this species’ neck.
    • Where in the World: Central down through Southern Africa
    • Closest Relative: Thick-billed Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      White-necked ravens photo by buchert.

  • Thick-billed Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus crassirostris
    • Meaning: Meaning “thick or heavy bill” referring to this species’ unusually thick and massive bill.
    • Where in the World: Ethiopia, Africa
    • Closest Relative: White-necked Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Thick-billed raven photo by Mike Barth.

  • Chihuahuan Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus cryptoleucus
    • Meaning: Means “hidden white” because, like the white-necked crow, they have very white bases to their feathers, though these bases are usually hidden with the bird looking entirely black.
    • Where in the World: Mexico and the Southern Interior USA
    • Closest Relative: Northern Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, AvibaseAll About Birds

      Chihuahuan raven photo by Rick and Nora Bowers.

  • Northern Raven (Common Raven)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus corax
    • Meaning: Means “to croak”, referring to the sound they make, and is synonymous with the bird itself.
    • Where in the World: A Holarctic species, meaning they are found everywhere in nearly the entire Northern Hemisphere
    • Closest Relative: Chihuahuan Raven, Fan-tailed Raven, Pied Crow, and Brown-Necked Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 12 (including one that had a naturally-occurring piebald morph found in the Faroe Islands, now extinct, Corvus corax varius morpha leucophaeus)
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, AvibaseAll About Birds

      Northern raven photo by Jennifer Campbell-Smith (me).

  • Hooded Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus cornix
    • Meaning: Another word that literally means “crow”.
    • Where in the World: Most of Europe, the Middle East, and Western Asia
    • Closest Relative: Carrion Crow (sometimes still lumped as a subspecies of Carrion Crow)
    • Number of Subspecies: 2 (maybe)
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, Avibase

      Hooded crow photo by Luboš Mráz.

  • Carrion Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus corone
    • Meaning: “To croak” and also serves as another word that simply means “crow”.
    • Where in the World: Western Europe and Asia.
    • Closest Relative: Hooded Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 5 to 6 (depending on the hooded crow’s status as species or subspecies at the time)
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Carrion crow photo by Aurélien Audevard.

  • Collared Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus torquatus or Corvus pectoralis
    • Meaning: Torquatus means “collar or torque” (a piece of metal neck jewelry) referring to the white markings around the neck. Pectoralis means “of the breast” referring also to the white markings that extend across the breast of the bird.
    • Where in the World: Eastern China
    • Closest Relative: Hooded and Carrion Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Collared crow photo by Charles Lam.

  • Northwestern Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus caurinus
    • Meaning: “Northwest wind” referring to the crows being found in the Pacific Northwest of North America
    • Where in the World: Along the coasts of the Pacific Northwest, North America.
    • Closest Relative: American Crow (used to be a subspecies of American crow; scientists still argue over this)
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, AvibaseAll About Birds

      Northwestern crow photo by “Nebrot”.

  • American Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
    • Meaning: “Short bill or nose” referring to their relatively petite bill.
    • Where in the World: North America
    • Closest Relative: Northwestern Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 3
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase, All About Birds

      American crow photo by Jennifer Campbell-Smith (me).

  • White-billed Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus woodfordi
    • Meaning: Named for Charles Woodford, a British naturalist.
    • Where in the World: Islands of Choiseul, Isabel, and Guadalcanal in the Northern Solomon Islands
    • Closest Relative: Bougainville and Brown-Headed Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      White-billed crow photo by Lars Petersson.

  • Bougainville Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus meeki
    • Meaning: Named for Albert Meek, and English explorer.
    • Where in the World: Islands of Bougainville and Shortland in the Solomon Islands
    • Closest Relative: Unknown, but likely the White-billed Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Bougainville crow illustration (no known photos of a live bird!) from the Handbook of the Birds of the World.

      Bougainville crow skin from the American Museum of Natural History photo by Jennifer Campbell-Smith (me).

  • Brown-headed Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus fuscicapillus
    • Meaning: “Dusky or brown head” for the dark brown feathers on their heads and necks.
    • Where in the World: Northwest New Guinea and the Aru Islands
    • Closest Relative: White-billed Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Brown-headed crow juvenile photo by Mehd Halaouate.

      Brown-headed crow adult study skin photo from the American Museum of Natural History by Jennifer Campbell-Smith (me).

  • Long-billed Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus validus
    • Meaning: “Strong or stout” for their unusually long bills.
    • Where in the World: Moluccan islands of Morotai, Obi, and Halmahera
    • Closest Relative: Grey Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Long-billed crow photo by Yann Muzika.

  • Grey Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus tristis
    • Meaning: “Sad or gloomy” possibly referring to their dingy (but unique!) grey plumage.
    • Where in the World: New Guinea
    • Closest Relative: Long-billed Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Grey crow photo by Brian J. Coates.

  • Forest Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus tasmanicus
    • Meaning: Found in Tasmania and though they occur elsewhere in Australia, the specimen that was originally described probably came form Tasmania.
    • Where in the World: Tasmania and southern mainland Australia
    • Closest Relative: Little and Australian Ravens
    • Number of Subspecies: 2
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Forest raven photo by Paul van Giersbergen.

