Nov 30 2010

Eating Crow

Published by at 7:28 am under Crows, Ravens


If I was to place a bet on crows I’d wager they didn’t spend last night in the plane trees on University Place in Oakland.  I’d win this bet because of what I found there less than 24 hours ago.

Yesterday morning I got a call from a Pitt employee who tracked me down out of concern for the peregrines.  Marian had found a very large raptor standing on the ground near Soldiers and Sailors Hall on University Place.  The bird would not fly away and there were feathers scattered on the ground beneath its feet.  She was concerned that this was one of the peregrines and that it was injured and unable to fly away.

The situation sounded like a red-tailed hawk on a kill but you never know.  I was happy to help and went over to check.

As I arrived at University Place I noticed a lot of crow poop on the sidewalk beneath the London plane trees.  The closer I got to the site, the more poop there was. 

When I reached the place Marian described I didn’t find a large bird on the ground but I could tell exactly where he’d been.  Right next to the sidewalk was a big pile of crow feathers, a few crow bones and a crow’s skull and beak.  Whoa!  Someone had been eating crow!

I imagined the fear in the flock when that raptor arrived.  I’m sure it scared the poop out of them and they left in a hurry.  No wonder the sidewalk was gross.

Now there’s one less crow among the 10,000+ who roost in Pittsburgh and those still living can see how he died. 

I can pretty much guarantee the crows won’t be back there soon.

(photo by Chuck Tague)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Eating Crow”

  1. faith cornellon 30 Nov 2010 at 7:32 am

    So glad I got a good walk in yesterday; beautiful day. But we did see alot of crows in Bridgeville. Some of them were pretty low on a few branches & they look right at you it seems. Tried talking to a few; no answer. They are really very fearful of us it seemed yesterday. But a lovely day to enjoy no matter what birds we saw. Today; well we will all be wet even the birds, even the crows.

  2. Marianneon 30 Nov 2010 at 8:19 am

    Another interesting story. Kate, you are a bird detective! :-)

    Btw, since I am not from the Pittsburgh area, please tell me what plane trees are.

    Since I love animal and especially bird behavior and American Crows are very intelligent, I decided to do an experiment with them.

    Whenever I have leftover bread (my sister gives me lots) I break it up into chunks and put it in a certain open area next to my driveway. Then I beep my horn 3 times to notify the crows that food has arrived.

    It seems like any crows that are nearby make a beeline to the food after I have left. I can see that area from the house. Maybe it is just a coincidence.

    It is like the conditioning experiment that Pavlov did with dogs. In his initial experiment, Pavlov used a bell to call the dogs to their food and, after a few repetitions, the dogs started to salivate in response to the bell.

    More info here about Pavlov’s experiments: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning

  3. Kate St. Johnon 30 Nov 2010 at 9:18 am

    Marianne, the trees I’m referring to are London plane trees, a hybrid of the Oriental plane tree (which looks like a sycamore) and the American sycamore.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platanus_%C3%97_hispanica

    London plane trees are very pollution-tolerant and were planted all over Pittsburgh 100 years ago when our air was so smoky. Crows prefer them for roosting because they are very tall and deciduous (therefore open in winter).

    p.s. I like your crow experiment!

  4. Marianneon 30 Nov 2010 at 10:15 am

    Thanks for the plane tree info. I had not heard of them before.

    I should have mentioned that someday I will beep my horn 3 times WITHOUT putting food out for the crows and see if they appear. If so, that will show that they can be conditioned to respond to the beeping.

  5. Donnaon 30 Nov 2010 at 1:56 pm

    After watching “A Murder of Crows” I have a whole new appreciation for them, but I still don’t like them :)

    Marianne, I will be curious to know the outcome of your conditioning experiment.

  6. Anne Marieon 01 Dec 2010 at 9:21 am

    Marianne — good luck with the experiment. But will the crows seek revenge when they show up and there is no food? You’ve seen “The Birds” right?? :-)

  7. Katieon 01 Dec 2010 at 10:28 am

    This sounds so cool! Nature at work. I’m at Penn State, and every year the Operations Crew uses flares and noise-makers to move the crows off the campus and out of the way. Maybe they should invest in a few raptors!!!

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