Birds · Mammals

Is It A Murder?


I found a rather sad situation in my garden this week. A crow was lying dead and judging from the condition it had not been there long. It looked to be in good condition. It wasn’t obviously sick, so I have no idea what happened to it.

DSC_7192crow in meadow

I couldn’t leave it there, so I put on gloves and moved it to the middle of the meadow where I figured some animal would find a meal. I put the trail cam on it, wondering if a turkey vulture would venture down.

WGI_0008deer with crow

A couple of deer did come to investigate that night, but there were no scavengers looking for an easy meal. I have left the camera in place this week, so we will have to wait and see if anyone does venture along while we are away.

A number of animals: elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, jays and magpies show more than a passing interest in a dead animal of their own species. While we were working in the woods, in view of our friend, a couple of crows flew over and stopped to pay their respects. A group of crows is called a murder, but it might be artistic licence to call just two crows a murder! The sound they made was really quite moving. It was a different cry and they had obviously noticed their lost buddy. The notion of crow funerals has been known for some time, but some scientists claim that it is just vigilance to learn about predators and if there is a threat where the death occurred, so they can avoid it in the future.

Crows are highly intelligent, can solve puzzles and use tools. They have been documented using a cup to carry water over to a bowl of dry mash, shaping a piece of wood to stick in a hole to reach food and breaking off pieces of pine cone to drop on tree climbers near a nest.

These social birds have a number of similar traits to us humans. Their brains are huge for their body size. Crows mate for life, associate with relatives and nest together in communities. The whole family cooperates to raise their young. They congregate in large numbers in the winter to sleep in communal roosts. There can be anywhere between a few hundred up to two million crows in one roost! Some roosts have been in the same area for well over 100 years.

Crows will work together and are able to think, plan and learn from their actions. They will also work together mobbing, to harass or drive off predators. Apparently they even drink coffee and beer!

Studies with researchers wearing masks show that crows hold grudges and remember faces of humans who mistreated them, even after years have passed. Not only will a crow remember you if you get on the wrong side of it, but they are likely to tell their friends about you too! They teach others to scold loudly at a certain face and the whole community of crows will scold at that face even several years later!

Crows will avoid the territories where a dead crow was found, so it will be interesting to note if we see less crows around now. Having said that, we really haven’t had that many, so I doubt if we would actually notice much of a reduction in numbers.

What we have noticed a reduction in numbers are the turkey vultures. We didn’t see any flying overhead at the weekend and only one on our journey too and from the cottage. I guess it is getting late in the season and they are flying south. That isn’t great timing if I am hopeful about seeing them in action with the crow. What I would really like is for the lynx to find it. They do scavenge and eat carrion and they don’t head south for the winter, so lack of turkey vultures could work to my advantage… I will just have to wait and see!


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