By Bronwyn Clear, Certified Texas Master Naturalist
You see and hear them everywhere. The American Crow thrives with gusto in city neighborhoods, in farmer’s fields, or in vast woodlands. They do a little bit of good, a little bit of bad, a little bit of both, and seem to have fun all the while.
There are two types of crows in our area, the American Crow and the very similar Fish Crow. They sometimes travel and forage together, and are almost indistinguishable from each other. The best way to tell them apart is by their call. “Caww Caww” is the sound of the American Crow. “Uh-ah” or “Ca-ha” is the sound of a Fish Crow. The website for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has recordings of both crow calls and each one can be heard online, but it is still hard to tell them apart!
Interestingly, a flock or group of crows is also known as a murder of crows! They travel together, roost together, forage together and hunt together. We have watched them stake out and steal Mockingbird chicks from nests in the shrubs, and have seen them in yards pecking at insects, seeds, dropped food and all manner of less edible things. But unfortunately a large murder of crows will also demolish a farmer’s fields of cash crops. Hence, the old invention of scarecrows!
Protective of their universe, crows are always on the lookout to rout the enemies from their territory. While chasing away birds of prey like hawks or owls, crow flocks are at their noisiest. Their loud, collective, raucous calls may also be warning other family members about hunters, 4-legged predators, or unfamiliar crows. Or these might be excited calls to scattered companions and family letting them know about a great food or water source.
Social, curious, mischievous, and extremely intelligent, research indicates that crows remember the human faces around them and can recognize these people for many years. In addition, some species have been known to make and use stick tools to dig out grubs from rotting wood. Amazingly, there are documented cases of crows bringing people shiny bits of glass, metal and buttons, all in exchange for regular treats of peanuts, dog kibble, chicken nuggets and other culinary wonders. A wild bird that barters with humans! Astounding!
Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to harass, possess or harm them, or their nests and eggs. However, when they devour a farmer’s crop or become a noise nuisance in a neighborhood, authorities can issue permits to control them. But the reality is that most control efforts are useless. Crows are usually too smart to be caught, dead or alive.
Learn more about the incredible nature in our area by joining a chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist organization. To find a chapter close to you, or to read about the state program, go online to www.txmn.org. Volunteer and get involved!