The Great Outdoors


Photo by G. Dewey Powell
Crows are black feathered bad boys, disliked by farmers and by birders. To the displeasure of farmers they eat corn, pulling up sprouts to get the grains. They also kill and eat chicks. To the displeasure of birders, crows raid nests and eat eggs and nestlings of smaller birds.

I’ve heard hunters claim crows recognize a man with a gun and call in alarm, warning other crows and animals. I believe it. I’ve never had crows call in alarm when I’ve been walking in a woods armed only with binoculars. But hearing crows calling in alarm I have hurried toward the sound and found crows circling over, diving at a great horned owl.

I’ve been told by ice fishermen that they have watched a crow go to the hole they had cut, draw in their line and take a fish off the hook.

Crows are protected now but may be killed during a prescribed season each year. For many years, however, crows could be killed at any time and in any way. They were shot. They were poisoned, not with sprays but by putting strychnine in the eyes of animal carcasses. Crows feed on carrion and they eat the eyes in a carcass first.

Crows were even dynamited. Sticks of dynamite was tied to branches of trees that crows roosted in, connected, then detonated after the crows had gone to roost. In this way thousands were killed at once.

Crows build their nests high in tall trees. Male and female work together though the female does the most. The male often brings his mate food as she shapes the nest of sticks. The female also does most of the incubating.

In addition to sticks and a grass lining, a crow’s nest may have decorations, coins and other shiny things that the birds have collected. In one nest, I read, there was a lady’s watch.

Crows are clever birds. Some people have claimed they are intelligent, even that they are the smartest of birds. They drop clams on rocks along sea shores to break open the shells. I read of a pet crow that was allowed to fly free and met a boy coming home from school every afternoon. In another account, a crow followed a milk delivery man and pried the tops off bottles of milk left on front steps, then drank of the cream that had risen to the top.

Crows can mimic other birds and pet crows have been taught to say things such as: Hello, So long, You betcha and Hot dog. Splitting the tongue of a crow is a superstition. It does not increase their ability to speak. Another superstition is that crows are symbols of death, that a crow landing on the roof of a house foretells a death in the house. This superstition is believed to have come from seeing crows gathering and feeding on the dead on a battlefield.

Crows need some positive press. They are actually beneficial. Corn makes up no more than twenty percent of their diet and only when the corn is in a certain stage. Crows also eat grasshoppers, gypsy moths, cutworms, tent-caterpillars, angleworms, beetles, locusts, millipedes, grubs, crickets and spiders. They kill and eat field mice and young rabbits. They eat small snakes, frogs and shellfish.

I heard a crow call one morning recently. I was out in our barn and after I heard it. I thought, I haven’t heard a crow, or seen one, in weeks. Months maybe? I have noticed and written about the decline of many birds but I hadn’t noticed the disappearance of crows. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind. Since then I’ve been watching particularly for crows and haven’t seen or heard another.

Neil A. Case

Neil A. Case

I have always liked the outdoors and birds and am a conservationist and an environmentalist. I don't write specifically about conservation but mix my opinion in with stories about a bird, a mammal, a plant or other outdoor subject. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer