Legends of the crow

January 23, 2012

Fish crow. Photo courtesy John White.

Backyard Safari

By Jessica Basham, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

It’s not a typical winter morning in Florida. Most of the state is 70 degrees and it’s January! Everything outside is brown, bare and dull. The only noise is the rustling of leaves and the coo of mourning doves. Then, loud and clear in the distance I hear the caw of a crow.

As the morning continues, other crows join and the lone call becomes chatter. Are they telling each other about a nearby predator or laughing about something funny? These all-jet-black birds (from beak to feet) are crafty, intelligent, social creatures that live in family groups.

Crows, ravens and other black-plumaged birds are often seen as dark, scary or mysterious. However, there are many positive legends about these clever birds that people don’t know. In many Native American legends crows are messengers to the gods and carry prayers. Ravens, a species similar to the American crow but much larger in body and beak, are important legends of the English Crown. They are as famous as the Tower of London. Legends say if the ravens ever leave the Tower, it and the monarchy will fall.

Despite the legends, good or bad, American crows are extremely social birds and congregate in flocks, sometimes by the hundreds. They say there is power in numbers, and this is true for these birds. Often when a predator such as an owl or hawk appears, crows will attack and harass the offending animal until it leaves the area.

Once at a local lake I witnessed these actions firsthand. The day was sunny and quiet when suddenly the loud, distinctive caw of crows interrupted the silence. It was borderline annoying, but then I saw the reason for their ranting. A beautiful Cooper’s hawk glided through the air and into a nearby tree. The noise was almost deafening as the crows took on the hawk.

This often misrepresented bird is a good problem-solver and has been known to make tools from twigs and other objects to forage for edible treats such as worms, grain, seeds, nuts and berries. Crows are omnivores and also enjoy small mammals, eggs, clams and mussels from oceans or lakes.

While crows are found in Florida year-round, the best places to see them is an open space that offers a few trees to perch in and a reliable source of food. This is almost anywhere: fields, parks, lakes, backyards and near bodies of water.

Learn more about American crows and other birds by downloading the free iPhone application “Nature Viewing Along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail” (other platforms coming soon) or by visiting floridabirdingtrail.com. Click on “Birding Resources” in the left-hand menu to take part in the “Wings Over Florida” program and learn about the FWC’s Junior Birder Program. You can also download a copy of the Bird Detective checklist.

Contact:  Jessica.Basham@MyFWC.com