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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

FACTS ABOUT CROWS FOR KIDS

Crows are millions of years old and live everywhere on Earth, except Antarctica.
There are over 40 different types of crows. They belong to a bird family called Corvids, which includes ravens and magpies. Crows are classified as songbirds, but don't sound much like a song bird. They use different calls to communicate to other crows about things like territory, danger or food discoveries. Captive crows can learn to talk.

The majority of crows in North America are American Crows.  Our local crows in Vancouver Canada are called Northwestern Crows. In the wild, crows live an average of 10 years. In captivity they can live up to 30 years.

Crows are omnivores meaning they eat everything from meat and bugs to grains and vegetables.  They also eat carrion (carcasses of a dead animals) and thus play a role as "nature's clean up crew."  Farmers don't like it when crows eat their crops, so they put up scarecrows, however, the crows aren't really scared of them because they're smart enough to know it's not a real person.  But the farmers are mistaken because crows don't damage the crops that much.  Instead, they actually help farmers by eating the bad insects in their crops.

Crows store some of their food in short-term caches, which are hiding places for food that are scattered around, rather than in one place. They may be in tree crevices or on the ground, where they are often covered with leaves or other materials. Crows are also tricksters and pretend to cache their food when another crow is looking, then later they hide it in another spot.

When not breeding, thousands of crows gather in areas called roosts where they sleep together. It is safer for them to stay together and avoid predators like cats, owls, hawks, snakes and humans. Crows will group together to caw (yell) at and chase predators. This behavior is called mobbing.

Crows like to live in urban areas close to people where there is lots of food available. But they are also found in rural areas outside of cities. Crows are very social and live in family groups from 2 to 15 birds. They forage (look for food) together and preen (clean) each other.

Crow offspring (children) often stay with their families and help raise new babies until they find mates of their own and start new families.

Crows build nests and lay eggs in the spring. Young crows are helpless at birth and require constant parental care. They are fed by both parents as well as by helpers who are their older siblings. Nestlings (babies that can't leave the nest yet) become fledglings (babies that do leave the nest) when they're about a month old. After they leave their nests, young birds are still clumsy for several weeks while they learn how to fly and find their own food.

Young crows are about the same size as adults, but have blue eyes and pink inside the mouth. Their feathers aren't very shiny and they can look messy.   The eyes and mouth darken as the birds become adults, and the feathers appear stronger and shinier.

In the late summer and fall crows moult.  This means they lose their feathers and grow new ones for the winter. This is why they tend to look so messy at this time.

When you hear crows cawing (caw! caw!) at you in the springtime, or when they fly very close to your head seeming to attack you, it is because you are near their nestlings or fledglings and they are just being protective parents.  Don't be scared, they will not hurt you!  The young crows are very vulnerable and sadly more than half of all baby crows die before their first birthday.

Crows, Ravens and other Corvids, are considered to be the most intelligent of all birds. They make and use tools such as bending a piece of wire into a hook to retrieve something they want, or placing nuts in the path of an oncoming car to break them open. They have an excellent memory and can recognize people's faces. Your neighbourhood crows will get to know you well especially if you throw them shelled peanuts or dog kibble.

Corvids are also self-aware like humans, primates and dolphins.


Information compiled by my mom joanna.motylewska@gmail.com
Teachers may print and distribute.

Updated February 2013
If you leave a comment below, please say your age and where you're from. 

Educate yourself about what to do if you come across a baby crow
      http://www.birds.cornell.edu/crows/babycrow.htm
      http://www.nwrawildlife.org/sites/default/files/FoundBird.pdf

LINKS:

Meet the Brains of the Animal World
BBC News

Crows as Clever as Great Apes
National Geographic

Crows inhabiting the city use it to their advantage
BBC David Attenborough video

Friend or Foe? Crows Never Forget a Face, It Seems
New York Times

Mirror test shows Magpies aren't so bird brained
New Scientist article and video

Clever New Caledonian Crows can use three tools
BBC article and video

Crow Tool Use
New Scientist article and video

Joshua Klein: The intelligence of crows
TED talk

Crow FAQ
Dr. Kevin McGowan, crow researcher at Cornell University

Amazing Raven intelligence test
BBC video

Genius Bird (Raven)
National Geographic video