February 18, 2013

Although smart, crows can be a nuisance


---- — At this time of year, there isn’t the wide variety of birds here in the North Country that we see during the spring, summer and fall.

Many have migrated to less-severe climes. One of the exceptions is the crow. I have noticed large flocks of them in trees, fields and along the roads and highways. We all recognize them by sight and by their familiar “caw.”

Crows belong in the corvid family, as do ravens, jays and magpies. They may be present in any area where they have access to food, shelter and enough trees that are suitable for nesting. They will eat whatever is available; insects, snails, fish, the eggs or nestlings of other birds, fruit, nuts, vegetables, garbage and carrion. While eating, one crow may act as a sentry to alert the others of any approaching threat.

In the evening, you may see hundreds of crows together in the tops of trees. As creepy as it may seem to those of us who have watched too many horror movies, the crows are actually grouping to sleep together, or roost. This phenomenon is not uncommon to some species of birds. It generally begins in the fall and becomes commonplace in the winter. It may have to do with nearby food sources, suitable trees for roosting or safety in numbers. The greatest threats to adult crows are humans and owls.

I remember seeing a documentary years ago about a crow that was using a wire to get a grub from the bottom of a deep, narrow container. After failing in its attempts to spear the grub, it bent the end of the wire into a hook shape and snagged it right away. Every time I see a flock of crows, I think of that crow and how it seemed to think of a solution to the problem it faced. Not “bird-brained” at all, crows actually have a large brain for their size and are known to adapt rapidly to changing conditions or circumstances. They will sometimes drop a nut on a hard surface to crack the shell, or even put it in the roadway and wait for a car to run over it.

You may find crows to be a nuisance. Perhaps they chase smaller birds from your feeders or “dive-bomb” family members or pets when they have eggs or young in a nearby nest. In the spring and fall, we get quite a few calls about crows tearing up lawns. The crows are actually digging for grubs that are under the sod. They can certainly make a mess of your lawn, but I personally prefer them to the skunks that do exactly the same thing. If I am going to have holes in my lawn from critters digging grubs, I prefer not to have an aroma to go with them. You may feel differently, although I somehow doubt it. 

On Saturday, Feb. 23, we will be offering a free program entitled “Planning Your Spring Garden” at West Chazy Library. In addition, our popular “Food from the Farm” event will be held on Saturday, March 2. Call 561-7450 for information or to purchase tickets.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or