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Clever Crows

Some have even learned to use cars to crack pecans.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Big, black and loud, American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) are often considered to be a nuisance. But birdwatcher Dorothy Cooney in Friendswood can attest to their sharp intelligence.

“In the fall, when our pecans are dropping,” she reports, “I’ve often watched crows put pecans in the street, wait for a car to run them over and crack them open. Then they dine on the pecans. Pretty smart!”

They’re also family-minded. Young crows — which typically do not breed until well past age two and beyond — stick around the nest and help their parents raise more crows. Some may stay as long as four or five years before mating and starting their own family.

Highly protective, crows caw raucously to warn their family and other wildlife of danger. Such alerts attract fellow crows to the scene, especially if someone’s sighted an owl or hawk. For several minutes, crows will “mob” their target and continue screaming until the predator flies away.

In the fall and winter, crows gather in large communal roosts. Though their numbers are smaller in Texas, these roosts can contain a million or more crows in northeastern parts of the United States. Biologists speculate that such large numbers discourage predators and allow birds to tell one another about great dining opportunities.

Speaking of food, crows are omnivorous. They eat just about anything, including insects, grain, worms, amphibians, reptiles, nestlings, mice, fruit, bird eggs, garbage and roadkill.

Crows belong to the Corvidae family, along with jays, magpies and ravens. They’re sometimes confused with ravens, which are larger with a heavier bill and wedge-shaped tail. Another difference: Crows caw; ravens croak.

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