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 []

Legends of the Raven’s caw

Latin speakers interpreted the raven's call "Cras! Cras!" to mean "Tomorrow! Tomorrow!" And this soon became the symbol of the foolish sinner who puts off conversion. While others thought it symbolized the hope of something new or a better day. Here is an example from the 15th century depiction of a crow saying "cras cras", which is not only an onomatopoeia but also means, according to the author, in Latin: “Tomorrow… you’ll die”. Actually it can be translated by an ominous “Tomorrow, tomorrow” and again, what this meant to different people could be very different. This picture makes it a little more ominous!   To the North American Eskimos, the raven's cry sounded like "Kak, kak, kak!" which means 'a deer-skin blanket.' According to their legends, the raven's cries warned people not to forget their blankets when they moved.
Photo by Kotsuis Hohhug
As intelligent as these birds are, it isn't such a stretch of the imagination that the ravens could have been trying to help the Eskimos so they could survive. If they survived, then the ravens could eat the carcasses of the animals hunted. They could live near by and thus reduce their own work hunting. Who knows?

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 []

Jays poem

Jays by Unknown "I know an old man, His name is Jay, He wears a blue coat, And a hat of gray. He has a nice nest High up in a tree, Where sits his dear mate Content as can be. There are four blue eggs In the little brown nest, Which will soon be baby birds Blue, like the rest."

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 []

Our Land Is The Sky: The Adventures of Jimmy Fastwing

I love my crows. And I love books. And I really love books about crows.

I recently read a charming story of Jimmy Fastwing, a young crow, in the journey of his first year of life. This book walks you through the life of a young, clever crow named Jimmy Fastwing. Life isn't easy being a crow. It is easy for us to forget how very few crow actually survive through their first year. Less than half of the crows hatched will survive each year. The odds are not in their favor. Add in the constant danger from dogs, cats and humans who despite crows, and the first year of a crow's life is as action packed as any blockbuster movie. Our Land is the Sky: The Adventures of Jimmy Fastwing by Frank J. Croskerry gives us a peek into the day to day life and struggles of one little brave crow. From the publisher, a more articulate description of this lovely little book,

Spring has been a violent affair this year, and many new crows have not survived the high winds and rainstorms. For the few who have, there are still the very dangerous exercises of learning what birds need to know to exist with the rest of the clan. While flying comes naturally to them, there is much more they need to know if they are to stay out of harm's reach. Young crow Jimmy Fastwing has his grandfather to teach him the basic things a young crow needs to know. If he can manage the first stages of take-offs and landings, there will be other family members to assist him in his learning. He'll have to know about things like finding food, hiding it, and socializing with the clan. Join Jimmy in his first year of life as he grows, learns, and avoids one calamity after another. If he's lucky, he'll learn quickly enough to become an important member of the clan.
One of my favorite quirky parts of this story is that Frank Croskerry adds in little cute crow puns like "crow-sing" for cruising, "crow-d", and cawcaphony... I have a penchant for such puns. I used them here on CorvidCorner myself with "crow-tations" and so each time I read one of his clever little puns I smiled and chuckled to myself. Fun! I recommend this book for all who love crows, birds or just a good fictional story of the natural world. Our Land is the Sky: The Adventures of Jimmy Fastwing is a juvenile fiction book, 88 pages. I read it in an hour or so. I even read it aloud for a friend. I think it is a great story to read to your children, to your friends, to anyone interested in learning more about crows and their social nature and their struggle to survive the first year of life. Thank you Frank J. Croskerry for this charming read. It now has a permanent place in my ever-growing library of crow-related books.