Seattle girl bonds with crows who give her gifts in return for food

There is some more bird news today, and this is at once fascinating and heartwarming. The BBC News reports that an eight-year-old girl in Seattle, Gabi Mann, is in a reciprocal trade relationship—one might call it “affection”—with a bunch of local crows. And it’s been going on for four years, since Gabi was four.  I can’t help reproducing a lot of the tale.  The BBC report starts like this:

Eight-year-old Gabi Mann sets a bead storage container on the dining room table, and clicks the lid open. This is her most precious collection.

“You may take a few close looks,” she says, “but don’t touch.” It’s a warning she’s most likely practised on her younger brother. She laughs after saying it though. She is happy for the audience.

Inside the box are rows of small objects in clear plastic bags. One label reads: “Black table by feeder. 2:30 p.m. 09 Nov 2014.” Inside is a broken light bulb. Another bag contains small pieces of brown glass worn smooth by the sea. “Beer coloured glass,” as Gabi describes it.

Each item is individually wrapped and categorised. Gabi pulls a black zip out of a labelled bag and holds it up. “We keep it in as good condition as we can,” she says, before explaining this object is one of her favourites.

There’s a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip, a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold.

She didn’t gather this collection. Each item was a gift – given to her by crows.

She holds up a pearl coloured heart. It is her most-prized present. “It’s showing me how much they love me.”

Here are the crow gifts sorted and arranged. The heart is at upper right:

_81210316_gifts-purple-624

_81210317_gifts-in-boxes-624

How it began:

Gabi’s relationship with the neighbourhood crows began accidentally in 2011. She was four years old, and prone to dropping food. She’d get out of the car, and a chicken nugget would tumble off her lap. A crow would rush in to recover it. Soon, the crows were watching for her, hoping for another bite.

As she got older, she rewarded their attention, by sharing her packed lunch on the way to the bus stop. Her brother joined in. Soon, crows were lining up in the afternoon to greet Gabi’s bus, hoping for another feeding session.

. . . In 2013, Gabi and [her mother] Lisa started offering food as a daily ritual, rather than dropping scraps from time to time.

Gabi and her mom:

_81210320_gabiyoungwithlisa624

And then the relationship became reciprocal:

Each morning, they fill the backyard birdbath with fresh water and cover bird-feeder platforms with peanuts. Gabi throws handfuls of dog food into the grass. As they work, crows assemble on the telephone lines, calling loudly to them.

It was after they adopted this routine that the gifts started appearing.

The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray; an earring, a hinge, a polished rock. There wasn’t a pattern. Gifts showed up sporadically – anything shiny and small enough to fit in a crow’s mouth.

One time it was a tiny piece of metal with the word “best” printed on it. “I don’t know if they still have the part that says ‘friend’,” Gabi laughs, amused by the thought of a crow wearing a matching necklace.

When you see Gabi’s collection, it’s hard not to wish for gift-giving crows of your own.

“If you want to form a bond with a crow, be consistent in rewarding them,” advises John Marzluff, professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. [JAC: That goes for human relationships, too!] He specialises in birds, particularly crows and ravens.

The Science Men also recommend feeding peanuts to crows if you want to bond with them: it’s a high-energy food and makes noise when you throw it, so the crows know it’s there.

_81210315_gabiwithbirds624

Gabi with some of her birds

 

So what is going on here? My first thought was this is co-opting a normal behavior of crows—perhaps giving nuptial gifts to mates. I haven’t been able to find any reference, though, to crows doing that. Still, the Science Men who were consulted suggest it’s a cooption of nuptial feeding behavior:

Marzluff, and his colleague Mark Miller, did a study of crows and the people who feed them. They found that crows and people form a very personal relationship. “There’s definitely a two-way communication going on there,” Marzluff says. “They understand each other’s signals.”

The birds communicate by how they fly, how close they walk, and where they sit. The human learns their language and the crows learn their feeder’s patterns and posture. They start to know and trust each other. Sometimes a crow leaves a gift.

But crow gifts are not guaranteed. “I can’t say they always will (give presents),” Marzluff admits, having never received any gifts personally, “but I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people.”

Not all crows deliver shiny objects either. Sometimes they give the kind of presents “they would give to their mate”, says Marzluff. “Courtship feeding, for example. So some people, their presents are dead baby birds that the crow brings in.”

