It’s a bird-eat-bird world on Capitol Hill, a fact you can see for yourself if you keep an eye on the crows. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen crows dive-bombing an eagle and I’ve also seen swallows dive-bombing a crow. What’s going on here?
Crows, as you probably know, are the large black birds that make that harsh caw-caw outside your window at the crack of dawn. They get involved in those midair interspecies brawls when they feel threatened, or when other birds feel threatened by them.
Songbirds birds mob crows because crows are opportunistic feeders. That means they eat pretty much anything: an unattended warbler egg, a baby owl, an unwary an unwary chickadee—or, yes, your garbage.
Crows, meanwhile, mob larger birds and anything else they feel is a threat to them, their eggs, or their young. If they dive-bomb you, there’s probably an active nest or vulnerable bird nearby. It can be an unsettling experience, so if possible, give crow nests a wide berth. If you must enter a nest area, your best bet is to wave your arms slowly overhead. This should make the crows wary enough to maintain a slight distance.
Many people don’t like crows, but they’re among the most adaptable and intelligent birds on earth. They can recognize individual people and remember faces for years. They’re tool-using animals, known for behaviors like dropping nuts into the street to be cracked by the tires of passing cars. They pass information on between groups and to offspring. In short, they’re pretty cool — even if they do wake you up in the mornings.
Interested in learning more?
- For information and fun facts, check out the American crow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You may also want to look up recordings of both crow species at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds.
- Here’s a great TED talk about crow intelligence, including a description of how the speaker, Joshua Klein, trained crows to use a vending machine.
- This PBS documentary, A Murder of Crows, features University of Washington research on crows’ ability to recognize human faces and pass information among groups.
- For serious bird nerds, here’s a detailed discussion of the most current research on species classification of crows from our region.
Previous Aviary Posts
- Swallows pursue unlicensed construction project beneath 520 bridge
- Hill welcomes avian arrivals from the tropics
- An update on the owls of Interlaken
Melissa Koosmann is a freelance writer and resident of Capitol Hill. She writes about education, culture, gardening and nature — and, sometimes, birds for CHS.