MEH and the Crows

I haven’t talked much about MEH lately—in fact, if you’re new to my blog, you might not even know what I’m talking about. MEH (My Engineer Husband) is the nickname I gave my husband when I first started my blog—because way back then (almost six months ago!), MEH was unemployed and he was around a lot. In fact, our desks are side by side, and he gave me a lot of great ideas for the blog!

The good news and the bad news is that MEH’s work is taking up a lot of time now. He’s doing software consulting for a company in the town we live in so he can ride his bike to work (he loves that) but he is gone a lot (he hates that and so do I). But the best good part is he’s making money again (we both love that).

Still, we don’t get nearly as much of a chance to discuss my blog (or even other things) together, like we used to. And that means I don’t get as much MEH-y stuff—like science (MEH loves to learn and talk about science) to blog about any more.

So imagine how thrilled I was when quite by accident I stumbled onto a MEH-y thing to blog about! It happened recently when we were outside working on the shed. (An interesting aside, and this is very exciting: we got a new shed! I know, for some of you this will sound really really lame, but not if you live in the Northeast. Here in the Northeast—Maine in particular—we take our sheds very seriously. So, when a neighbor offered us a free shed, we jumped at the chance.)

This is how it all started…

And that’s how this particular adventure started. All we had to do was transport the shed from her house to ours….which we did (well, we didn’t do it; we hired an excavator to do it). Moving the shed is in itself a MEH-y thing because MEH likes to consider all the possibilities, like using large logs to roll the shed from said-neighbor’s house to ours or using a friend’s truck to tow the shed to our house—but in the end we hired an excavator with a front-end loader.

But wait, here’s the good part! As MEH was re-attaching the ramp to the shed, a crow flew over us. And as it flew over, it did a most peculiar thing, it turned its head all the way upside down! Now, you really think I’m off my rocker. What is she talking about?

Let me break it down. A few months ago, MEH told me that crows are really really smart. Apparently they are so smart they recognize INDIVIDUAL humans. And they “tell” their baby crow chicks which humans are bad and which humans are good. So, if someone does something mean to a crow, like shoot at it or capture it to put a tag on its leg, that crow will remember and make sure other crows know you’re a bad human.

John Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington, verified this by testing crows to see if they really remembered individual humans—he did this by putting a caveman mask on people. First, someone wore the caveman mask when tagging wild crows. Then he put the same mask on random people walking across a college campus. Crows cawed at people with the mask on! When he had people wear the mask upside down, he found that some crows flew upside down to see if they recognized that person.

“Is that the guy Mom told me about?”
(One of our many crow pics; MEH likes this one
because the crow was staring right at him!)

Which is exactly what the crow was doing with MEH. And here’s why: they know that MEH likes them. For one thing, he feeds them—with corn in our backyard—and he also photographs them. And, everyday when we go out for our early morning and late afternoon dog walks to the open space near our home, we see crows. Often they fly toward us rather than away from us. We (and specifically MEH) think they know MEH feeds them and likes to take photos of them. (On the days they fly away, crows are allowed bad moods or to be shy, right?!)

But I think there’s more…I think the crows may know that MEH respects and likes crows: partly, he does because they’re so smart, partly because they enjoy flying and play while they’re flying (MEH has a private pilot’s license and loves flying—a plane). Partly because “crows are pretty cool” because they use tools.

That’s right. Crows use tools—MEH told me this too. If a glass is half full of water and there’s something a crow wants that is floating on the water—way down inside the glass and its beak won’t reach—a crow will drop pebbles in the glass, causing the object to rise to the surface so the crow can get it.

But back to MEH….and the upside down crow. I’m thinking all those crows out there are teaching their babies what a great guy he is. And that’s why that crow turned its head upside down to get a good look at him. The crow couldn’t believe it: finally getting a look at the good-hearted friend of crows he’d heard so much about from his momma bird!




Have you had an experience with a crow recognizing you? How about another bird (apparently at least pigeons and mockingbirds recognize humans, too!)? And if you see any crows flying upside down, now you’ll know why!

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. I got some of this information from a story on NPR about crows and face recognition—and with the story there’s a cool quiz to see if you can tell crows apart as well as a crow could pick MEH (or you) out of a crowd. You can see that story and quiz here.

Comments

  1. Cynthia Robertson says:

    I’m gonna have to show this post to my birdman hubs, Julia. He’ll enjoy it.
    Up north in Flagstaff and around the Grand Canyon we’ve come across crows that stand a foot and a half high, and it’s obvious during an encounter that they are very bright and crafty.
    We don’t see them that big down here in the valley.
    Nice shed.

  2. Lisa Ahn says:

    Julia,
    What a great post! I didn’t know anything about crows and have to admit to being a bit freaked out by them in the past (partly the result of bad childhood bird experiences, a whole story in itself).
    I love the way you spin this tale.
    ~ lisa

  3. KathyB says:

    I’ve got me a case of shed envy . . .
    I wonder if Daphne du Maurier had this in mind when she wrote “The Birds” . . .

