At a theme park in France trained crows are showing humans not to litter. At least that’s one of the ideas behind teaching crows to pick up cigarette butts at Puy du Fou.
The historical theme park in Les Epresses, France has falconers who conduct live bird shows featuring falcons, owls, vultures and crows. One day one of the crows picked up litter instead of the prop he was cued for. The crowd was impressed.
Management was impressed too so now they have six trained crows who pick up cigarette butts in exchange for a treat.
The crows love their job. Their trainer says they’d do it all day if you let them. Click here or on the image below to watch the crows in action.
Last week in Newfoundland our birding tour witnessed an amazing bird interaction when a merlin attacked a big black corvid in the air. It happened so fast that we had to think hard about the birds’ identities.
Yes the attacker was a merlin — a small, streaky dark, very fast falcon that made this sound as it attacked. (Xeno-canto XC332445: alarm calls of merlin pair recorded by Pritam Baruah in Churchill, MB, August 2016)
But was the big black bird a crow or a raven?
Fellow traveler Trina Anderson captured the action with her camera. Before we saw her photos we could only identify the corvid by size and behavior. We decided “raven” based on the relative size of the two birds and the behavior of the raven.
Merlins are 2/3 the size of a crow but less than half the size of a raven. Overhead the merlin was tiny compared to the bird it attacked, so it had to be a raven. Trina’s photos show the size difference.
The black bird barely flapped during the interaction and it flipped upside down in flight (see the last photo). Crows flap hard when they’re under attack and they don’t fly upside down.
During the fight it was hard to see the diagnostic field mark — the tail — but Trina’s next photo shows the corvid has a wedge-shaped tail. That means “raven.”
It’s hard to tell ravens from crows unless you have some practice. Get tips on how to tell them apart in this 3 minute video from The Raven Diaries: Ravens vs Crows, they’re different!
I love ravens, not only because they’re really smart but because they’re great acrobatic fliers. They show off to impress each other.
Ravens live a long time — 30 to 40 years — and don’t breed until they’re 2-4 years old. In their first few years they hang out in flocks, get to know other ravens, and choose a mate for life.
Part of getting to know each other includes playing in the sky. When they’ve chosen a mate they make courtship flights together — swooping and diving, soaring with wingtips touching, locking toes and tumbling in the sky.
Have you ever seen ravens tumble? It’s rare to see in western Pennsylvania because we don’t have big flocks of ravens but they’re easy to find in winter in California.
Is a flock of 15,000 crows a burden or an opportunity? At the University of Washington, Bothell it’s an opportunity for a groundbreaking study on crow communication.
Every year from fall to spring, 15,000 crows gather on campus on the way to their roost in the North Creek Wetlands. These gatherings are their noisiest time of day.
Crows are intelligent so chances are good that they’re saying something meaningful — but no one knows what it is.
Last year UW Bothell biologist Douglas Wacker and acoustics expert Shima Abadi decided to team up and find out. Working with a group of students, they tested audio equipment and the crows’ reactions to it. They also wrote software to find the most interesting parts of the crow conversations so researchers don’t have to wade through hours of recorded caws to find the best parts.
Setting up the equipment was not as simple as you’d think. Crows are wary of changes in their surroundings so audio equipment was introduced carefully on the rooftop of Discovery Hall, a building where the crows congregate. By the time this photo was taken, the crows were cool with four audio rigs on the roof.
This winter Wacker, Abadi and their team of students will learn more about crow communication and pair it with video to determine who’s saying what.
Tonight is the night of the Supermoon, a full moon at perigee that looks 14% bigger and 30% brighter than normal.
What will you see by moonlight on Pitt’s campus tonight, clustered at the treetops like large black leaves?
Thousands of crows.
Despite the weird scarecrow sounds played from the buildings, Pittsburgh’s winter crow flock continues to roost in the mature trees surrounding the Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel.
On Friday I tried to count them by the light of the moon. They were clustered in 30 trees and on the roof of Carnegie Museum. The densest trees held 300 crows.
Could there really be 9,000 crows in the area of Forbes, Fifth, Bellefield and Bigelow Avenues? Maybe I over counted. Last year I estimated 230 crows per tree making this total 6,900 crows on December 1 at 6:15pm.
What is their fascination with the University of Pittsburgh? It isn’t the buildings. It isn’t the lawn. It’s the well lit trees.
Crows prefer to roost where they can see danger coming. The campus is well lit for our protection. The crows like it, too.
Alumni Hall is a good vantage point for watching crows and the moon rise next to Heinz Chapel.
Stop by this evening to see it all by the light of the supermoon.