Well, I prefer to think of it as reciprocal affection, as does Gabi. You can see a video of her feeding her crows at the BBC site.

Gabi points out a heavily rusted screw she prefers not to touch. It’s labelled “Third Favorite.” Asking her why an untouchable object is in the favourites, she answers, “You don’t see a crow carrying around a screw that much. Unless it’s trying to build its house.”

Lisa, Gabi’s mom, regularly photographs the crows and charts their behaviour and interactions. Her most amazing gift came just a few weeks ago, when she lost a lens cap in a nearby alley while photographing a bald eagle as it circled over the neighbourhood.

She didn’t even have to look for it. It was sitting on the edge of the birdbath.

Had the crows returned it? Lisa logged on to her computer and pulled up their bird-cam. There was the crow she suspected. “You can see it bringing it into the yard. Walks it to the birdbath and actually spends time rinsing this lens cap.”

“I’m sure that it was intentional,” she smiles. “They watch us all the time. I’m sure they knew I dropped it. I’m sure they decided they wanted to return it.”

Well, who’s to say they’re wrong? Perhaps the crows do regard Gabi and Lisa as members of their murder, who will give them more noms if they bring her presents.  I won’t go so far as to say that the crows feel a form of “affection” for Gabi, but is reciprocal present-giving to specific individuals not close to affection?

And wouldn’t it be awesome if Gabi grew up to be an ornithologist, or someone like Bernd Heinrich who studies corvids?

I’ve posted on crows and ravens before; they’re highly intelligent, curious, and mischievous. That’s shown by this video (from the Daily Mail) showing a crow going after one of those odious sausage d*gs, who deserves it by virtue of being a sausage dog:

h/t: Larry

75 Comments

  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I would love to be part of a murder (of crows). Awww sausage dogs aren’t odious. My aunt lived next door to one in California named Roxie so I called her “Roxie the Doxie”.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      The little 4-legged sausages are really nice d*gs. I am sorry for what we did to them re selective breeding for stubby legs.

      • Marella
        Posted February 28, 2015 at 12:12 am | Permalink

        It’s not their fault they’ve been over-bred.

        • Posted February 28, 2015 at 9:14 am | Permalink

          They are geneally very sweet dogs: 2 dogs long and half a dog high.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Oh, yes they are!

    • Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Every wiener d*g I’ve known has been an excellent d*g.

  2. marksolock
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  3. Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Cor!

    /@

  4. Delphin
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Very nice.
    My own story is a bit sadder. I have been feeding a small but lively and curious wild black cat — I named it Pyewacket — that lives in the nature sanctuary outside my door. Many days it would wait for me and usually has its face in the food within minutes. But after our latest cold snap I have not seen it in a week, and the food left out goes uneaten most days (there are pet cats in the complex who horn in sometimes, and I think they explain the little bit that has been eaten.) 😦

    • darrelle
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:28 am | Permalink

      Sorry to hear that. I hope Pyewacket is doing okay. Perhaps he ended up at the pound or something like that?

  5. Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I think I’m on a migration route for some ravens…every several months there’ll be one or two in the neighborhood for a day or two, but that’s it. I really wish they stayed longer…gorgeous birds….

    b&

    • Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Ravens, in particular, are really amazing to me. Much more so than crows, they seem to enjoy interacting with humans.

      I used to spend almost all my free time in the Cascade Mountains near Seattle. Whenever I saw a raven (they were much rarer than crows, which are extremely abundant), I would do my best to mimic the gurgling call of the raven.

      Very often, they would “talk” back and forth with me, sometimes for minutes. And they often would fly around me (orbiting) to stay in contact. And they would sometimes do a wing-roll as they called back to me. (Fold in one wing and spin a roll about their long axis.)

      Absolutely charming beasts.

      • Posted February 27, 2015 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        There are some folks who think that ravens (and to a lesser extent other corvids like crows) and wolves are sort of symbionts to humans, complementing our traditional hunting and what not. I don’t know whether that’s justified, but wolves and ravens are found in mythology from many places, and certainly have a wide habitat.

        • Minus
          Posted February 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          In his book _Mind of the Raven_, Bernard Heinrich describes how ravens in Yellowstone Park have been observed working in tandem with the wolves. The ravens act as scouts and circle over possible prey, the wolves spot the circling ravens and move in for the kill. After the wolves are done eating, the ravens move in and fill up on the leftovers.