  • Little Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus mellori
    • Meaning: Named for Joseph Mellor, an English chemist.
    • Where in the World: Southeast Australia
    • Closest Relative: Australian Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Little raven photo by Toby Hudson.

  • Australian Raven
    • Scientific Name: Corvus coronoides
    • Meaning: “Resembling a carrion crow” likely given when British explorers first saw that it was a black corvid in Australia, so they named it according to a bird back home that they thought it looked like, the carrion crow.
    • Where in the World: South and Eastern Australia
    • Closest Relative: Little Raven
    • Number of Subspecies: 2
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Australian raven photo by Peter Strauss.

  • Torresian Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus orru
    • Meaning: Unsure, but likely based on a Papuan name.
    • Where in the World: Australia and New Guinea as well as surrounding islands
    • Closest Relative: Bismark and Little Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 3
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Torresian crow photo by David Taylor.

  • Bismarck Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus insularis
    • Meaning: “Insula of an island” likely from them inhabiting islands.
    • Where in the World: Bismarck Archipelago
    • Closest Relative: Torresian Crow (previously a subspecies of Torresian Crow)
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Bismarck crow photo by Lars Petersson.

  • Little Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus bennetti
    • Meaning: Named for George Bennett, a British biologist.
    • Where in the World: Australia
    • Closest Relative: Torresian Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Little crow photo by Don Hadden.

  • Banggai Crow (CRITICALLY ENDANGERED)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus unicolor
    • Meaning: “Plain or uniform” probably referring to their all black coloration.
    • Where in the World: Island of Banggai
    • Closest Relative: Piping and Slender-Billed Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Banggai crow photo by Philippe Verbelen.

  • Piping Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus typicus
    • Meaning: The “type” or “typical” crow, which is interesting considering their entire torso and upper neck is white!
    • Where in the World: Island of Sulawesi
    • Closest Relative: Slender-billed and Banggai Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Piping crow photo by Pete Morris/Birdquest.

  • Violaceous Crow (Violet Crow)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus violaceus
    • Meaning: “Violet-colored” from the violet sheen on their plumage.
    • Where in the World: Philippines and Moluccas
    • Closest Relative: Slender-billed Crow (used to be a subspecies of Slender-billed Crow)
    • Number of Subspecies: 4
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Violaceous crow photo by Dubi Shapiro.

  • Slender-Billed Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus enca
    • Meaning: Enca is the Javanese word for “crow”.
    • Where in the World: Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and some other nearby islands
    • Closest Relative: Violaceous, Piping, and New Caledonian Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 7
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Slender-billed crow photo by Rob Hutchinson.

  • New Caledonian Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus moneduloides
    • Meaning: “Resembling a jackdaw” because again, it reminded European explorers of a bird back home, so they just gave it a name that literally meant “kind of like that bird back home, the jackdaw”.
    • Where in the World: Island of New Caledonia and introduced to the nearby island of Maré.
    • Closest Relative: Slender-billed Crow
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      New Caledonian crow photo by “Corvus moneduloides”.

  • Flores Crow (ENDANGERED)
    • Scientific Name: Corvus florensis
    • Meaning: Named for the island of Flores in the Sundas of Indonesia.
    • Where in the World: Flores, within the Sundas of Indonesia
    • Closest Relative: Likely Slender-billed, Banggai, and Piping Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 0
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Flores crow photo by Indonesia Tourism.

  • Large-billed Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus macrorhynchos
    • Meaning: “Long/large bill/nose” referring to their large bills.
    • Where in the World: Eastern Asia, Indian Himalayas, Philippines, and a number of East Indian Islands.
    • Closest Relative: House and Mariana Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 11 (some of which may be elevated to species status soon or have been in the past, such as the jungle crow)
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      Large-billed crow photo by Tushar Bhagwat.

  • Mariana Crow (CRITICALLY ENDANGERED)
  • House Crow
    • Scientific Name: Corvus splendens
    • Meaning: “Brilliant or glittering” likely referring to the slight iridescent sheen on their black feathers.
    • Where in the World: India, but introduced to ports in the Middle East and Africa.
    • Closest Relative: Large-billed and likely Mariana Crows
    • Number of Subspecies: 4
    • Info Links: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Wikipedia, IUCN, Avibase

      House crow photo by Peter Vercruijsse.

       

Information in this post is a result of research utilizing the sources linked, but mostly the following sources:

Crows and Shiny Objects

I got this question from csmithstudio on Tumblr:

Hi Jenn! A friend told me about your blog and I’m delighted and grateful to you for taking the time to post this! I am an artist focusing almost entirely on birds and I would like to do a painting of crows including the treasures they commonly collect. I’ve tried to research what they might be attracted to but so far have only found golf balls and angry golfers! Do they stash their hoard in a nest or somewhere else? Thank you! Christina

I’m super glad you asked me this!  I’ve been meaning to post about this topic.  The reason you can’t find anything is because crows don’t collect shiny things.  This is an extremely common myth, but it’s just that, a myth.  (And I’ve seen way too many “official” websites state this myth like it’s fact, so don’t feel bad for believing it!)  The thing is, stories about crows collecting shiny things are anecdotal, and not observed by people who watch crows constantly and study them.

