Roe the Crow

One of my new favorite pals of late is an American Crow. This is a brief story of how one crow figured out how to improve its life.

Gender identification for the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is difficult to distinguish, so I have given my new friend a gender-neutral moniker: Roe.

Here’s how it all started.

We have only lived at this house for two months. At first no crows came to our new backyard bird bath. I didn’t really think about it, because plenty of birds did.

And then one Saturday our neighbor kindly gave us a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party. At the party that day I watched a crow land in a neighbor’s bird bath. The crow was comfortable as it sipped the water, and clearly this was part of its routine. I thought: how lovely to host a crow daily.

I love crows and ravens. Members of the Corvidae family, they are one of the most intelligent bird species we have on this planet. They are bold, resourceful and highly intelligent; the species is abundant.

Wikipedia tells us that crows have the same brain-weight-to-body ratio as humans. American Crow Wikipedia.

Inspired by the party-day crow action, I began making sure our birdbath was always full of clean water. Within a week or two, a crow was visiting regularly. It’s probably the same one as the neighbor’s.

This crow, Roe, is easy to identify not by vision, since they all are practically identical, but by behavior. He or she does the exact same thing every time: lands on the edge of the bird bath, dips the pointy, black bill into the water several times, swallows. Then the bird turns its body around in one deliberate about-face, facing out, and flies off. S/he always flies off in the exact same flight pattern.

After that the crow was here frequently. Sometimes twice within five minutes.

Then this weekend a new behavior began.

It flew in, landed confidently and knowingly on the bird bath as before.

But this time when Roe arrived, there was something in its bill. Something big and white. With the crow being entirely black, a large chunk of white in the bill was very noticeable.

S/he dropped the white morsel into the water; let it soak in the water for a few seconds; then fished it back out of the water–by now softer and more pliable–and ate the whole thing.

Roe did this several times that day and again the next.

At first I thought it was bread or a cracker.

Athena and I quickly got out all our optics to investigate further, but we still can’t really tell what it is. A piece of paper? A flower petal? Dogwood? Daisy? Cracker?

Except for occasional lakes and reservoirs, we don’t have standing water in Northern California by mid-May…the rainy season is over until winter. So Roe has found this reliable water source and figured out a way to use the water to soften its meal.

One time the crow soaked it and softened it and then carried off the morsel; but all the other times–about a dozen so far–s/he eats it right there, then flies off. This repeated behavior tells me it is food, not nesting material.

I realize this fascinating behavior may not last. Crows are gregarious and form big flocks and who knows, there may be a day when I’ve got too many crows at the bird bath.

But for now, what a joy to be entertained by an intelligent, resourceful avian being.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Amer. Crow by John J. Audubon, circa 1861

91 thoughts on “Roe the Crow

  1. Dear Jet
    We love crows as well but more so Dina loves our blackbirds. They are rather tame now and come flying when we are outside and call them.
    We especially like this picture by Audubon in the tradition of pictures in old plant books.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Thank you, Fab Four, for your visit today. I enjoyed hearing about your blackbird and crow reverence. I, too, liked this Audubon crow painting. I like knowing that in 1861 Audubon was revering crows, like we are today.

  2. So interesting, Jet!!!! I hope you figure out what the white object is before Roe moves on. Thanks for sharing this sweet episode of your new home.

  3. Loved reading about Roe, Jet. We have three birdbaths–two normal-sized and one quite small. So far, the crows ignore the larger ones, but occasionally visit the small one to drink and soften hard foods. They also occasionally leave us “gifts” in the birdbath: the bones of small animals or snake heads, even a shiny button or piece of plastic. They are always welcome.

  4. We have daily visits (usually three or more) from a minimum of three crows. They squawk until given some peanuts. We have had as many as seven crows at one time. They have kept our feeders safe more than once by chasing hawks away. My husband named the crow who shows up first, ‘Al’, for alpha bird. I suggested it might be Althea. They end up sharing the peanuts with squirrels, Blue Jays, and even some Titmouses! Enjoyed reading your account. I have not seen them use our birdbaths yet. Could be since we are located close to a stream. In any event, we always enjoy seeing them grab the peanuts (sometimes many at once) and fly into the woods with them.

    • Really fun to hear your crow stories, cj, and your familiarity with them and enjoyment of them. Thank you so very much. I liked how you and your husband discussed the name for the first crow. They keep us entertained, eh? Thank you.

  5. Fabulous crow tale, and wonderful pictures! Hello to Roe, what a character, and what a delight to read about Roe’s antics! There is a sizeable crow population in and around our office here, and we’re always entertained by them. The work rate and persistence in dropping shells from a height to get at the tasty morsels within is a noisy spectacle. They’re certainly working harder than us on our (non) smoking breaks…
    Thanks, Jet, and have a great weekend!

    • Oh so fun to hear about the entertaining crows at your work, pc. I really enjoyed your message today, pc, you have me smiling and I thank you. You, too, have a great weekend, my friend.

