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Old 08-14-2014, 06:02 PM   #1
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In the Robin Williams thread, Mr. Firefly whom I have always regarded as the most interesting and astute contributor to this forum, wrote: "EVERY living thing has an innate sense of self of self preservation."

This statement brought to mind an episode of the TV series "Nature" which my wife DVR'd the other week and that we got around to watching earlier this week.

My favorite bird has been the raven ever since I first saw them during a camping and fishing trip I took to the Yukon Territories in the mid-1970s. And of course, the raven plays a pivotal role in the culture of the people who first came to live along the Washington, BC, and SE Alaska coast.

Growing up in Hawaii, I never encountered ravens, of course, nor were there any crows. The role of the crow as a general clean-up specialist is filled by the mynah bird.

When I moved to the PNW crows became an everyday sight and sound, but I knew little about them other than they were supposed to be "smart." I had no idea how smart until we watched that show this week.

Crows are found on every continent except Antarctica, and they are, in fact, the world's smartest bird. Parrots have larger brains in proportion to their size, but their intelligence pales to that of the crow. Crows, which mate for life, have several languages that they use to broadcast information loudly or converse quietly with their extended families.

The video centers around experiments carried out at the University of Washington and in the New Hebrides to determine if crows learn to recognize individual human faces (they not only do, but they can pass this recognition on to their young), and if they can figure out a multiple-step process to achieve an objective.

The crows in the New Hebrides not only use a tool to pull food out of deep plants and crevices, but they have learned how to make the tool. But the really impressive thing was to watch one of these crows figure out on the spot a multiple step process to obtain one of these tools that had been placed out of reach.

A piece of food was placed in a glass tube where the crow would have to use a tool to get it out. Then a tool was put in the back of a small cage where the crow on the outside couldn't reach it. Then a short twig was tied to a string and suspended from a perch some distance from the top of the table where the cage and the food was.

The bird, which had not encountered this "test" before, was put onto the table. Within seconds, it had figured out what had to be done. It flew up to the perch and pulled the string up one pull at a time, preventing the string from going back out by standing on it each time he pulled more up. Then the bird worked the short stick out of the knot that was holding it, flew down to the table and used it to fish the tool out of the back of the cage. It then took the tool and used it to pull the food out of the glass tube.

According to the video, primates (other than man) are hard-pressed to recognize and complete a multiple-step process to achieve an objective like this.

Like most things man encounters, we take crows for granted and tend to think of them as "annoying, noisy, stupid, black birds." We shoot them just because we can and generally give them no regard at all.

If you can find this particular episode of Nature (it was produced several years ago), perhaps on Netflix or whatever, I believe it's well worth watching. It provides what to me is a fascinating insight into an element of our world that most of us know nothing about, even though it's an almost constant presence in our lives. While they are not seabirds, those of us who boat in the PNW are always in the presence of crows in the islands, on the beaches, on the docks, and in the fields and forests adjoining the shorelines.

The program did not talk about ravens, so at this point I don't know if ravens possess the same intelligent attributes of crows or not. But learning something about another living thing's "innate sense of self" has enhanced my appreciation for where I live that much more.

To steal the slogan of "The Weather Channel, "It's amazing out there."

(I took this photo of a raven from the porch of our house at Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island,BC.)
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Old 08-14-2014, 06:21 PM   #2
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At a home I lived in for many years there was a beautiful black walnut tree in the front yard. I kept finding cracked walnut shells on the sidewalks and the street and kept reminding the neighborhood boys that the walnuts were to eat, not throw at each other.

The boys, of course, pleaded innocent, saying they knew nothing about what I was talking about.

One day whilst sitting in the house I watched three crows fly into the tree. They would knock the walnuts down to the grass. Then they'd fly down and grab the walnuts one at a time and fly up about 100' then let them go. The walnuts would fall on the street or sidewalk and crack open. After breaking open a couple dozen walnuts the crows would land and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Interestingly enough, they were able to tell the difference between the ripe walnuts and those not ready to harvest and would only knock the ripe walnuts off the tree.

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Old 08-14-2014, 06:31 PM   #3
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I agree with Marin completely here, in my experience crows are incredibly smart and have complex personalities. I have a 350 acre homestead in Mendocino County, CA and there are two resident crows that are near pretty much all the time. This has given me many opportunities to just sit and watch them, but more surprisingly, to listen to them. I have heard some downright weird sounds in the forest, and for years didn't know what the heck it was, but I have come to realize it's the crows. They make sounds that are all over the map in range, volume, and intonation--simply incredible. From the regular caws to clicks to hollow drum beats, it's always the crows. And I've watched them play continually, just having fun. I read a long time ago that they only spend about 20% of their day searching for food, the rest they just hang out and amuse themselves.
And they're not the only birds to do that. A few years ago on a layover day on a Grand Canyon river trip I watched a flock of seagulls, squawking and cackling the whole time, spend the better part of an afternoon riding down a big whitewater rapid (Granite) and then flying back up and doing the whole thing over again, time after time. They weren't eating or anything that I could discern, just having some good fun.
I'll try to catch that Nature series on the crows, I'm super interested in it, Thanks!!
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Old 08-14-2014, 06:39 PM   #4
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The Nature show touched on this, too. The crows not only drop nuts onto the pavement to crack them open, they can judge how high to fly before dropping them based on the weight and type of nut so the nuts crack but don't shatter. They also learn to read the traffic signals so they will drop a nut and then swoop down and pick it up while the light is red.
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Old 08-14-2014, 06:45 PM   #5
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Crows roll black walnuts from the peak of my house, down the slope of the roof to the concrete patio below to crack walnuts open. One of them has guard duty to harass my dog so the others can "work".
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Old 08-14-2014, 09:25 PM   #6
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Earlier this summer I noticed the remains of several wasp nests laying in the grass around the house. It wasn't until later until I saw the crows fly up under the eves and pull them down to the ground. I presume they were eating the larvae in the nests. Right now there are no wasp nests on our property.
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Old 08-15-2014, 08:02 AM   #7
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Want to really have a hoot, watch squirrels and crows interact.
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Old 08-20-2014, 09:22 PM   #8
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At Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, some crows seem to mistake rounded marble type stones covering the roof membrane for eggs and drop them to the ground from 5 floors up. Except there are cars, with windscreens, parked beside the building. You soon learn why there are vacant parking spots in a high demand parking area, a small rock dropped 60ft is not good for glass.
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Old 08-21-2014, 06:41 AM   #9
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I have a ficus tree in a pot on my patio. I found two white marble shaped egg forms. Not having another place for them, I just placed then at the base of the ficus tree. Crows have drilled holes into them trying to get to the egg. It is a hoot seeing them turning them over and pecking on them. They are persistent.

If you want to see them excited just put an owl in the mix.
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Old 08-21-2014, 07:44 AM   #10
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If there is any doubt about crows smarts get a load of these. Number 2 is a little long but worth it. I found them fascinating but I am easily entertained.

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Old 08-21-2014, 10:59 AM   #11
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Wifey B: So this is why people who are wrong have to eat crow? It will then make them smarter?

Yes, I know....crow was considered to be distasteful and unedible. But now if it would make one smarter just imagine the potential.

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