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Legends of the crow

Backyard Safari

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Media contact: Jessica Basham

It's not a typical winter morning in Florida. Most of the state is 70 degrees and it's January! Everything outside the window looks brown, bare and dull. The world feels asleep right now. The only noise is the rustling of leaves and the coo of a mourning dove. Then, I hear it, loud and clear…the caw of a crow. It is a sound I hear daily, even on the dreariest of winter mornings.

There is a large, dying oak tree in the yard next to mine and many other tall trees in the neighborhood. The crows like to perch in these tall trees. They talk to each other all the time. Sometimes I wonder what they chatter about. Are they telling each other about a nearby predator or laughing about something funny? These all-jet-black birds (from beak to feet) are crafty, intelligent, social creatures that live in family groups.

Crows, ravens and other black-plumaged birds are often seen as dark, scary or mysterious. However, there are just as many positive legends about these clever birds that people don't know. In many Native American legends crows are messengers to the gods and carry prayers. Ravens, a species similar to the American crow but much larger in body and beak, are important legends of the English Crown. They are as famous as the Tower of London. Legends say if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it and the monarchy will fall.

Despite legends, good or bad, American crows are extremely social birds and congregate in flocks, sometimes by the hundreds. They say there is power in numbers, and this is true for these birds. Often when a predator such as an owl or hawk appears, crows will attack and harass the offending animal until it leaves the area.

Once at a local lake I witnessed these actions firsthand. The day was sunny and quiet, and I sat on a blanket at the water's edge admiring the beautiful herons, soft-shell turtles and other wildlife when the loud, distinctive caw of crows interrupted the silence. It was borderline annoying, but then I saw the reason for their chatter. A beautiful Cooper's hawk glided through the air and into a nearby tree. A few minutes later the hawk soared into top of the same tree the crows were gathered. The noise was almost deafening.

This often misrepresented bird is a good problem-solver and has been known to make tools from twigs and other objects to forage for edible treats such as worms, grain, seeds, nuts and berries. Crows are omnivores and also enjoy small mammals, eggs, clams and mussels from oceans or lakes.

While crows are found in Florida year-round, the best places to see them is an open place that offers a few trees to perch in and a reliable source of food. This is almost anywhere: fields, parks, lakes, backyards and near bodies of water.

Learn more about American crows and other birds by downloading the free iPhone application "Nature Viewing Along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail" (other platforms coming soon) or by visiting floridabirdingtrail.com. Click on "Birding Resources" in the left-hand menu to take part in the "Wings Over Florida" program and learn about the FWC's Junior Birder Program. You can also download a copy of the Bird Detective checklist.



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