    • I’ll have to get back to you on the crow food, Hien…we’re still working out that mystery. Wouldn’t be dried fish though, we’re many miles from the coast. My warm thanks.

  6. Corvids are always fascinating to me. I loved your tale of Roe. 😉
    Once I was gardening and a raven flew over me so low I could hear its wings (about maybe rooftop level). I looked up, waved my arms and called ‘Hello, Raven!” I was astonished to see it circle back to check me out before moving on. Imagine being acknowledged by another animal like that!

    • Very cool story, Eliza. I think it is one of life’s biggest joys to be acknowledged by a wild animal, I am truly thrilled this happened to you. Thanks so much.

  7. Almost every morning I hear the cows making noise, usually atop of the highest trees of my community. I see them in the early morning picking earth worms for the roads but all you hear is caw, caw, caw. Extremely intelligent birds, Sometimes they are walking around in my lawn looking of worms, larvae o anything that is edible! I imagine that your Crows do the same. I liked your post vey much, thank you, my friend. 🙂

    • Yes, it is really fun to watch the crows and what they’re doing, as they always seem to be up to something. I really enjoyed hearing about your crows, H.J….gave me a big smile, thank you.

    • I agree, Janet, that crow is indeed a glossy beauty. I find it endlessly interesting to watch wild birds and animals and how they get along in the world, glad you do too. Thanks, Janet, a joy to have you stop by.

  8. Crows are simply amazing birds that can do a great deal. I appreciate your clear
    explanation of the difference between the various black birds, as there are several.
    And now that I have read this it seems we have the grackle in Florida.
    Great photos and story of this most incredible bird Jet. Have a great day!

  9. So… if their numbers increase, might we say your birdbath will be crow-ded? I certainly enjoyed your observations of its new behavior, which reminded me of raccoons ‘dipping’ their food before eating it. They’re such intelligent birds, and capable of nearly unbelievable adaptations; I suspect yours will provide plenty of entertainment over the weeks. In its honor, how about this?

    “Roe, Roe, Roe, your crow
    swiftly on the wing
    comes to drink, then bathe and feed –
    such a clever thing!”

    • Dear Linda, I so very much enjoyed this crow word fun, the pun with crow-ded and the hilarious lyrics set to the “Row row row your boat” song. Thanks so very much for this lovely gift this morning, it will keep me chuckling all day, especially when Roe comes in for a drink.

  10. I have an author friend who’s enamored with crows. We have them here, but I’m more familiar with the ravens and magpies from Northern Nevada. We get a variety of these guys where I am now.

    • Wonderful that you have a familiarity with the ravens and magpies in No. NV, Craig, because they’re very entertaining too. Nice to see you, thanks for stopping by. I’m headed over to your “place,” to see what you’ve been up to.

  11. They are my favourite clever birds. We built a wild life pond at the school I once taught at in Switzerland and the first wildlife to use it was a crow softening food that the kids had dropped on the play ground! Ted Hughes wrote a wonderful poem about their endurance.

    • That’s a great crow story, Cathy, thanks very much. Great that you went to the trouble to build a pond to teach students about wildlife, and great that you could observe a crow making good use of it.

  12. I enjoyed your tale of crow behavior. Humans rarely give other animals the credit due for their intelligence. Heck crows have probably been around longer than humans – they must be doing something right! We don’t get them at our house, but we have magpies – my personal favorite among the corvids.

    • Wonderful that you have magpies at your house, Eilene, as they are so very entertaining too. In parts of Calif. we have the yellow-billed magpie and they disappeared for years due to West Nile virus, but eventually they came back. Fun chatting Corvids with you, thank you.

  13. A wonderful portrait of a Corvid member willing (apparently) to be characterized. Ravens, too, are fascinating birds with intriguing behaviors. Thank you for your observations & may Roe continue his/her visits with you thru the season!

  14. I’ve seen crows come visit us, grab a bread crumb, and give it a soak in the birdbath. I was thinking maybe it was for chicks back at the nest, since the chicks can’t fly over for a drink. Crows are pretty smart.

  15. They are smart and like to be clean! At our old house shortly after we put in the fountain we had over 30 crows coming in for their daily bath! It was nuts!
    I hope you can solve the mystery of what it is bringing in to soften and eat. It’s curious!

  16. Aw man!!! THIS IS AWESOME, Jet!!! I love this so very much!!! And geez….I saw a documentary years ago….so wish I’d written down the title at the time because I’ve wanted to share with so many people!!! But it was about how AMAZINGLY smart crows are. It was produced at Harvard or on of the Ivy League schools. They discovered, after many years of controlled experimentation, that Crows have face recognition just as humans do and that they share information from generation to generation about who and what to watch out for. They also found that crows will absolutely broadcast to one another far and wide where to stay away from and why. It’s so wonderful. You mentioned they have the same brain ratio as humans and this documentary gave many examples of that behavior! SO FUN that Roe has adopted You and Athena!!! What a beautiful gift!!! OH! And speaking of: they leave gifts for people now and again. Like stones or shiny things they’ve taken. DRAT!!! If I remember the doc name, I’ll shoot it to Y’all! You gifted soooooo much joy with this post!!! Thank You!!! Happy birding to You and Athena!!! 🤗❤️😊

    • Your comment, Katy, was truly a treasure, thank you so much. It was wonderful hearing about the crow documentary and I will keep an eye out for it. The crows and Corvids are really amazing and when folks make these kinds of studies and publish the results, it is fascinating. It is so fun that Roe “has adopted” us, I liked how you put it. And I was especially touched by your comment that this post was a gift and how much joy you got out of it. That just made my day, Katy, and it’s only dawn. My deepest and warmest thanks.

