Welcome back and Stamp Sunday

crow3

It’s been awhile since we posted. Sorry! We haven’t given up our love for crows, life just gets busy. We are back now and look forward to posting more regularly. We saw this beautiful crow by the waterfront. I wonder what he was thinking about…such intelligent birds. As it is a Sunday, we will throw in a corvid stamp — and start a new tradition — Stamp Sunday! Hope you enjoy!

Raven Stamp from Russia
Raven Stamp from Russia

The Crow from Six Feet Under

Copyright HBO (Six Feet Under)


I have been watching Six Feet Under and the opening sequence includes a corvid. I thought it was a raven because it is much bigger than a normal crow and its feathers around the neck are shaggier, it also has a larger bill. So, I did some research and here is what I found out. It was a trick. It is indeed a crow but not an ordinary crow which is approximately 40–50 cm (16–20 inches) in length. It is being portrayed as an American Crow but it is reportedly a painted Pied Crow (Corvus Albus) which is often thought of as a small raven and is approximately 46–50 cm (18.1 – 23.6 inches) in length.

In the Season 1 commentary, the Director mentions that they used a Pied Crow which is native to Africa for the opening sequence and they painted it black to look like an American Crow instead of using an actual American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) because it is illegal to film a crow in the United States under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,

All native species of birds, with exception of upland game species (chukar, pheasant, quail, grouse), introduced species (starlings, house or “english sparrows”, and feral pigeons) are protected by the MBTA. Migratory birds, their parts, nests or eggs may not be possessed, transported, imported, exported, purchased, sold, bartered, or offered for purchase, sale or barter without appropriate permits.

According to the USFWS Law Enforcement Division,

Use of birds for filming is not allowed in the United States, unless the film is produced for the purpose of wildlife conservation education (National Geographic or Discovery Channel films, for example). Commercial use of migratory birds is prohibited. This would include using birds in films produced for entertainment or commercials.

I guess we learn something new every day. The bird is beautiful but not right in it’s natural state for the opening sequence, not dark enough, or so I imagine. And our ordinary American Crows are not film-able in the United States. Thus, we get a painted Pied Crow in the beginning of every episode of HBO’s Six Feet Under. The ironic part of all this is… we are allowed to legally kill crows, just not film them for commercial purposes. Exploit them — NO WAY! Kill them, sure. What strange laws we have.

Copyright HBO (Six Feet Under)

According to HBO’s Six Feet Under Behind the Scenes,

Lane Jensen of Digital Kitchen wrote, “The thing we discovered about crows is that it is illegal to film true crows in the United States for commercial purposes. This crow was actually a pied crow. it has a white chest, so we painted the chest black. It was not very well trained, and it had to be on a leash, it didn’t want to fly. “

Alan Poul from Six Feet Under wrote, “The thing that sticks out the most is the crow. Every effects house had come in with some kind of death-related imagery. But the crow seemed like something that was not so literally tied to the show and not overly macabre, but so evocative of the darker feelings the show would conjure up.”

Corvid cognition

Copyright © 2005 Elsevier Ltd All rights reserved.

Nicola Clayton and Nathan Emery

aDepartment of Experimental Psychology and Sub-department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Available online 7 February 2005.

Article Outline

What is a corvid? There are just over 120 species of corvids, a family of songbirds that includes the crows, ravens, rooks and jackdaws, as well as the more colourful jays, magpies and nutcrackers. Although belonging to the same order as nightingales and other birds with melodious songs (Oscines), corvids tend to be identified by their raucous calls. Little is known about corvid songs, perhaps because they are surprisingly quiet. Corvids can be found throughout the globe, except for the southern most tip of South America and the polar ice caps. In Britain, many of the common species, such as magpies and crows, steal other birds’ eggs and raid agricultural crops. They are therefore treated with disdain by many birdwatchers and farmers.

