2010-07-01 / Community

Crows contribute to the local ecosystem

By Nancy Needham

EXPLOSION OF CROWS—Crows are filling the treetops. A wetter winter created a plentiful food supply, so the number of crows has increased. The large black birds mate for life and work cooperatively to keep up with demands from their chicks. Crows are intelligent birds that coexist with humans in metropolitan habitats, and they help the environment by removing carrion. DAVID NEEDHAM/Special to the Acorn EXPLOSION OF CROWS—Crows are filling the treetops. A wetter winter created a plentiful food supply, so the number of crows has increased. The large black birds mate for life and work cooperatively to keep up with demands from their chicks. Crows are intelligent birds that coexist with humans in metropolitan habitats, and they help the environment by removing carrion. DAVID NEEDHAM/Special to the Acorn The number of crows in Southern California is growing.

The large, shiny black birds have made their presence known in Thousand Oaks.

“Just like everything else in the whole wide world, the number of crows continues to grow as long as there’s a food source. That’s why there’s a boom in the population cycle,” said conservation biologist Reese Halter, California Lutheran University professor.

Crows eat nuts, berries and dead animals.

“They are not selective. They are fairly ruthless. They will eat baby birds or whatever they will find,” Halter said.

Their physical makeup limits what they can eat.

“They, unlike birds of prey, don’t have hooked beaks or talons (to) tear apart other animals,” the biologist said.

Hawks and owls can swoop down and catch small animals for dinner. Crows have to wait until other animals are finished with their prey before they can eat.

But the crow has a special weapon.

“Crows are very, very intelligent creatures—just under the intelligence of a dolphin— smarter than dogs or coyotes,” Halter said.

With a large brain for its size, the crow solves problems on the go and knows how to use tools, he said.

A crow can take a twig or a rock and use it. Not many animals are smart enough to do that.

Crows have been recorded in a laboratory bending a wire into the shape of a hook and using it to fish food out of a cylinder.

The bird will drop rocks on a coyote or squawk to get its attention. Then the crow will show the predator where prey is. When the wild canine is finished with its meal, the crow will fly down and clean up, Halter said.

“Crows absolutely work with coyotes,” he said. Crows also mate for life and work together to give their chicks the great deal of attention they require.

“They are big and talkative, wily, impish rascals. I love them,” said Halter, who’s worked 30 years as a field scientist around the world.

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