Judi Stuart: If you’re gonna be bird-brained, be a crow

The Daily Advance

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Because of the weather, our bird food bill is larger than our people food bill this month. We enjoyed watching all the wildlife come to our cafeteria in the backyard.

Every elevated surface was covered in seed or corn after the storm. The suet feeders were especially busy with the aggressive diners.

A day passed before the red-winged blackbirds discovered the feast. No doubt, you experienced the same thing if you fed the flocks of hungry marauders. As I watched, I wondered what the difference was between blackbirds, crows, and ravens.

When I think about black birds in general, I associate them with Poe’s “nevermore” raven, the legendary guardians at the Tower of London, the ominous crows in the movie “Cold Mountain,” or even the cartoon characters Heckle and Jeckle.

Crows, ravens, magpies, rooks, jackdaws and approximately 120 other species belong to the family Corvidae. The Red-winged blackbirds belong to the Thrush family and are smaller and less intelligent than crows.

Throughout history, crows have sometimes been viewed as omens of bad luck, death, and evil. In Sweden, they were believed to be the ghosts of murdered people, but in Greece and Rome they were symbols of good fortune.

Because they will attack and kill a dying member of their flock, a group of crows is called a murder. Another strange behavior is that in early times they would gather at the site of public executions.

Scientists have become increasingly interested in the capabilities of crows and have done extensive research and discovered that they possess a variety of amazing talents. They have now been recognized as being more intelligent than members of the ape family.

Among birds, they have the biggest brain-to-body ratio, and they have a highly developed forebrain similar to humans. They can count to six and are believed to sunbathe to acquire vitamin D.

In 2010, PBS produced “A Murder of Crows,” a video that explores the startling research. The scientists discovered that crows could recognize human faces, remember what they had seen, pass information to their young, and could make tools of leaves and twigs.

While they do not have the biggest brain, that honor belongs to the parrot, they are tricksters and wise guys. They increasingly find urban living more to their liking because the resources for food and places to hide it are better.

These omnivores will eat 1,000 different food items including carrion, small animals, human vomit, and french fries. Nestlings can eat 100 grasshoppers in an hour. Crow meat is edible and is considered much healthier than pork.

Some scientists believe that crows can evaluate the character of humans by observing their faces and expressions. They can bond with humans and imitate their voices and have been known to name humans with certain calls.

So the next time someone calls you a “bird brain,” make sure they are talking about a crow.

Judi Stuart is the Visitor Services Manager at Port Discover