Why study intelligence in crows? Corvids have not always had such a bad press. Native Americans believed that a raven had created the earth; the Norse god, Odin, consulted two ravens Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory) for their wisdom; and Aesop cast corvids as the smart protagonists in many of his fables. Along with their reputation in folklore as the wisest of animals, corvids have the largest brains for their body size of any bird. Perhaps most surprisingly, the crow brain is the same relative size as the chimpanzee brain. Other aspects of corvid biology also give us clues to their intelligence. In the wild, young corvids have an extensive developmental period before they become independent from their parents. This allows them more opportunities to learn the essential skills for later life. Many corvids also live in complex social groups. For example, in the cooperatively breeding Florida scrub-jay, several closely related family members share the responsibility of raising the young with the parents. Furthermore, rooks congregate in large colonies, where juveniles associate with many non-relatives as well as kin. In both cases, this long developmental period provides increased opportunities for learning from many different group members.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that many corvids are also renowned for their innovative feeding skills. For example, Japanese crows in Sendai City have learned to crack nuts safely by dropping them onto pedestrian crossings and waiting until the traffic lights turn red before retrieving the nut’s contents. Rooks at a motorway service station in England have discovered a novel method for gaining access to food thrown in rubbish bins. Two birds cooperate in pulling up the bin liner and then either feeding from the raised food or tossing the contents onto the ground where the waiting crowd of colony mates reap the rewards.

As the crow flies… Most of the corvids that have been studied in detail hide food for the future in times of food abundance and then rely on memory to recover the food caches at a later date when food is scarce. For example, the Clark’s nutcracker is estimated to hide over 30,000 pinyon seeds in many different places during the autumn in preparation for the harsh months ahead. Laboratory experiments have shown that they have highly accurate spatial memories, which enable them to recover these caches up to 9 months later. This is no mean feat when there are so many caches to keep track of, scattered throughout the territory, and when many aspects of the landscape change so dramatically across seasons. It has been suggested that Clark’s nutcrackers rely on remembering the location of large vertical landmarks such as trees and rocks in the environment, because these landmarks are unlikely to be blown away or buried under the snow.

What do scrub-jays recall about past caching events? Although western scrub-jays do not hide as many seed caches as the nutcrackers, they are known to cache a variety of perishable foods, such as insects and fruit, as well as non-perishable nuts and seeds. In the laboratory, these birds demonstrate remarkable memories for what they have cached on a given day, and how long ago, as well as where they hid the various food items during that particular caching episode. This ability to remember the ‘what, where and when’ of specific past events is thought to be akin to human episodic memory, because it involves recalling a particular episode that has happened in the past. Until recently, this ability was thought to be unique to humans.

Avian espionage… Food-caching is a risky strategy, however, because the caches can be stolen by other birds. In addition to hiding their own food caches, corvids also play the role of thief: they watch and remember where other birds have hidden their caches and use this information to steal those caches when the owner has left the scene. When playing the role of thief, speed is of the essence and may make the difference between a successful raid and vicious attack by the owner of the food-cache. Not surprisingly, corvids also employ a number of counter strategies to reduce the risk that their own caches will be stolen by another bird. For example, they attempt to cache out of sight from potential thieves, or wait until the raider is distracted before hiding their caches, and if that is not possible, they hide caches in places that are difficult for the thief to see. When there is little option but to cache when others are around, then the birds will return to the caches once the others have left, and quickly re-hide any remaining caches in new places unbeknown to the potential raider.

Laboratory experiments have established that western scrub-jays use all these techniques to protect their caches from potential thieves, and only do so if another bird is present at the time of caching. Furthermore, they only move their caches to new hiding places if they have been thieves themselves in the past. Naı̈ve jays, even ones who have watched other birds caching but have never had the opportunity to raid those caches, do not do so. This suggests that experienced birds relate information about their previous experience of being a thief to the possibility of future theft by another bird, and adjust their caching behaviour accordingly. Using your own experience to predict another individual’s future behaviour in relation to your own – ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’ – is thought to be one of the hallmarks of Theory of Mind, another ability that was thought to be uniquely human.

