Corvids: An Australian export?

I read an interesting article about corvids in Australia at The Conversation. I don't like to re-post full articles so, I will post a snippet and a link...
Corvids feature in the cave art of early humans. Their voices and actions reportedly stimulate human language and culture. Some research suggests that when humans interact with social crows, the things they see and learn can inspire their own rapid cultural evolution. Crows also seem to do things that people do (“talk” to each other, steal and hide things, use tools, “tease” other species, play), so it’s possible we’re all learning from one another.
You can read the whole article here.

Steller’s Jay at Crater Lake in Oregon

Copyright © 2012 Corvid Corner. All rights reserved.
  What a beautiful little bird! According to the Crater Lake Institute, four of the six birds mostly like to be seen at Crater Lake in Oregon are corvids: Ravens, Gray Jays, Stellers' Jays, and Clark's Nutcrackers (see yesterday's post about this clever little corvid!) Maybe we can nickname it Corvid Lake =). ((http://www.craterlakeinstitute.com/planning-visit/faqs/birds-crater-lake.htm))

Clark’s Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana)

Copyright © 2012 Corvid Corner. All rights reserved.
  A member of the corvidae family, Clark's Nutcracker is a lovely bird slightly smaller than the Spotted Nutcracker. It eats mostly seeds from the pine tree. And it has a pouch in the floor of it's mouth in front of its tongue (a sublingual pouch -- See below) which can hold up to 95 pinyon pine seeds (depending on the seed this number can vary from 50 to 150).
Sublingual pouch
  To put this in perspective, 95 Pinyon pine seeds weigh up to 13% of the total weight of the bird!! How neat is that? They have a pouch in their mouth where they can store and carry almost 15% of their own weight! The Clark's Nutcracker also has a "long, heavy, sharp bill... used for hacking open green, closed cones, many of which are covered with pitch. Nutcrackers can open the green cones of most of the pines. The bill is also used to thrust seeds into the substrate with strong japes of the head and neck. As their name implies, nutcrackers can open thick-hulled pine seeds by crushing them in their bills."1 Most jays must wait for the cones to open naturally, but the Clark's nutcracker (and the pinyon jay) are able to open the tightly closed green cones. Lucky for them, they don't have to wait for a good seed.
In a year with a heavy cone crop a single nutcracker can cache between 22,000 and 33,000 seeds in over 7,000 individual cache sites (Vander Wall & Balda, 1977). Birds may place between one and 14 seeds per cache. Birds continue caching until the crop is depleted or snow covers the caching areas (Vander Wall & Balda, 1977). Possibly, birds curtail caching after snow remains on the ground because to cache in these conditions would reveal cache location by their foot prints left in the snow.2
Copyright © 2012 Corvid Corner. All rights reserved.
  The Clark's Nutcracker possesses a number of abilities and physical attributes that help them thrive. They have excellent spatial memory abilities which allow these clever corvids to "learn and generalize geometric rules about the placement of landmarks." They use the landscape and even the sun (as a compass) to help them cache seeds. Their strong beaks help them crack open seeds, hence their name. Their long, pointed wings help them for strong flight to great distances. They can cache up to 22 km (a little over 13 and a half miles!). The Clark's Nutcracker "can carry seeds 1,900 m up the side of the Peaks."3 They use 'bill-clicking' which is the rapid opening and closing of the mandibles, to help determine if the seed is full as well as determine the thickness of the seed coat which saves time when seeds are abundant in the spring and summer.
Copyright © 2012 Corvid Corner. All rights reserved.
  So intelligent are they, the Clark's Nutcracker can discern between pinyon pine seeds that have nut meet and those that are empty just by observing the color of the shell. WOW! Corvids are so intelligent!   Sources:
  1. http://www.pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/asc/Balda/ []
  2. Balda, Russell P. and Kamil, Alan C. Linking Life Zones, Life History Traits, Ecology, and Spatial Cognition in Four Allopatric Southwestern Seed Caching Corvids []
  3. Balda and Kamil []

