Curious crows look a lot like humans
People flocked to Colleen Wilson’s social media pages, which boast 43,000 followers and myriad photos of the curious, intelligent and often annoying member of the crow family.
Crows are my jam.
So reads the first line of Colleen Wilson’s Instagram account.
The Campbell River photographer isn’t the only one obsessed with jet black birds – both common as mud and extraordinary in equal measure.
People flocked to Wilson’s social media pages, which boast 43,000 followers and myriad photos of the curious, intelligent and often annoying member of the crow family.
“There’s so much about crows,” said Wilson, better known as The Crowtographer.
“There is their aesthetic. Anything black is hard to photograph, and the way the light plays off the crows’ feathers is truly mesmerizing.
“And each crow, in my experience, has its own unique personality, and my goal when taking photos is to see that – that expression, that intellect – to try to capture a bit of the essence of the animal. .”
Growing up in Manitoba, Wilson always had an interest in crows, the sworn enemy of the crow family. So after getting her camera over a decade ago, she roamed her urban surroundings in BC’s Lower Mainland and the most abundant and obvious subjects were crows.
One of the secrets to her mesmerizing photos is the bond she develops with animals, she said. The crows, which are often wary and nervous, relax in his presence, make less raspy noise and get closer once they realize the camera is not a threat.
“It sounds silly, but I got to know the crows in my neighborhood and formed a relationship with a crow I call Dave.”
Dave had nested near Wilson’s apartment. She went out after work and on weekends and carried peanuts. Dave grew increasingly curious about Wilson and developed a fondness for shell snacks.
“It just turned into this amazing relationship where this bird knew what time I was leaving for work and flew by my side to the SkyTrain station,” she said. “And he would be expecting me when I got home.”
Two years later, Dave, who could well have been a female, brought his offspring to meet Wilson.
“It led to this seven-year bonding experience with this crow family, and it was absolutely amazing.”
Wilson, who moved to Vancouver Island a few years ago, is now making new connections.
Wilson socializes with a crow she calls Chad, who she says is a “little rock star” who still has an entourage with him.
“Chad likes to throw attitude,” she said. “It’s the crow that pushes others away so they get to me first.
“He’s a larger-than-life personality and a bit of a show-off, but he’s extraordinarily calm around me.”
AN UNDESERVED REPUTATION
Crows are often criticized for their bad behavior, Wilson said, noting that some people are wrongly afraid of them.
“They think of them in the context of things like Hitchcock The birds, that they are aggressive, that they are scary,” she said.
“If they’re rushing or behaving aggressively, there’s usually a reason for it.”
Most of the time crows are just protecting their young and want people to leave, she said.
“If there’s something big and scary threatening your offspring, wouldn’t you want to hunt them down any way you can?”
John Marzluff, a well-known American avian researcher, author and specialist in corvid behavior, argues that the raven’s undeserved and disturbing reputation as a harbinger of disaster is rooted in centuries-old perceptions.
“The idea of a group calling themselves a murder crow is probably because they feed on dead animals – they are scavengers,” Marzluff said, “including dead people in Europe in the Middle Ages, they therefore became an omen of bad luck or death.”
Although not actually deadly, birds can be annoying, he said.
“They can have a lot of problems. They tear up our trash, spit it out and poop a lot in places we don’t want them to,” Marzluff said. “And you know, it’s not a quiet bird.”
But they are charismatic and intelligent people who many people find intriguing, he said.
Crows have adapted and thrive on living in close contact with humans, especially in urban environments, Marzluff said, adding that by cutting down coniferous forests on the Pacific coast, we’ve shaped the environment to benefit birds.
Additionally, we regularly interact with crows, and they exhibit similar social behavior to humans, which makes them very close, he added.
“And they’re smart and smart, of course, and they do different things that surprise us.”
One of the reasons crows do well alongside humans is their ability to adapt and learn things as well as remember them, he said.
“It is their ability to know the dangers and to react appropriately to them that allows them to live with us,” he said.
Windows are the second killer of most birds (next to cats), but crows rarely hit them, he added.
Crows will see other injured or injured birds through windows, humans, or cars, and will respond to alarm sounded by family members or peers.
In experiments with individuals the crows have experienced and identified as dangerous, the birds growl at the threat and others join in, he said.
“They believe he’s a dangerous person and I have to be careful and probably sound the alarm the next time I see him alone,” Marzluff said.
Threatening individuals can be identified long after the birds that actually experienced the negative interactions are present.
Crows also learn beneficial behaviors, with some breeds like the New Caledonian Crow regularly using tools in the wild.
“They solve problems, learn to use new foods and new places to nest,” he said.
KISS OF CROWS
Crows also demonstrate sophisticated communication, he added.
“The noise they make, we often think is just kind of annoying,” Marzluff said. “But crows have a very extensive vocabulary…with lots of different calls that mean different things.”
Scoldings can signal danger, soft calls promote bonding, while others help locate each other, coordinate action, or chase away strangers.
“Each crow’s voice is unique, like ours, and they raise or lower the pitch, pitch of their voice, depending on their motivation, anger or fear,” Marzluff said. “There’s a lot of variability in that noise, which conveys a lot of information, just like we do. [when talking].”
The birds are also known to collect trinkets or shiny objects — such as rings, fishing lures or pieces of glass — and sometimes leave them for humans who feed them, he said.
It may be a habit they enjoy because of success in their environment.
“Crows are good at what they do, so they have free time,” Marzluff said, adding that many other animals are constantly preoccupied with food or survival.
“They live in rich areas with lots of food and have time to have fun, so they pick up interesting things.”
Young birds may be testing whether objects can be eaten or used for something, he added.
People are also really drawn to the crows’ expression, he added.
“They’re looking at you and you can kind of read their intent, although I think a lot of times we don’t do that accurately,” he said. “But we have a feeling that this bird looks sad. Or this bird looks naughty, or this one is begging for food.
“Anyway, we kind of read these cues in crows, which a lot of other birds don’t, which just seem static.”
Wilson says people around the world have responded to his images of crows with their own photos, memories and experiences. “So many amazing, incredible stories have been shared with me,” she said.
Some even write to say that his photos of crows have changed the way they view birds for the better.
“It’s still the highest praise I can receive,” she said. “I think it’s really important for people to understand these animals.”
— Canadian National Observer