Cultural tool use in crows? New Caledonian crows are extraordinarily skilled at making and using tools. In the wild, they make two types of tool. The hooked tools consist of twigs that are trimmed and sculpted into a functional hook, which the crows use to poke insect larvae out of tree holes. The crows also manufacture stepped-cut Pandanus leaves, which they use in different ways for different jobs: they make rapid back and forth movements for prey under soil, yet slow deliberate movements if the prey is in a hole. These tools are consistently made to a standardized pattern and carried around on foraging expeditions. The only other animals that display this diversity and flexibility in tool use and manufacture are the great apes. Thus, chimpanzees have been observed to manufacture a range of different tools that are used for specific purposes, and different geographical populations of chimpanzees use different tools for different uses, suggesting that there may be cultural variations in tool use. Observations of the crows’ tool use in the wild also suggest similar levels of cultural complexity. For example, there is potential cumulative evolution in the complexity of stepped tools (increasing the number of steps required to make a more complex tool), analogous to minor technological innovations in humans. Crows from different geographical areas have different designs of tool, suggesting that crows may also show cultural variations in tool use.

Laboratory experiments confirm the sophisticated intellectual capabilities of these crows. One tool-using crow, called Betty, can manipulate novel man-made objects to solve a problem, such as reaching food in a bucket only accessible by using a hook to pull the bucket up. When the bent wire was stolen by another bird, Betty found a piece of straight wire that was lying on the floor, bent this wire into a hook and used it to lift up the bucket and reach the food! Betty proceeded to do this consistently. Furthermore, when given a tool box containing a variety of different tools to reach normally inaccessible food, she was able to select one of the correct length and width. So evidence of tool use and manufacture suggests that these crows can sometimes combine past experiences to produce novel solutions to problems.Feathered apes? Corvids are large-brained, social birds. They have an extensive developmental period in which they are dependent on their parents, and so have a long time-window in which to learn many different things from their parents and peers. They show a great propensity to find innovative solutions to novel problems, from the manufacture of tools to the protection of food from competitors. Furthermore, they appear to be particularly adept at predicting the future behaviour of conspecifics. These features are things they share in common with the apes. The common ancestor of mammals and birds lived over 280 million years ago, so it is hardly surprising that they have very different brains. It follows that intelligence in corvids and apes must have arisen independently in two groups with very different brains. Interestingly, the thinking part of the brain is correlated with propensity to innovate in both birds and primates, with the corvids and apes as the ‘star inventors’. So when it comes to intelligence, corvids are feathered apes.

Further reading

Where can I find out more?

R.P. Balda, A.C. Kamil and P.A. Bednekoff, Predicting cognitive capacities from natural histories: examples from four corvid species, Curr. Ornithol. 13 (1996), pp. 33–66.

N.S. Clayton, T.J. Bussey and A. Dickinson, Can animals recall the past and plan for the future?, Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 4 (2003), pp. 685–691.

N.J. Emery and N.S. Clayton, The mentality of crows: Convergent evolution of intelligence in corvids and apes, Science 306 (2004), pp. 1903–1907.

Heinrich, B. (1999). The Mind of the Raven (Harper Collins).

G.R. Hunt and R.D. Gray, Diversification and cumulative evolution in New Caledonian crow tool manufacture, Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 270 (2003), pp. 867–874.

L. Lefebvre, S.M. Reader and D. Sol, Brains, innovations and evolution in birds and primates, Brain Behav. Evol. 63 (2004), pp. 233–246.

A.A.S. Weir, J. Chappell and A. Kacelnik, Shaping of hooks in New Caledonian crows, Science 297 (2002), p. 981

“Reprinted from Current Biology, Vol 15 / Issue No 3, Author(s) Nicola Clayton and Nathan Emery, Corvid cognition, Page No. 1, Copyright 8 February 2005, with permission from Elsevier.”
Direct Link to Article click here.

Crows are moving in…

I read this news story and thought it was worth sharing… check it out! =)

(If you go to the original source page –here– there is a video too!)

It’s almost a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” in Rochester . Well, sort of. It’s not quite as scary.