St. Kevin and Crows

Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

After learning all about Saint Benedict of Nursia and his affiliation with crows, I did some research on other saints and crows. I found St. Kevin, the Patron Saint of Crows! How cool is that? Who knew? Well, apparently some people. He was born in 498 and reportedly died 120 years later in 618. He is also the Patron Saint of Ireland, Dublin, Glendalough and crows to be exact. Saint Kevin of Glendalough. He is often depicted with crows and is said to have preferred the company of animals to humans. So strong was his preference for animals, songs with his story tell of him drowning a woman who tried to seduce him. Yet, he was said to have infinite patience and kindness?1 Even deemed the "gentle one". Legend says he once allowed a crow to lay an egg in his palm and he held it safely until the egg hatched and the little bird flew away. It would seem those who thought him gentle were much more impressed by his skills with animals than his people skills.

Seamus Heaney wrote the following about St. Kevin,2
"And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird. The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside His cell, but the cell is narrow, so One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands and Lays in it and settles down to nest."
Art by LINDA JAQUES
  Sources: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/lasi/lasi03.htm http://patriarts.com/Kevin/Kevin%20manuscript1.htm http://asinnersguidetothesaints.blogspot.com/2010/06/st-kevin-of-glendalough-498-to-june-3.html http://patriarts.com/Kevin/Kevin.htm http://saintspreserved.com/Kevin/St_Kevin.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_of_Glendalough http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-kevin-of-glendalough/
  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_of_Glendalough []
  2. http://asinnersguidetothesaints.blogspot.com/2010/06/st-kevin-of-glendalough-498-to-june-3.html []

Saint Benedict of Nursia

Original photo from the Saint Martin's University website.
    While driving around a beautiful university campus I came across a monastery with a lovely statue in front. It was a bronze statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia with a book in one hand a crow on his shoulder. I had not previously read about this saint or his story. But I found it interesting that he is depicted most times with crows. Here are a couple pictures of the statue I saw on the lawn near the abbey at Saint Martin's University in Olympia, Washington. (They are not the greatest because I felt rude going on the lawn to get head on shots. Maybe next time I go I will ask if for permission.)
Bronze statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia seen at the Saint Martin's University in Olympia, WA.
   

According to the Saint Martin's University website,1

The dynamic, larger-than-life, bronze statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia, Father of Western monasticism and patron saint of the Catholic Benedictine order, stands near the Abbey Church. The statue, by Russian-born artist Simon Kogan, is a reminder of the 1,500-year-old Benedictine heritage that is part of the fabric of Saint Martin's. Among the hallmarks are hospitality, service and a commitment to work, prayer and learning.

 
Bronze statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia seen at the Saint Martin's University in Olympia, WA.
  Crows were important to Saint Benedict of Nursia according to the French legend of the monk, Benedict of Nursia, who is known as the father of the monastic rule of the Benedictines. In French, a saying, "D'or aux trois corbeaux de sable posés deux et un" which translates into "Of gold, three sand crows posed two and one" denotes this very legend. It was said that Saint Benedict lived within a cave far away from the people and shared his food faithfully with a crow who visited him daily. This crow grew to love the monk and Saint Benedict grew to love the crow(s). A jealous priest sent poisoned bread to kill Saint Benedict but he was wise and gave it to the crows telling them to throw in a place far, far, far from any man. And so the crows did as he said and became the symbol of obligingness, intelligence and fidelity.23456 Another spin on the legend makes it Saint Benedict and the raven from the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great,7  
When as the foresaid monasteries were zealous in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and their fame dispersed far and near, and many gave over the secular life, and subdued the passions of their soul, under the light yoke of our Saviour: then (as the manner of wicked people is, to envy at that virtue which themselves desire not to follow) one Florentius, Priest of a church nearby, and grandfather to Florentius our sub-deacon, possessed with diabolical malice, began to envy the holy man's [Benedict's] virtues, to back-bite his manner of living, and to withdraw as many as he could from going to visit him. When he saw that he could not hinder his virtuous proceedings, but that, on the contrary, the fame of his holy life increased, and many daily, on the very report of his sanctity, took themselves to a better state of life : burning more and more with the coals of envy, he became far worse; and though he desired not to imitate his commendable life, yet fain he would have had the reputation of his virtuous conversation. In conclusion so much did malicious envy blind him, and so far did he wade in that sin, that he poisoned a loaf and sent it to the servant of almighty God, as it were for a holy present. The man of God received it with great thanks, yet not ignorant of that which was hidden within. At dinner time, a crow daily used to come to him from the next wood, which took bread at his hands; coming that day after his manner, the man of God threw him the loaf which the Priest had sent him, giving him this charge: "In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, take up that loaf, and leave it in some such place where no man may find it." Then the crow, opening his mouth, and lifting up his wings, began to hop up and down about the loaf, and after his manner to cry out, as though he would have said that he was willing to obey, and yet could not do what he was commanded. The man of God again and again bide him, saying: "Take it up without fear, and throw it where no man may find it." At length, with much ado, the crow took it up, and flew away, and after three hours, having dispatched the loaf, he returned again, and received his usual allowance from the man of God.
 