  4. CMSmith says:

    I love this post for so many reasons that I could comment on: I love watching feats of great engineering, being an engineer myself; my husband has a desk near mine like yours, my husband is retired and around a lot . . . money . . . show me the money . . .

    But I think I have to settle on the fascinating and amazing facts about crows that you shared. I never new. In light of this information, I may have to put aside my previous view of crows based in part on Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

    I had no idea.

  5. Cynthia, Glad you like the shed :) I am so amazed to read of the super tall crows/ravens! I’ve never seen one but would love to some day!

    Lisa, Glad you enjoyed the post and was able to give you a way to learn about crows in a non-scary way! :) Sorry about your bad childhood experience!

    KathyB, I know, nice shed, huh? Imagine our thrill when we were offered it for FREE. The things we enjoy in life, LOL. As for the birds, I think Daphne was a woman before her times!

    Christine, So glad you enjoyed this post! Apparently we have similar outlooks in many ways :) Glad to have enlightened you about crows; pretty amazing animals, you can see why MEH enjoys them so much!

  6. Ann says:

    That is such a COOL story! Congratulation on the shed – my hubby wants one so bad right now!

    I’m glad the MEH is working, but I understand missing his company. My hubby is retired so we spend all our time together – I’d miss him if he went to work at this point, too.

    I have only one crow story – they occasionally STROLL across our yard, the dog goes berserk…and the crows are about her size, so they don’t fly away. I think they recognize her and are laughing!

  7. Ann, We are SO happy with the shed, you have no idea how exciting it was! :) Seriously! That is a funny story about the strolling crows and your dog. I bet you’re right that they recognize her…. if not laughing, then they probably know she’ll do no harm!

  8. Julia!! I’ve been out of town and (mostly) offline the past two weeks, and guess where I was? Up in the Northeast: *sort of* near your neck of the woods: Cape Cod!

    So first of all, I have a lot of catching up to do with my favorite bloggers (which you are, of course, one of them), and second of all… egads! The crows up in The Cape are EVERYWHERE! I’ve never experienced being around so many, all the day long.

    I wish I would have known this information you posted about crows before my vacation! I would have loved to observe them with this tidbit tucked away. My MIL’s backyard has all these tall oak trees with bazillions of crows nests, and I loved watching their comings and goings. There were lots of baby crows too, so I got to observe some feedings. Just before I began writing my comment I watched a video on youtube about the difference between a crow and a raven b/c the black birds I saw were SO big, I was sure they had to be ravens, but after I watched the video, I’m convinced The Cape is full of crows. The key is that crows are noisy, noisy, noisy. Ravens are quieter.

    Anyhow. This was such a timely & informative post for me! Thanks for all the details. :) Now I’m off to read all that I missed in the blogging world…

  9. Barb!! I was just wondering TODAY where you’d been! Good to see you again; that’s wonderful that you were in Cape Cod — sounds like a great time, especially with all those crows. I am quite jealous that you saw baby crows, I’ve never seen them! And I think it’s such a fun coincidence that you were just with all of them and then you come home to my blog. It’s just my way of saying WELCOME HOME!!!

  10. WOW. This was WAY cool. Thanks for the crow insight; so fascinating about the recognition and even cooler that you saw one spin its head. Nifty.

    So, my next question … does the recognition of humans apply to ravens, too? We have ravens out on the RR trestle, and they often talk to me. I wonder if they know “that gal who runs under us each morning.”

    Congrats on the new shed, too. And sorry you and MEH don’t get to chat “blog” as much as you once did. But money is, indeed, a good thing..

  11. Terrific post. When I was living in Seattle I lived in an area where crows congregated every day at 4PM. Not just a few, but thousands. It was eery. One day I was driving along and I thought it was odd to see a crow dead on the road. As I drove by I noticed his wings flapped, and then a few other crows swooped down and began to peck at him. I was so stunned, realizing that the crow was still alive that I circled back. When I figured out the bird was still alive I jumped out of my car and rushed to him, which sent the rest into a cawing frenzy. Each time I tried to rescue the poor hurt bird the more he painfully pushed himself away from me, and the others dive bombed my rescue efforts. I was very upset as I got back into my car and drove away. Later I learned that the bird being attacked had probably been the sentinel for the whole flock and had somehow not fulfilled his duties.He was being put to death and I just happened to witness it.

  12. Melissa, Yes! The biologist at University of Washington wrote a book called IN THE COMPANY OF CROWS AND RAVENS (Yale Press). And all “rooks” (including ravens, jays & magpies) do recognize humans! It sounds like a pretty amazing book, here’s an excerpt: “Crows and people share similar traits and social strategies. To a surprising extent, to know the crow is to know ourselves.” Unfortunately it’s out of print… but yes, I do think those ravens know you — and know you’re their friend! (Photo of ravens, please :)

    Annie, That is a terrifying story! I’ve heard of similar attacks as well as crow attacks on humans — so they can be pretty vicious and dangerous animals. I can see why an experience like that would affect my view of a species of animal–very upsetting. And yet it sounds like a fairly sophisticated (if scary) society…

  13. erikarobuck says:

    Oh. My. Goodness.