          • Marella
            Posted February 28, 2015 at 12:14 am | Permalink

            That’s a great book.

    • Mark Reaume
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      My home town is in the path of two major migration routes. At peak times they estimate some 20 million crows were in the region. They spent quite a bit of money to ‘deal’ with the problem but eventually gave up.

      • Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        I would think that the proper way to deal with the “problem” would be to turn it into a tourism cash cow. Get the local chamber of commerce involved, and, before you know it, you’ll have people…er…flocking there to see the birds, arts festivals, the works.

        b&

      • Mark Reaume
        Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        That estimate may be exagerated :-/

  6. Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Very sweeeet. It could be gratitude, maybe even affection, and definitely intelligence — the trading and conditioning thing. Maybe Gabi’s crows have figured out that it cuts both ways.

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I recommend they do an experiment by dropping a small article somewhere in view of their crows, then looking for its return.

  8. Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I have to say those are pretty crappy ‘presents’ I would throw them back in their faces and say “bring me gold and jewels you damn birds!”

    • EvolvedDutchie
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      If you do that, the birds might respond with “Nevermore!”

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      That is what he did.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Some presents are crappier than others.

      My wife and I feed a thrush family which has made our property its territory. In return they leave poop on the front gate, front steps and, when one followed me inside as I went to get some food for it, the lounge.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted March 3, 2015 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        What a bunch of little turds!

  9. John Dickinson
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    How do we know that the birds have the intention of reciprocating, and that the “behaviour” is not just offloading of something they’ve held onto for some other reason? For example, a bird’s brain may be tuned to notice stuff that is “designed” (designoid) and not random pieces of rock and earth. That heuristic would be good for identifying food (e.g. beetles). Some beetles may be quite hard. Some birds are known to drop crabs from a large height to get them to break. An attraction to designed things may also be a spandrel. The point is that with a lot of birds visiting the table, some are going to have an inedible thing in their beak. That thing is going to be dropped in favour of real food. The rotting crab claw is a good example. The bird may have won that in a fight over it, and is flying to get away from the competition (or back to a nest), but stops off at the bird table to have a look and sees better stuff available, dropping the rotten claw.

    As for picking up the lens cap? The birds have learnt that the folk around there drop food for them. They pick up the cap in anticipation (and they’re not going to hang around prodding at it to test if it’s really food since their behaviour will be to rush off with the spoil to avoid the competition). Having picked up the cap they my then head to the bird table anyway (habit) and may wash it since they’re expecting it to be food but it’s not being very food like so another habit may be to try and get at the food element in some other manner (they may have long experience of picking up human spoils which often have wrappers etc).

    It may be wishful thinking akin to seeing “design” and the supernatural.

    • John Dickinson
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Plus… what would real reciprocation look like? Leaving FOOD when there is none on the table. Not leaving random pieces of shiny stuff. Do we really think the crows have some kind of idea that we want that hard useless (to them) stuff but not food? Come ON people FFS.

      • Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        Come on, yourself. Some birds collect and use bright shiny objects. Jays and corvids are known to do this. These things are very unusual in the environment. Maybe they are valued for this reason. Same reason gold and silver is valuable to us. We can’t eat it. For intelligent creatures, food isn’t everything!

        • Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Yeah, and don’t forget the bowerbirds, who try to attract females by decorating their nests with human artifacts like clothespins and gum wrappers.

          • John Dickinson
            Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:39 am | Permalink

            A good point! So… once rarity is valued (why? – see my reply to the reply to which you’re replying) the ability to identify and fetch those valued items is becomes more adaptive because it impresses partners. So, using this explanation, the birds are enacting a behaviour that is one which is designed (designoid) to impress – not to reciprocate.

            • John Dickinson
              Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

              But I still favour the dropping-in-favour-of explanation. It’s more parsimonious.

              • Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:03 am | Permalink

                That is a nice possible explanation, I agree. My response was aimed at your second comment, your claim that food would be the only sensible medium for reciprocation (or for signalling affection or for trying to get the attention of the food-distributor).

          • Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:58 am | Permalink

            Jerry, yes indeed, and they are closely related to crows and jays!

          • Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

            Yes, I was just going to point out Bowerbirds!