Bronze statue of Saint Benedict of Nursia seen at the Saint Martin's University in Olympia, WA.
  In my research on Saint Benedict of Nursia, I found this other statue depicting him with crows, as well. The legends all include his love for crows and how he helps them and they help him. This makes him a memorable saint for me. An old-school corvid lover. =)
"Saint Benedict" by Br. David Paul Lange OSB - Photo: Mary van Balen
  1. http://www.stmartin.edu/about/tour/BenedictStatue.aspx []
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoenheim []
  3. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02467b.htm []
  4. http://www.idahomonks.org/sect501.htm []
  5. http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2008/07/feast-of-st-benedict.html []
  6. http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/benpamphlet.html []
  7. http://www.fisheaters.com/animals4.html []

Javan Green Magpie (Short-tailed Magpie)

Let me introduce you to the Javan Green Magpie, also known as the the Short-tailed Magpie or Cissa Thalassina.
CorvidCorner did not take this photograph. If you are the photographer please let us know and we will add your name immediately. Thanks!

Striking bird, eh? The Javan Green Magpie is part of the Corvidae family. This beautiful bird is endemic to the mountain forests on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Java. Yep, those are the only two places you can find the Javan Green Magpie. It lives in thick vegetation in the upper and middle levels of forests and makes only short flights.

Photo taken by Dr. Mithilesh Mishra in Kinabalu nature park. © All rights are reserved by him. Please ask his permission if you want to reuse it for any reason.

The Bornean subspecies jeffreyi has whitish eyes. The nominate subspecies from Java, as well as other members of the genus (Cissa), have dark reddish-brown eyes. The Javan Green Magpie is considered critically endangered with a population of about 50 to 249 mature individuals.1 " It has also been suggested that the total population probably does not exceed 100 individuals and could number fewer than 50 individuals, as there may be only one or two dozen birds at each of up to four sites where the species was recorded from 2001 to 2011 and may still be extant (van Balen et al. 2011)."2 These birds are endangered because of habitat loss and habitat degradation driven primarily by agricultural expansion, logging and mining. Unfortunately, they are also often trapped in cages set out for the cage-bird trade business. =( Only a small number have ever been recorded in bird markets which indicates they are caught but then killed because they are not necessary.3

As you can see from the photograph above, the Javan Green Magpie mostly eats invertebrates and small vertebrate prey as well as berries (I saw a photograph of one with a berry in its mouth).  Breeding appears to take place throughout the year, with a preference for the months with highest rainfall (October -April). Clutch size is one or two (van Balen et al. 2011 and references therein).

It is slightly larger than a blue jay.

I couldn't find much more about this beautiful bird but if you can, please share!

 
  1. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=112641 []
  2. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=112641&m=1 []
  3. van Balen et al. 2011 []