Inquisitive, mischievous and highly intelligent, crows belong to the corvid family of birds that also include ravens, jays and magpies.
Vancouver Island is home to the northwestern crow, which are found along the Pacific coastline from Puget Sound north to Alaska.
Crows are often mistaken for ravens but they are easily distinguished from each other by their overall body shape and size, ravens being much larger than the crows. In flight, they can be identified by the shape of their tails. Crows have square tails, ravens are wedge shaped.
Crows sport sleek, lustrous, black plumage which enables them to easily recognize other crows during the day and helps provides them with the perfect nocturnal camouflage when they gather together to roost.
Crows are equally at home in urban and rural areas and their populations continue to thrive due to their sagacity and capacity to survive. Omnivores by nature, they are opportunistic feeders, dining on a huge variety of food, and are also accomplished scavengers and will use their “mobbing” tactics to chase other birds away stealing their food.
Highly intelligent, crows are great problem-solvers and they have good memories when it comes to a favourite food source. On more than one occasion I have had my lunch stolen from my golf bag when it sat unattended beside a tee box. One even unzipped the pocket!
Other examples of their tenacity can be seen at this time of year when the nuts are ripe on the trees, the crows will pick a nut, then drop it from the necessary height onto a road where it will crack open upon impact or be crushed by a passing car.
These birds have also mastered the art of opening shellfish by hovering above the rocky beach dropping the shells from several feet in the air to the ground below. Crows are very protective of their young and will often displace another bird for their nest.
They will live together as a family for a year passing on many of their hunting skills to the sub adults. At this time of the year they can be seen in large flocks and will often chase off any birds which they consider to be a threat, this social interaction and communication has also contributed to their proliferation.
As nurturing as crows are to their own young they are very destructive to other birds robbing their nests of eggs and hatchlings. Unfortunately as fascinating as their behaviour is, many people harbour a distinct dislike to crows, finding their aggressive behaviour offensive.
Human harassment of wildlife is not very common but it does occur especially when birds or animals are in pursuit of their normal prey. No one likes to see an eagle pluck a baby duckling from a pond or a hawk snag a pigeon in mid air but this is how they hunt and survive.
It is, however, quite disturbing when there is evidence of deliberate injury from human interference.
Last week, MARS received a crow that was found on the ground unable to fly; on examination the crow’s tail and wing feathers had been intentionally cut. It is unknown why anyone would do this. Maybe they wanted to keep a pet crow but when it became too much to care for let it go.
We can only wonder what the motive was.
It appeared the crow had been in human company for some time as it hopped to the front of its cage looking for food. At the same time it was aggressive and appeared to be frustrated.
Part of the message that we want to reinforce is that wildlife may not be kept in captivity under the wildlife act and only facilities with permits may rehabilitate wildlife. Like many wildlife species crows can become pests but it is usually because we provide them with easy meals.
Please do not put garbage bags out on the curb the night before garbage pickup. Please put them in a can with a lid.
A flock of crows will pull a bag apart in a few minutes and strew garbage over a wide area. In gardens with fruit trees they can also be pests.
Flexible netting, scarecrows or water devices can be used as deterrents, but these crafty creatures soon figure out that nothing has moved or given chased therefore they ignore them.
On a final note, crows and their relations are known carriers of West Nile Virus and avian pox and if you find a number of dead birds in one place please advise our centre. Always wear gloves if handling dead crows and dispose of them in the garbage.
Once our crow has been quarantined for two weeks it will be sent to a special crow rehabilitator; providing there is no permanent feather damage it may be releasable but being habituated to humans may prevent this.
For more information or to report injured wildlife please call 1-800-304-9968 and follow our cases on our website at www.wingtips.org.
Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Friday.