      • OH!!! YAY to all of this, beautiful Jet!!! My absolute pleasure!!! You know, I just spent some time looking for that documentary to share a link with You and I just don’t see it. It was so many years ago! I DID, however, find the following one that I’ll share. It’s got some of the same footage, I think. But it’s missing the entire section about crows leaving sweet gifts for people they love! The research on that in the doc I saw was just as extensive as the cognitive intelligence and face recognition studies in this one I’m sharing. Gosh! I’ve wanted to share that with friends so many times! Anyway….here’s this one which You and Athena may well enjoy:

        If I ever run across the other one, I’ll shoot it Your way! I’d love to see it again!!! Cheers and many hugs to You, Athena and Roe!!! (And all the other creatures who so magically/wonderfully populate Y’alls exixtence!!!) 🤗❤️😊

      • Oh so very kind of you, Katy, for sending the link. I look forward to watching it, and really appreciate your kindness. Cheers, my friend.

  17. Lovely tales of your crow behavior. I’ve always heard/read how intelligent they are. We have never been lucky enough to have any visit our birdbath, but last year it seemed we’d get a fly over with what turned out to be a youngster chasing after mom (or dad?) parent crow… A repeated ritual for several months. Complaining and begging quite vocally as they passed over the house. Hope we get a repeat this year.
    Isn’t it fun to be learning about your new neighbors?? 😉🤗

    • Always a great joy to have you stop by, Gunta. Those young crows and their distinctive voices are indeed memorable. I liked hearing about your fly-over juvenile last year, and I hope you get one again this year. Interesting that it was a “repeated ritual” for months. And yes, it really is fun to be learning about the new avian neighbors. There’s so much going on! My warm thanks, Gunta, and best wishes to you.

  18. How nice to meet Roe the Crow, and how fascinating to watch it make good use of your birdbath. I love the expression on its face in the second picture, like it’s taking note of the photographer.

    • I enjoyed your comment and visit, Barbara, as I always do. That second photo of Roe the Crow is a fun one, I agree. He is strutting along and really does look like he’s posing for the camera. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  19. Great images of this special bird, Jet. “the same brain-weight-to-body ratio as humans”! Thank you for sharing the info, so interesting. 🙂

  20. I find crows quite intriguing – as you observed, quite smart/resourceful – a bit too smart if you ask me ha. One thing I have noticed lately here in the Midwest, the Americans are getting muuuuch bigger. Not sure if some of the Raven lines are getting mixed in or not. Always enjoy reading about bird behavior, thanks for sharing.

  21. Oh I love a good mystery. It would seem like it has to be food but where is the food source? Like dipping a stale cookie in milk. Although I would use my hands rather than my beak. 🙂
    Hope you and Athena are settling in well.

    • Dear Sue, wonderful to hear from you! Your comment gave me a smile, as they always do. Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m off to see what you’ve been up to….

    • Hi Kirt, wonderful to “see” you! I’m glad you enjoyed the mystery of what Roe the Crow was eating. Yes, we moved, thanks for asking. I was thinking of you this weekend, in Seattle for a friend’s wedding, I remember your fondness and familiarity with Seattle. Great city. Cheers and thanks.

      • Some how this got lost in comments…sorry! Hope your time here in Seattle was good…wet I’m sure! In spite of all the rain, we are loving living up here! We just had our third grandchild enter the world this week and are glad we’re here to be with him. My best to you guys!!

  22. What a fascinating story, Jet. Your visiting crow sounds to be quite intelligent and I’m glad he chose your birdbath to dip his beak into. It’s always a thrill to get avian guests in our gardens.

    • Thank you, Sylvia. Yes, it is always a thrill to watch the bird friends in our gardens. I know I sure have enjoyed seeing all the wildlife that visits your garden. Sending smiles your way, Sylvia.

  23. My partner Francis tells the story of waiting at a bus stop during her 7 year career stint in Victoria, BC, when she witnessed a robin stunned by a passing car and appeared to lay dead on the road as other cars swerved to miss his or her body. A nearby crow started to immediately squawk loudly. After a few near misses of the cars, Fran amazingly witnesses the crow fly over to the Robin and give it a few gentle pecks, upon which the robin awoke and both birds flew away to safety. Living creatures, all of us, have a great and wonderful connection to each other. Thanks for this fascinating post on your crow friends ingenuity.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the crow post, Bruce. And I really liked your partner’s crow and robin story…truly a joy to hear. Thanks so much for taking the time to share it.

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