            Crows are smart and they must have noticed by now how Gabi picks up their offerings and keeps them. It would be interesting if the folks could find out which crows bring the prettier stuff (or who brings what).

            • John Dickinson
              Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:17 am | Permalink

              “Must have”?

              And you’ve defaulted to the “offering” explanation without allowing for the possibility of the “just jettisoning stuff” explanation.

              • Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                The way you keep pounding on this “just jettisoning stuff” “explanation”…I gotta wonder…are you somehow under the impression that crows are in the habit of picking up useless stuff, carrying it with them as they go about their business, and then dropping it only when they feed?

                Do you think they have little crow fanny packs that they keep this stuff in?

                b&

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted February 27, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

                Exactly Ben!

              • Posted February 27, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

                The operative word is “noticed”. Crows are very observant and have good memory, so yes, they must have noticed, after all this time, the pattern in Gabi’s behaviour.

        • John Dickinson
          Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:31 am | Permalink

          Yes, some birds collect and use bright shiny objects. But why? You suggest the objects are valued purely for their rarity. But why would unusual be valued? I’ve suggested its heuristic value as well as suggesting it may be a spandrel linked to that heuristic. What remains is the question as to why they would reciprocate with non-food rather than food (we like food too)?

          If you can answer that question, what remains is a decision as to the likelihood of my explanation (stuff being jettisoned in favour of actual food) vs leaving it as a gift. On the basis of parsimony I favour my explanation and the onus is on those favouring the less parsimonious explanation to justify it.

          • Posted February 27, 2015 at 11:41 am | Permalink

            “The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray”. This COULD be read to mean that the gifts appear after the feeding. The mention of the empty tray suggests this reading. If this is how it happens, it disproves your explanation.

          • winewithcats
            Posted February 28, 2015 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

            Why should they reciprocate with food to someone who clearly enjoys an excess already?

      • darrelle
        Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        “We” don’t know, certainly if by that you mean “for sure.” Your speculations are likewise unknown. What makes you think your speculations have any greater probability of conforming with reality? Do you have some experience in a relevant field or are you just working from your common sense? Are you familiar with any of the studies of avian cognitive abilities and avian behavior from the past decade or two?

        It might be worth noting two things, 1) this is an informal discussion, 2) more than one of the people who frequent WEIT do have experience in relevant fields including the proprietor of the website, and some have extensive experience. That of course doesn’t mean that they must be right, but it does mean that it is more probable that they have a better understanding of the possibilities.

        • John Dickinson
          Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:05 am | Permalink

          “What makes you think your speculations have any greater probability of conforming with reality?”. Parsimony.

          “Do you have some experience in a relevant field or are you just working from your common sense?”. Common sense. I’m not going to automatically bow to authority, but am very interested in the evidence and logic they can provide for explanations.

          • darrelle
            Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink

            No issues with that, I doubt many other people would either. I was just commenting on the apparent attitude displayed by . . .

            “Come ON people FFS.

            . . . given the context here.

            • John Dickinson
              Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:21 am | Permalink

              Yes, sorry. But it is ironic that Jerry’s site and interests centre around evolution, nature and the debunking of woo, yet the nice story seems to be seductive toward woo thinking.

              • winewithcats
                Posted February 28, 2015 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

                Alternatively, the story seems to suggest a more human-like level of thinking and motivation, while your explanation suggests a more animal-like level of thinking and motivation. The theory of evolution suggests that your explanation cannot be assumed as the more parsimonious.

          • Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

            The thing is, you’ve been given multiple examples of real-world cases where birds in this same family present shiny trinkets as signs of affection, and yet you still think your common sense that that couldn’t possibly happen trumps all the ornithological expertise here.

            That, and you obviously overlooked the bits of the article where the crows did leave bits of food, including some seafood that the mother had to throw away.

            b&

            • John Dickinson
              Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:28 am | Permalink

              If you look at what I’ve said, you’ll see

              a) my reasoned response to the introduction of the “signs of affection” (the adaptive nature of being able to bring shiny objects)

              b) I did take into account the leaving of food in my original post.

              I’m very willing to be convinced that the “offering” explanation is more likely. But at the moment the “jettisoning” explanation seems to me to be more parsimonious. They are competing hypotheses. Show me the evidence as to which is more likely. Note that the “jettisoning” theory doesn’t preclude that birds make “offerings” to their partners; they may be holding that offering on the way back to a nest, but jettison it in favour of food.

