Why do they call them Counting Crows?
Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton
Indeed the crow is common, but never underestimate its abilities. The correct name is American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and it is entirely black except for its brown eyes. Studies of these very intelligent birds show that they can actually count, solve simple puzzles, learn symbols and retain information. They also hoard treasures like shells, coloured pebbles and shiny objects. They enjoy eating snails and cleverly break the mollusks’ shells by dropping them on rocks from above.
Ernest Thompson Seton wrote an amazing, true tale about a crow named ‘Silverspot’ in his anthology, “Wild Animals I Have Known”. In the late 19th century, Silverspot (so named for a nickel-sized white patch on one cheek) resided on a pine-clad hill near Toronto’s Castle Frank for more than twenty years! According to Seton, the crow was ‘always on duty’ and ‘ready for the attack’.
One day the author was out walking along the railroad track when he noticed an approaching flock of crows, with Silverspot in the lead. When they were quite near, Seton raised his closed umbrella slightly. Silverspot gave a quick “Caw!” and the flock rose immediately out of gun range. This scene was repeated on several occasions. Soon the crows were wise to the trick and began to ignore Seton. However, when he changed the umbrella to a rifle, the effect was instant as the flock swooped to greater heights. Seton states that a crow can tell who is more dangerous; the farmer’s son or his daughter. Obviously, the son is more likely to be wielding a gun.
Crows take great pleasure in harassing large predators like hawks and owls. A lead crow will call gangs together, sometimes numbering up to two hundred, to chase and pester the larger birds, subsequently driving them from their own territory.
Fergus the yellow Labrador and I were on an early morning meander at the back of our property during the Christmas holidays. From the edge of the deciduous forest I heard a raucous low-pitched “caw!” immediately followed by a higher-pitched “caw, caw-caw!” from some distance away. Then I spotted the red-tailed hawk, minding his own business as he soared loftily over our heads. He was likely hunting for mice or bunnies. Suddenly one of the marauding crows came in from behind like a jet fighter zeroing in on its target. The second attacker plummeted from above, causing the hawk to dodge and weave to escape the two pests, who had obviously planned their little game at the expense of the unsuspecting raptor. The last I saw of them was three tiny specks disappearing into the distance at the horizon.
Night brings a new threat to the crow. They do not see well in the dark and can fall prey to the sharp-eyed owl. Ernest Thompson Seton knew old Silverspot for twenty years. His clever feathered friend came to a sad end one night when a great-horned owl dragged him off his perch as he slept. Seton found the bloody remains the next morning. He knew it was Silverspot when he turned over the head to reveal the white patch on the cheek. The tell-tale double-toed tracks of a great-horned owl were scattered in the turf.