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Crows are something to crow about

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By Sylvia Brockner

When we moved here in 1965, crows were officially named the “common crow.” But, they were definitely not common in Evergreen, except in winter. Summer crows in the mountains were few and far between.

Crows are omnivorous and will eat many things: grains, insects, berries and crops. So, they are diversified in where they can stay if they can find enough food. Out on the plains in 1965, they found food in wheat fields and summer cornfields, and that kept them there in the summer as long as they had an ample food supply. But, here in the mountains, we did not have that.

The main reasons crows (now named the American crow) have increased in numbers here in the summer are the increased number of homes with open lands and the increased availability of food. As more homes with surrounding mowed and open areas came to our area, more crows also came to their preferred habitat of open land. In fact, there are many more crows in all of America today than there were during Colonial days.

Trash dumpsters are another reason crows became attracted to our area. Dumpsters are behind most grocery stores, restaurants and places that handle food. If the dumpster cover is left open, it attracts crows, which collect meat scraps, vegetables and other items. Dumpsters can augment the summer food supply needed to raise their young.

Few people think of crows as migrant birds, as they are seen at all seasons over much of their range. They are, however, truly migratory, and it is the Canadian crows and those from more northern states that make up our vast winter flocks. As they fly south, they find temperatures here are more lenient, and they can also find more food.

During winter, crows concentrate in flocks and select a roosting site where they spend the night. Two local roosts are near Evergreen Mountain and on Bear Mountain. Some roosts contain hundreds of crows, and many are ancestral locations that have been used by generations of crows. You can find a roost fairly easily if you get a few people to follow flight patterns of crows at sunset. They will head to a roost in trees or rock outcroppings, and you can find them by listening to these noisy birds as they get ready for bed.

The big roosts are also noisy places at sunrise, as birds wake up and exchange greetings. One by one, crows disperse about the countryside to seek food during the daylight hours.

Crows are considered to be a beneficial bird by some but are painted as black as their feathers by others. They most assuredly do destroy the eggs and young of many birds. They also can and do cause agricultural damage to crops of fruit, nuts, corn and other grains. However, many farmers consider them beneficial as they consume huge quantities of grasshoppers, cutworms, May beetles and other insect pests.

The only bird that can easily be confused with a crow is the raven. These two birds are not that difficult to tell apart — it just takes a little practice. While crows usually travel together in flocks, ravens are far less gregarious and usually travel in pairs or small family flocks. Crows row their way across the sky with a steady wing beat, whereas ravens soar and glide more. Crows are smaller and have a square-cut tail. The raven’s tail is fan-shaped. Ravens have larger, heavier beaks and ragged throat feathers. Crows speak with a steady, repeated “caw, caw, caw.” Ravens, on the other hand, utter varied, harsh, guttural notes.

Crows are without a doubt one of our wariest, adaptive birds. They are bright, inquisitive clowns. They mimic many sounds and can learn to talk quite clearly. They are considered by many scientists to be the most intelligent of the bird families. Some crows studied in captivity actually developed a tool, by bending a piece of wire, to hook open a pail and eat food from inside it.

So, the next time you see “just another crow” you can think twice about how it is a relative newcomer to our Evergreen summers.