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This Week’s Creature Feature: Ravens and Crows

These birds are cunning, intelligent and ruthless
      The Corvid family includes some of the world’s smartest animals, among them crows and ravens.
      The common raven and common crow are able to solve multiple-step problems, delay gratification, use money. And they have a large vocabulary.
They are better at solving problems than a four-year-old child. Given a tall beaker of water with a piece of food floating out of reach, a raven can use a twig to push stones out of a box, then drop the stones into the beaker to raise the water level.
       They have been taught how to use tokens as money to exchange for treats and will choose a token used for a favorite snack over a less desired piece of food that they could have immediately. They also will barter and can identify when they have been cheated and refuse to continue bartering with the researchers that cheated them.
      In the wild, they can recognize individual people for years and reward people for paying attention to them. A young girl in Seattle began putting food out for local crows; they in turn left her shiny trinkets. She has several years of treats left by the birds.   
       In Maryland, common crows seem to be everywhere. They are often gathered in groups of four or more. Often, they gang up on hawks and owls. I use complaining crows to help me find owls to photograph.
      The fish crow is also common in Maryland. It looks like a smaller version of the common crow but has a distinctive voice.
      The common raven is more a western bird, but some have spread to the East Coast. They are skilled soaring flyers and have home ranges of 100 square miles. The large birds have a raspy harsh voice, a big aquiline beak, large finger-like flight feathers and a rounded tail. For several years now, a pair of ravens has nested near the Anacostia River.  
      Crows and ravens are omnivores and opportunists. They will eat fish, small mammals, birds and eggs. They will steal food from other animals.
      The raven you see here is a male from Yellowstone National Park. When I shot the picture, he had just stolen food from a grizzly bear and fed it to his female companion. Thus his proud puffed-up pose.
      Despite their vicious reputation, these birds can make good but mischievous pets. They certainly do not need to be fed in the wild but really like the grape jelly meant for orioles.