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CORVID LORE PART 1

THAT TITLE WORD is not a typo for “Covid.” However, the following tidbits in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow come from an excellent source frequently discussing the latter: the online Member Community of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

AAAS Member Community moderators occasionally initiate a “Tell Me About It! Live Q&A Chat” with an authority as a principal source on one thing or another.

John Marzluff, Lawrence, Kansas-born 1958, American Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington; recipient of an H.R. Painton Award from the Cooper Ornithological Society as well as a Washington State Book Award for general non-fiction.

Professor Marzluff’s recent Live Q&A Chat focused on the genus Corvus, True Crows, the crows, ravens, jackdaws, and rooks. Marzluff is author of In the Company of Crows and Ravens, Gifts of the Crows, and Subirdia. Marzluff’s work was also featured on an episode of the PBS documentary series Nature, “A Murder of Crows.”

As a bit of crow lore, I suspect you already know that “a murder” is the crows’ collective noun, like a pride of lions or gaggle of geese.

A Multitude of Species. The family Corvidae has more than 120 species, including jays, magpies, and nutcrakers. The genus Corvus of crows, ravens, rooks, and jackdaws makes up more than third of the family.

The skeleton of an American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, on display at the Museum of Osteology. A paradigm of large-brain aerial efficiency.

How Brainy Are Corvids? As described by Marianne Taylor in How Birds Work, “Birds have more neurons packed into their brains than mammals do—a space- and weight-saving adaption. Ravens and macaws have a much higher neuron count than many larger and clearly intelligent mammals, such as dogs and raccoons.” 

Do Corvids Communicate Among Themselves? Professor Marzluff writes, “First, there have probably been more failed theses done on corvid vocalizations than on nearly any other topic!  But, we do know a bit about how they communicate with each other and a little bit about communication with other species.”

The Twa Corbies, 1919, by Arthur Rackham. Image from fromoldbooks.org.

“We know their call for danger,” Marzluff says. “How they call to announce and defend territory. How they stay in contact with their mate or other important social partners.  But, it seems that nearly every call—the basic kaw of a crow or quork of a raven–is individualistic and context dependent.”

In a sense, just like humans.

“I suspect,” Marzluff says, “that mated pairs have calls that are specific to themselves, pet names, so to speak, as they live and work together. But this hasn’t been proven.”

Do Corvid Communicate with Us? Most definitely, says Marzluff: “… if you are stopped on the highway for road construction, pulling into a rest stop, or eating lunch, it is not uncommon to be approached by a pan-handling raven.  These birds do not vocalize, but they walk right up and stare at you. And wait for their reward. The nonverbal communication of intent or need is unmistakeable and works like a charm!”

Crows are omnivores, and also clever rascals in dining on food preferences of humans. Image from Nature Mentoring.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we describe corvid use of tools, their games, and Professor Marzluff’s advice on working with them. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020  

One comment on “CORVID LORE PART 1

  1. Pingback: CORVID LORE PART 1 – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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