Large, black, ubiquitous, and noisy - the crow does not make many people’s list of favorite birds. Maybe that’s because the crow is also intelligent. Forbush wrote that the crow “knows too much; his judgment of the range of a gun is too nearly correct. If Crows could be shot oftener they would be more popular.”
Birdwatcher’s Companion says: “Some taxonomists believe the crows to be the most highly evolved of all bird families, based on the charming (if self-serving) notion that mental development is proof of evolutionary ‘excellence.’”
Henry Ward Beecher, the prominent nineteenth century Congregationalist minister, is reported to have said that if men wore feathers and wings a very few of them would be clever enough to be crows.
There’s the problem. Crows are intelligent. They threaten our position as the most intelligent creatures on the planet. If intelligence is judged by the ability to ruin environment and destroy the planet, I guess we are the most intelligent.
|Blue Jay - member of the Corvid family|
In North America there are six species. The Fish Crow is fairly common in the southeast along the coast, rivers and swamps. The Northwestern Crow lives along the Pacific coast from southern Alaska to Washington State. The Chihuahuan Raven in found in the deserts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and southward. Rarest in North America is the Tamaulipas Crow which occasionally visits South Texas, particularly the Brownsville landfill.
And of course, there is the widespread and common American Crow.
All of these are big, black birds. They range is size from the diminutive Tamaulipas Crow (15 inches) to the hawk-sized raven (25 inches). They belong to the Order, Passeriformes (perching birds) and the sub-Order, Passeri (songbirds).
Yes, crows are songbirds. Now before you begin to grumble that the raucous cawing of the crows hardly qualifies as a song and bears not the slightest comparison to the other-worldly beauty of the thrushes, remember that the Grammy Music Awards include categories for “rap” and “heavy metal.” Perhaps the corvids lost their musical ability as they evolved their intelligence, which as an evolutionary principle, seems contrary to what has occurred in our species; modern music genres suggest that musical ability and intelligence are both evolving downward.
Fall and winter, crows gather in large communal roosts which can number in the hundreds, and even thousands. During the day they disperse over a wide area. Then as dusk approaches, they reassemble in staging areas before retiring to the roost for the night. The roosts are sometimes viewed as nuisances, leading officials to try all sorts of bizarre things in order to relocate or eliminate the “problem.” Among those efforts are the occasional sanctioned murder of crows in which guns blaze away at the gathered birds. Like all efforts, it has little lasting effect. The crows fly away - for a while.
One problem for the crows in these large communal roosts, is that the birds perching on the lower branches often get struck by the dropping from those higher up. By morning, their backs may be speckled white. Maybe this is reflective of the cultures of more “intelligent” creatures, since it is certainly analogous to what happens to those at the bottom of the human society tree by those at the top of the tree.
Little is known about these roosts, but one thought is that the roosting crows may be younger, unmated birds that have yet to establish their own territory. The roost serves a social function, allowing the younger birds to find mates, challenge one another, and communicate their experiences. Bernd Heinrich has demonstrated this theory in relation to ravens.
The March full moon is the “Crow Moon.” The cawing of the crows tells of the waning of winter. The roosts break up and by the end of March, crows begin nesting in their crow’s nests in the tops of tall trees.
Quotations are from Forbush, “American Birds,” Leahy, “Birdwatcher’s Companion,” and crows.net.