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.