    My writing partner has long told me that crows talk to her and seem to congregate wherever she is.

    I have to show this to her. She will love it!

    Thanks for this post. :)

  14. Erika, that’s amazing! Maybe your writing partner is like my husband — sympatico with the crows! He says exactly the same thing, and I’ve witnessed it. They truly seem to know him and enjoy his company! I hope your writing partner enjoys the post. Thanks so much for your comment and for your visit to my blog!

  15. Country Wife says:

    Wow – very cool! So that explains why birds are always attacking my head…

    Great looking garden shed, too!

    Enjoyed your post :)

  16. Unbeievable! Have you read “The Art of Racing in the Rain?” The author talks about how crafty they are!!

  17. Country Wife, Oh no, if they attack you do they think you have the bad mask on? :-)
    Glad you like the shed, me too — so much easier to find everything! And it looks tidier, too! Thanks for the visit and the comment!

    Reeling, I haven’t read that book, but now I want to! Thanks for the recommendation, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  18. Angela Scott says:

    I had no idea crows were so smart. That’s really interesting about the face recognition. I don’t tend to see many crows around here in Utah, but I will sure keep my eyes open from now on.

    Thanks for sharing this article.

  19. Ado says:

    OK, I don’t know if Hitchcock had any crows in The Birds but this gives a new level of meaning to it man. I had no idea crows were that smart. It’s kind of creepy that he turned his head all the way around like that…Ella’s going to love this bit of info about crows!
    PS: have you seen the original movie of The Crow w. brandon lee? one of my faves.

  20. Susan says:

    Very cool story. I actually don’t see many crows here. We get grackles, which are ugly and aren’t particularly smart. Loved reading about your crows. And glad your husband is working again!

  21. Angela, Glad you enjoyed the post! Next time MEH is talking to the crows, I’ll ask him to mention to them that they should send some of the western crows out to visit in Utah! Thanks for your comment and your visit to my blog!

    Ado, Isn’t it so weird that the crow could turn its head upside down? I was so amazed! It’s so strange that the researcher found crows that even flew completely upside down — I want to see that! I hope Ella enjoys learning about crows — we’re big fans in this family! As for the movie, I’ve never seen it, but I will check Netflix to see if we can!

    Susan, Glad you enjoyed the post! So funny you would mention grackles — I actually like them (but then we’re obviously huge bird fans! :) As for MEH working again, I can agree that it’s a big huge relief — thanks for your kind words!

  22. Leah says:

    My husband would cringe if he read this. Basically because he believes (and I’m also certain of it) that the same crow has been stalking him most of his life. And my beagle dog Casey hates crows with a passion. We’re pretty convinced there is one crow that’s out to get her too. And by the way, congrats to your MEH!

  23. Leah, You’re not the only person who’s said something like this (about being stalked by a crow….). I have no idea if it’s true but it sounds like at the very least, your husband and dog are not crow fans like MEH! :-)
    Thanks for the congrats to MEH, we’re very happy!

  24. I now have a whole new respect for these birds that (ahem) have not always been my favorite. Great story!

  25. Amanda, I can understand why crows may not have always been your favorite (mine either!), but I’ve been convinced by MEH and now learning all of this reinforces what he’s been saying! Glad you enjoyed!

  26. Wow, I had no idea crows were this interesting. Thanks for sharing this info with us :)

    I don’t have any experience with birds recognizing me (unless we count the neighbor’s parrots) but I do have sort of a dilemma 😛
    Pigeons are present all over the city and I wonder why it is they don’t just fly away when people nearly step on them but start running away? I’d sure use my wings if I had them…

  27. Have come to this blog post a bit late… but I loved it! I love all birds and have heard how clever crows are, but had no idea that they recognise ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people and pass this info on to their babies. What a fantastic skill that is! We have very few crows near us, but we do have blackbirds who definitely know that I am the lady who leaves the food out, and they sit quite happily waiting. We had a robin last winter who did the same, often sitting just inches from me. Adorable!

  28. Estrella, Glad you enjoyed! Pigeons and humans have learned to coexist (or they probably see us as food sources, huh?) — but it is puzzling why they don’t fly away… hmmm

    Abi, Glad you loved the post. SO MUCH FUN! Isn’t this just incredible, though? I love blackbirds & robins, too. Maybe they aren’t quite as smart (who knows?) but they definitely wait and are so cute! Do you have Rooks where you are? They’re related, right? Thanks so much for the comment, MEH will be thrilled!

  29. This was a very cute MEH story! And I love crows so I really enjoyed reading you writing about them. My favorite line was:

    “On the days they fly away, crows are allowed bad moods or to be shy, right?!”

    That gave me a good giggle. I loved all the unusual facts about crows, and the odd things they do in regards to recognizing the Good Guys. The part about using tools was amazing! I’ve always known they were smart but that beats all!

    Loved the pic of the crow on the fence post – and the caption was adorable. :~)