              • Posted February 27, 2015 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                See my comment above re “The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray”; this description from the article seems to definitively refute your hypothesis. Maybe the people involved can clarify whether the birds leave the trinkets after they clear the table.

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 28, 2015 at 2:06 am | Permalink

                How much direct experience have you had with social animals, John?

  10. Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    When I was young (12-18) I used to hunt. My parents had forest land in northern Minnesota, where we spent a lot of time. We had a cabin there.

    Crows were ubiquitous. They ignored us (except for alarm cawing when we appeared) most of the time. In fact all the time, unless we were hunting.

    Walk out the door any time, no reaction from the crows. Walk out the door with a gun in your hand — instantly the crows were gone. Same thing every time. No way to fool a crow (at least not with a gun in your hand)!

  11. Posted February 27, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    This is the best story ever!

  12. Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Wiener dogs aren’t odious!!

    • darrelle
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Maybe he meant odorous? I mean, after all they are d*gs.

  13. Posted February 27, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    This winter, we’ve had an entire murder of crows frequenting our backyard, for the noms. With their backs to the window, they rather look like big black cats in the snow!

  14. J Cook
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    those are pretty damned expensive peanuts, called cashews

  15. Posted February 27, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I chuckled at the crow biting the dachshund’s tail even though we are the happy owners of a very nice, polite, non-odious (though sometimes odorous) dachshund. The film reminded me of our wonderful cat batting and play-biting our dachshund’s waggy tail.

    Each pet sometimes act like it want to play with the other, but these species communicate the intention to play differently. This cat and dog don’t understand each other. One or the other may start to play but the other feels threatened and ends the interaction.

    • barn owl
      Posted February 27, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      A couple of mockingbirds that nest in a neighbor’s tree occasionally visit my backyard and appear to play games with my d*gs. One d*g (the Chihuahua), isn’t interested or doesn’t understand, but two of them (part sausage dog, part Pomeranian = Pomweenies) will play the “chase” game with the mockingbirds, and seem to communicate at some level. The mockingbirds often run along the top of the fence, which is 6 feet high and well out of reach for the d*gs.

      • winewithcats
        Posted February 28, 2015 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        Not Wieneranian?

  16. Steven Obrebski
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    My wife and I have been feeding crows since we moved to the Port Angeles, WA area 10 years ago. It started with a crow we called Pops who had a deformed leg and was thus easily identifiable. Pops and his mate (Lady) quickly learned that we were good for a snack and would perch on the phone lines visible from our kitchen or living room. Every year the produced one or two progeny and the crow population we were feeding increased. Pops and his lady disappeared within the last year but the rest of the family remains, about 20 of them. They get shelled peanuts, and whole wheat cooked penne, as well as various other scraps of meat or bread or other leftovers.
    One of the crows meowed like a cat and another barked like the noisy pooch next door. We just noticed some of the crows carrying sticks suggesting that the new nesting season is beginning. They look so sweet when pairs sit on the wires and preen each other. Some neighbors asked us if we catch and eat the crows. Horrors!! That would be cannibalism!

  17. kpm8
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    This could be learned behaviour passed on via the crow vending machine which first appeared on the scene in the Seattle area back in 2008
    http://www.josh.is/crow-machine/

  18. Posted February 27, 2015 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    I saw a nature special once with a scene about crows playing i the snow. They slide down the side of snowy hill, as if riding on a sled, apparently just for the fun of it.

    The dachshund video made me laugh. Birds are the archest of all arch enemies of dogs in my house. All I have to do is point up and say the word birds and my labrador, Dutchie, will start barking like crazy and I have a huge adult male rottweiler named LeBron that is terrified of birds. When I take him for walks at a county park just east of the glades he wants to chase after alligators, but a little bird that’s probably 1/80th his body mass will freak him right out.

  19. Heather Hastie
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    This is a cool story, and I don’t really care what the explanation is. I hope Gabi grows up to research it properly.