Rochester resident Jason Buck says, “It’s just basically a big blob of black birds. It’s kind of weird.”

Rochester resident Brandon Icenberg says, “It’s the sounds of crows.  You know, their CAW! That’s all you hear.”

Hundreds of crows have moved in to the grounds of the Fulton County Courthouse and it’s the first time this has ever happened.

Icenberg says, “I was kind of freaked out by it.”

Fulton County Commission Roger Rose says, “It really started when we had that real bad cold spell and it got way down below zero. That’s when the crows decided they wanted to roost here.”

The crows actually leave during the day and return just as the sun is going down. While they may not be around, they sure do leave their mark. Bird dropping are on signs, the trees and even the lights.

Fulton County maintenance supervisor Randy Grundrum says, “They’re making quite a mess on the side walk.”

Grundrum is the man tasked with getting rid of the birds.

Grundrum says, “I was going to get some goal ol’ boys with some 12 gauges to come out some night. That was met with mixed reviews.”

Don’t worry, nobody’s going to murder this murder of crows. The county prefers a more humane approach, like trying to scare them off with loud sounds.

Another idea, the county is looking at, is turning of the spot lights that shine on the courthouse. The thought is by turning them off,  the birds will lose their protection.

Grundrum says, “There seems to be some opinion out there that the light makes them feel more secure because they feel like hawks can’t swoop them as easy.”

They think the crows will eventually fly the coop on their own. While they may be annoying now, one resident says he will be sad to see them go.

Buck says, “It’s just soothing. It’s weird to hear birds in the middle of winter.”

There is some concern that there could be some health issues from the bird droppings.

The Fulton County Health Department says there really shouldn’t be a problem. They say the birds would have to be there for two or more years before there would be any concerns.

Direct Source: http://www.fox28.com/Global/story.asp?S=9782514

To the right


to the right

Originally uploaded by drain

What a great photograph, eh?

I know I have not been blogging much but I haven’t forgotten the crows. I feed them daily and have gotten some great photos (this is not one of them — someone on flickr took this one!). I will post the newer photographs soon.

We’ve taken to feeding them by hand…dropping the peanuts as we long along the trail. The crows follow a little bit behind and pick them up. We have some photos. I will post them soon.

Interesting tidbit for today:

In Ohio, a town has decided to celebrate crows in an exhibit called “Living with Crows”

This is an art exhibit all about crows. They are so common but far from ordinary. =) I would LOVE to see this exhibit!

read more | digg story

For more information:

http://www.pomerenearts.org/exhibitopenings.htm

POMERENE CENTER FOR THE ARTS
on the corner of 3rd & Mulberry Streets
Coshocton OH 43812 map 740.622.0326
acornell@pomerenearts.org

Crow Cam Today =)

We put out peanuts without shells today for the first time. They were a hit. The crows like not having to open the shells and they attracted two more kinds of birds as well. =) Fun!

The crows seemed to be done for the day. The bowl was still about 1/4 full but they flew off. However, when a stellar jay showed up and started eating some of the peanuts, they came back cawing and trying to scare him off. He flew away but then when they flew off, he flew back. It was rather comical to watch. =) I think the new peanuts attracted him.

Are crows monogamous?


two crows

Originally uploaded by mikE~510

I regularly peruse crow photographs on flickr. Today I found this one. What an excellent photograph, don’t you think? Under the photograph the question was asked, “Are crows monogamous?” Are crows monogamous? Are ravens monogamous? I thought this would be a good post for today.

Yes, crows and ravens are monogamous. They generally mate for life. They are social birds. John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell stated the following about crows in their book In the Company of Crows and Ravens,

“Crows and ravens care for each other, spend years living at home, engage in foreplay, and mate for life but now and then mate with others. Large groups cooperate to sleep in safety, drive away mutual enemies, and maybe even dole out justice.”

Interesting, eh? We could learn a thing or two from crows and ravens. Maybe being close with family and friends is not just for the birds…

Thanks to mikE~510 for the photograph, the question and the inspiration to write this post!