|An American crow warns of a hawk in the area. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
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Crows seem to strut with confidence. They often hang around on street corners like a gang of bad boys out looking for trouble. But it’s not at all what it looks like. That group is likely an extended family.
A mated pair can have numerous offspring of various ages that stay with the family for up to five years. They work collectively to protect and care for the youngest family members.
It’s difficult to distinguish the sexes but males are slightly larger than the females. Sometimes it’s only possible to discern family structure and social hierarchy within a flock of crows by their behavior.
Crows have learned to thrive in urban areas. Because where they see people they find food. Golfers have reported seeing crows steal snacks off carts at local courses. They wait until the golfers get up to the tee, then they raid the cart looking below the dash where the goods are often hidden.
The crows around Newhart Middle School in Mission Viejo have learned that the mid-morning bell means snack time.
“About 50-75 crows start showing up on the roof after the first bell,” said teacher Ruth Meyer. “When the second bell rings for the children to go inside, they embark on a feast. The yard is picked clean in under a minute.”
Crows are among the most intelligent animals on the planet; they’re one of three animal species, along with elephants and chimpanzees that work with tools. And yet, not everyone appreciates crows.
Crows are often associated with Halloween. In folklore, crows and ravens were seen as an omen of death. They’re also scavengers that clean up carrion when an animal dies. Some speculate that’s why “a murder of crows" has been used to describe a flock, though scientists never use this term.
“They’re one of the most hated birds because they do a lot of things people find distasteful,” said licensed rehabilitator Susan Doggett. “For one thing, they’re noisy. And they’ve been known to steal baby birds out of the nest.”
Doggett takes in hundreds of crows for rehab at her house in Orange every year. “I’ve seen a lot of horrible things happen to crows,” she said. One of the crow’s worst enemies is a kid with a BB gun.
Doggett says she’s the only licensed wildlife rehabilitator in Orange County who accepts crows and ravens. “A lot of rehabbers don’t like to work with them.
“I love crows. They have the intelligence of a young child,” she said.
She fields more than 10,000 bird rescue calls a year. “Most don’t need rescue,” she said. People find a young bird on the ground and think it needs help.
Her advice: leave it alone. Before young birds learn to fly, they hop on the ground. The parents will continue to feed it. During this time the parents teach it how to escape predators and forage for food.
“Crows are the most common illegally kept bird,” she said. “But they don’t make good pets.”
Every August and September, she takes in young crows from people who picked up a young one in the spring and attempted to keep it as a pet. Since crows are protected, it’s a $1,000 fine to possess one.
“Crows need to be wild,” she said. “They get depressed in captivity.”
Crows actually have it tough, she said. Most fledglings don’t make it through their first year.