“Bird brain” is a slur humans have used against avian species for centuries. The thinking must be something like: “How can any creature that flits and jerks around, eats bugs and seeds and mindlessly warbles at nothing but the sky have much of anything going on upstairs?” Obviously these misinformed people haven’t met the corvids - crows, ravens and magpies or, for that matter, the parrots. These birds are at the top end of the range of bird intelligence; they have a high “encephalization quotient,” that is, a low body to brain size ratio plus relatively high-output grey matter. This allows them to display levels of intelligence approaching that of the apes. Modern science has demonstrated how, like the apes, they possess an ability to use language, have self-awareness (can you say “pretty bird”?) and problem solving skills that include tool making. Most anyone who has been around parrots (and some of the corvids) knows their talent for mimicry and of having long memories. It seems the only things holding them back from World Domination are having only wings instead of hands, stick-like legs and stiff, clumsy beaks.
Camp Salmen’s main corvid is the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). The smaller Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus) can also be found in coastal Louisiana. We also have other medium-size black colored birds like Grackles and Blackbirds whose appearance may confuse the public, however, it the responsibility of all intelligent, mature adults to inform themselves of the differences between these species in order to properly identify them.
While our quiet public park environment offers few of the challenges needed to bring out their stellar levels of intelligence, crows have a leg up on the other creatures in the park that must hustle to survive day-to-day. They’re smart enough to eat almost anything they find – no finicky, over rationalizations about diet here. Crows will aggravate humans by going after food scraps in trashcans and landfills. No small creature is safe from them: invertebrates of all types, frogs, mice, stranded fish, carrion, eggs and small birds are snatched up in their black beaks. Birding professionals don’t call a flock of crows a “murder” for nothing. They also eat seeds, nuts, acorns and various grains including crops like corn and wheat. These last items can get them into trouble with the shooting crowd. Besides a fall and winter crow season, Louisiana law allows them to be shot whenever they “depredate upon ornamentals or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers as to cause a health hazard.” So watch out Mr. Crow, don’t get too smart for your own good.
Meet the Corvids!