There’s a couple of reasons why people might think crows like and collect shiny objects and continue to pass along the myth.  First, young crows are very curious about everything.  They play with all sorts of objects they find in nature, and chances are if something is glinting they may me more likely to explore that object (just like how you might notice something glinting in the grass and investigate it), than something that blends in to the background.  As I talked about in a previous post, juvenile crows are the same size and, to the untrained eye, look just like adult crows, therefore people may be attributing a juvenile play behavior to all age groups, accidentally.  Are they particularly attracted to shiny objects, or obsessed with them?  Highly unlikely, they may just be more likely to find them because they are easier to see/attract attention easier (welcome to why advertisers use shiny and bright things on other humans to attract their attention).  Honestly, adult crows are more likely to be terrified of brightly colored or shiny objects unless heavily associated with food on multiple occasions.

Second, a lot of observations about crows playing with shiny objects come from people who have had pet crows.  A hand-raised crow is going to have a lot of exposure to human objects, and will therefore play with those objects.  They may be attracted to what their “parents” (the humans) are attracted to, and therefore be more interested in rings, watches, silverware, etc. for the reason that they are of high value to their “family” not because they are shiny objects.

Third, it is likely that the shiny or bright objects simply remind the crows of food, or the crows are investigating them for potential food opportunities.  The going theory for why crows and ravens are so attracted to golf balls, as Christina mentioned in her note, is that they look an awful lot like delicious eggs.  I have personally watched crows play with and steal golf balls off a golf course (which was hilarious).  However, they lose interest pretty fast after, presumably, realizing the objects aren’t food (though I swear some of the crows just had a blast chasing those golf balls around).

There are a number of reasons why crows may be attracted to shiny or bright objects and trinkets, but no more so than you or I or most animals would be attracted to them.  In other words, their interest in shiny objects does not appear to be inordinate.

So, do crows hoard the objects they find?  No.

Crows don’t hoard anything.  If a crow takes off with your keys, it was likely that the bird wasn’t done exploring them for any food opportunities and took off with them to finish it’s inquiry in safety (and probably dropped them somewhere when it realized it had no use for the keys).  Crows, and other corvids, do cache items, which means that they store them for later (see my post about Nutcrackers for the most incredible cachers), but wild crows only store food items (I say “wild” because captive birds may cache non-food items, which would be expressing an instinctual behavior, using non-typical items found in the captive habitat).  Furthermore, they don’t cache all of the food items in the same location (larder).  Crows (and most corvids) are scatter cachers and leave bits of food all over the place within their territory (I once watched a crow pull half a ham sandwich out of the branches of a spruce tree…I still have NO idea where he was keeping it in there, but it was pretty hilarious to watch).  So there is no secret hoard full of shiny objects to find in a crow territory.

What about the nests?  Well, crows don’t use nests for anything but raising babies.  The nests are built just before egg-laying at the beginning of the breeding season, are lined with soft grass and moss, and are immediately abandoned once all the kids fledge.  Crows don’t store objects in a nest or sleep in a nest (unless you are a baby or the bird on incubation duty during the breeding season).  Although crows have been reported to use wire hangers and other urban metal materials to build the structure of their nests, this is more likely due to the utility and availability of these objects as construction material, not because they are shiny.  You may wonder if crows might put shiny objects in the nest to attract attention from potential mates, but crows have selected mates far before nest building begins.  If you find a crow nest in the wild, you won’t find wondrous treasures, you are likely to find a pile of sticks, grass, and poop….and sometimes a sleeping raccoon (true story).

So in conclusion, Christina, I would love to see you possibly illustrate caching behaviors of food, since those are the most valued treasures for crows.  In urban/suburban environments I’ve seen them cache everything from seeds and dead animals/insects, to ham sandwiches, pizza, and french fries.  It might be more fun (and accurate) for you to explore the wide and variable diets of these birds.  Feel free to contact me for more details if you are interested! 🙂

You have also given me the chance to review a game a friend bought for me recently, Crows by Valley Games, Inc.  I brought this game to a lab meeting and as a crow research group we played.  While thoroughly not impressed by the premise of attracting crows with shiny objects and trinkets, it was still quite fun!  We highly recommend it with the caveat that you replace “shiny objects and trinkets” with “peanuts and road kill.”  They certainly hit the mark with the trash tiles though.

A board game that is fun, but propagates the inaccurate myth that crows are inordinately attracted to and collect shiny objects.

 

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 Coyot.es Network!

The Corvid Blog and myself have joined the ranks of the Coyot.es 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 😉

Corvid Noses

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]

Photo credits:

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