Crows and ravens make their nests in trees, although ravens are known
to use rock ledges, and abandoned buildings, in some instances. Most crows
construct their nests with sticks, and mud, lining it with all sorts of
materials including strips of bark, wool, and hair. They usually lay from three to six eggs in the spring of the year. Ranging in colour from bluish green to greenish
white, the eggs may be mottled, speckled, or blotched with brown or gray. Both
sexes may incubate the eggs, although it is primarily the female who does
this. As well, it is likely that both parents feed the hatchlings. After
eighteen days, the young birds emerge from their shells, and it will be another thirty-five before they acquire the feathers necessary for flight.
Crows get around! They are widely distributed throughout the world,
with the exception of South America, New Zealand, and a number of oceanic
islands. While other species are much more localized in North America, the common crow occurs continent wide. The crow is smart and has
the ability to avoid humans or other creatures who intend to do them harm. Not
only are crows smart enough to avoid such harm, there are also recorded
instances of crows and ravens using tools! For example, ravens have been known
to use stones or rocks to defend their nests, and crows will drop shellfish on
rocks or the hard surface of roads to break them open.
Tony Angell12 tells a remarkable story about a carrion crow of northern Europe, who
apparently was able to employ human tools to secure a meal. The crow had
watched men ice fishing, hauling lines with fish, rebaiting hooks, and
waiting for flags to "snap-up" signalling a "strike". On one occasion,
when a strike happened, the crow flew down, secured the line in its beak, and pulled at it while retreating from the hole. Before long it dropped the line, and
walked back over it to the opening in the ice. The crow kept its weight
on the line to prevent it from running back into the water. Taking the
line in beak, again, the crow retreated until the fish was brought out onto the ice, where it was devoured.
Some ornithologists believe the corvids are the most highly evolved
family of birds. Robert Powell writes that "Corvids have the largest cerebral
hemispheres, relative to their body size, of all birds."13 Irene M. Pepperberg, is of the opinion that they are indeed marvellously intelligent,
and in the same league with mynas and parrots.14 This intelligence is easily observed from crows in the wilderness. However, when living with one, an even greater appreciation is gained. They
are capable of adjusting very well to new circumstances or environmental
changes, can learn to express themselves vocally, or in other ways, to
humans, and have a good appetite for cucumbers! All those things, and
more, you will discover in the remainder of this book.