    There’s plenty of food available for birds year ’round without feeding them via feeders etc where I live, so I don’t feed them regularly. However, whenever I go out with a plastic bread bag, a whole lot fly in close, wait for me to throw out the bread, then land on the lawn as soon as I’m out of sight. If I go out with the bread in a different container, they’re slower to arrive. I eat full-grain bread mostly, and if I throw them things like white rolls with the normal bread, they always eat the good bread (which is also fresher too because I don’t eat the crusts) first, then the white bread.

  20. Posted February 27, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on peakmemory and commented:
    I reblogged a post about this story a few days ago, but read Jerry Coyne’s informed comments and don’t miss the video at the end.

  21. quiscalus
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always wanted to feed the crows, but they are terribly skittish where I live. I fear that is due to the ignorant cretins that live around here, who judging by the carnage left in their wake, will shoot or run over anything and everything they can, living or dead. I can’t imagine why anyone would shoot such a beautiful and intelligent animal such as a crow, but they do, just like they go out of their way to run over turtles, snakes, opossums, raccoons, cats…yay Missouri, the Show Me (and I’ll kill it) State.

    sorry, didn’t mean to bring things down. A charming story and a charming little girl.

    • Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      You are right, this sort of thing could never happen in the southeast US.

  22. Jean Hess
    Posted February 27, 2015 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Back in the early sixties, a crow with a bum leg would arrive every morning at the bus stop. He was only interested in this kid Matthew. I do not know that Matthew ever fed him, but the crow was only interested in him. later that year Matthew died of a heart operation. We always wondered if Matthew’s ailment was known to the bird with the bad leg.

    • reasonshark
      Posted February 28, 2015 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      I don’t know whether to take that as heartwarming (the injured crow seeking out similar company) or disturbing (the crow waiting for his dinner).

  23. reasonshark
    Posted February 28, 2015 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    I did wonder if they were superstitious, like Skinner’s pigeons. Spontaneous rituals that have no effect on whether or not food appears? Sounds right up their alley. It might also be helped by a form of crow culture, similar to macaques and chimpanzees: if one crow does it and seems to get results, the other crows would emulate that pioneer and a cultural ritual would spread.

    But then the crows would have to assume cause and effect not in seconds, but over a period of roughly 24 hours. When they drop the trinkets, they have to wait for next morning to get the payoff, since they always drop them after the meal. Perhaps the crows think finding and bringing the trinkets is enough, and simply leave them behind once they’ve magically brought forth the food, but even this would require some forward planning and a daily schedule. Not to mention I have no idea if crows have culture or not.

    A crazier hypothesis? They’re experimenting with the concept of money, and are paying her for her services with what they think humans would want. If a crow sees people swapping metal coins and paper for stuff, they might get the vague idea that humans trade stuff for stuff. Of course, that hypothesis is claiming a lot of social shrewdness and acumen for crows, and it’s probably not true, but it’d be exciting, almost revolutionary, if it was.

  24. Peter G. Werner
    Posted February 28, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I think Gabi is on to something, and it’s a gift I wish I had when I was younger. I used to live in Seattle, and I remember the appropriately-name murders of crows that would hang out in various tree lined neighborhoods of that city. Unfortunately, the only relationship I had with the crows was getting mobbed and harassed by them. Maybe I should have made a peace offering.

  25. Posted February 28, 2015 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    In the BBC video, SQUIRREL! @ 00:36

  26. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted March 1, 2015 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    That’s shown by this video (from the Daily Mail) showing a crow going after one of those odious sausage d*gs, who deserves it by virtue of being a sausage dog:

    Even sausage d*gs don’t really deserve to be sausage d*gs. They may be odious yappy little objects, but so are many other classes of odious little yappy objects. Being a sausage d*g is, what’s the formulation?, “a cruel and unusual punishment”. Even by d*ggy standards.
    There are probably priapulid worms who greet each morning’s new current with thanks to Professor CeilingPriapulid (for there is bound to be one) that they were not born a sausage d*g.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 1, 2015 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      I’ve never found sausage dogs to be yappy.

  27. aljones909
    Posted March 1, 2015 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I get met by 2 different pairs on my regular cycle ride. Regardless of what I wear they seem to instantly recognise me. I give them digestive biscuits (very energy dense). No gifts so far – but I’ve only been doing it 2 years.

  28. livinginabox
    Posted March 10, 2015 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    There’s a 10 March 2015 follow-up on the BBC website:

    Birds that bring gifts and do the gardening
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31795681


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