How to befriend a crow

There are about 50 species of corvids around the world, and they behave differently. They’re not the only intelligent birds around, but in general, corvids are intelligent in a way that resonates deeply with humans, because they’re good at some of the things we’re good at, said Kevin McGowan, an author ornithologists at Cornell said. has been studying crows for 35 years.

A 2020 study published in Science found that crows can think about their own thoughts. Crows can recognize every human faceassociate them with friendliness or danger, and pass that knowledge on to their friends.

“Their social system is the most similar to Western human civilization of any animal that I know of,” says McGowan. American crows “have a family and a space that they protect, but they also have a neighborhood that they pay attention to.” And crows will interact with larger groups of crows without their knowledge, in the same way humans would interact with their community beyond their closest relationships.

But they are also cautious. “Crows pay more attention to people than any other bird,” adds McGowan. At first, this was mainly to protect themselves. Historically, especially on the East Coast of the United States, crows in America were shot like a worm. Human interest in feeding them is relatively new.

Crows hated McGowan when he started studying them in the 1990s, he said, because he was climbing a tree to look at their nests. They learn his face, his car, his habits. “They chased my car on the street, injuring me,” he said.

After a particularly motivated crow spotted him from far away on the Cornell campus and flew over to scream at him, he decided something needed to change. “I wanted to make the crows like me,” he said. “And so I decided that I would start throwing peanuts at them” – mostly from a distance. Even birds that knew him at first were extremely wary of approaching him for food. But it worked in the end. He said: “I have a friend who said that the crows must have had some cognitive dissonance, like, ‘Oh no, the guy who climbs the tree is the guy who eats the peanuts’. Now the crows follow his car and stalk his steps, because they know he might have a good treat for them.

As we talked, Steinke was happy to tell me how I could start feeding some crows. First, she says, you have to find them. That box was checked for me: a neighbor pulled me into a family that lived on the block and frequented the tall trees growing in my back alley. Then, she says, try to get them to reach the feeding site of your choice by leaving some treats. I give up dry cat food.

As the weeks passed, I looked out the back door of my townhouse on our terrace, to see how my new possible friends would react. They didn’t come. Then it rained for a week. I’m annoyed that the crows don’t seem to care that I have a story deadline.

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