The Great Crow Experiment, Part 2

The Gang of Seven
Abstract
The Great Crow Experiment is a non-scientific study conducted by wordsxo scientist-wannabes—MEH (My Engineer Husband) and me. As previously reported in MEH and the Crows (citation: wordsxo) and Science News (citation: Science News), American Crows are extremely intelligent animals. The hypothesis of this experiment is that Corvus brachyrhynchos (American Crow) has the ability to recognize individual people and individual cars. Part 1 of the experiment presented the hypothesis, materials, and method. This post, Part 2, presents Results, Conclusions, as well as opportunities for further research (i.e., things we just don’t know the answers to).

Results
On September 7, 2011, we started to feed the crows at the sports and recreation area where we walk our dog—about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies.
October 7, after a month of feeding the crows, and as evidenced by the Crow Log audio below, the crows definitely recognized us and waited for the peanuts. This is especially significant because we were not at the usual location (the softball field) but were instead at the nearby baseballfield. This indicates the crows saw our car (and/or us) and came to that spot for peanuts. Other cars did not elicit this response.

Crow Log Audio: Crows recognize the car (and us?), note the excitement in my voice!! (October 7, 2011)

Crow Log 10-7-11 (mp3)

These are the incredible contrails I mentioned
in the audio recording! Gorgeous!

On October 22 we were in a nearby town (about 10 minutes from the recreation area) and the crows saw us in the nondescript white station wagon and sat in a nearby tree and cawed at us, apparently waiting for us to give them peanuts.

On October 23,when we came out of our house, there were three crows in the tree outside our back door—this is the first time we saw crows in the trees around our house. We believe these are the same crows that we feed at the recreation area.



This video was recorded on November 12; it shows the crows arriving and descending when they note our car’s departure. (MEH’s caution: people who suffer from motion sickness may not want to watch.) 

Conclusions

“The Gang of Seven,” a murder (group) of seven crows recognize our car; and we believe they also recognize us and our dog, too. We believe these same crows may come to our house for peanuts—although we’re not sure it’s the same crows.

Feeding crows is a fun activity, but it can be hard to stop. It can also provide amusement to family members. Our college-age daughter told me that she and her friends were talking about what their empty-nest parents were doing since their kids left for college. She said our stories of feeding the crows made everyone laugh—hence it’s all worth it. After we sent her a photo of one of the seven crows, she said: “That’s one large crow! Have you considered what happens if you STOP feeding the crows and you have 7 large and angry crows outside your house?” 

She may be remembering a similar time when I was feeding chipmunks and one of the chipmunks ended up coming into our kitchen, presumably looking for food. (Note, chipmunks look really big in the house; crows probably look even bigger.)

Further Conclusions:

  • ·      Crows are very smart and definitely recognize our white nondescript station wagon, but they do not seem to recognize our dark blue even-more-nondescript sedan.
  • ·      We think the Gang of Seven recognizes us, too, because they turn around to look at us when we’re walking at the recreation area.
  • ·      Crows are very shy. Most of them fly away as soon as our back door opens—however, there is one larger crow that I’m convinced recognizes me because he/she does not fly away when I come out the door but instead sits and watches me.
  • ·      Putting peanuts in your yard will attract crows but will also attract squirrels, chipmunks, and Blue Jays (also in the crow (Corvid) family).  All of these are less shy than crows, and will come to get peanuts while we are in the yard (crows will not).
  • ·      MEH can drive and shoot videos (backwards!) at the same time—this is not a recommended activity but he only does this on a dirt road when no other cars are around.
  • ·      Many people we’ve talked to about what we’re doing have said they don’t like and/or are afraid of crows (some associate them with danger, death, Poe, or The Bob Newhart Show).
  • ·      Dogs (at least our dog Abby) love peanuts and will eat them shells and all (crows do not eat the shells).
  • ·      Peanuts are scarce this year because of drought conditions experienced in the south—and this has driven up their price (peanuts are expensive).
Opportunities for Further Research

We still don’t know with absolute certainty that the crows we see at the softball field (the so-called Gang of Seven) are the same crows that come to our house for peanuts. Casual observation indicates they are: we see them first thing in the morning at home; then when we arrive at the recreation area (about 1.5 miles from our house as the crow flies), they arrive about 5 minutes after we get there by car. MEH says the only way we’d know for sure is if we wore a cave man mask and banded them. (Note, if you don’t know about why we would choose a cave man mask, read about that here.)

Comic Relief

This audio recording made me laugh when I listened to it, and I thought I’d embarrass myself (even) further by sharing it with one or a trillion Internet users. (Don’t worry, my eye is fine.)

Crow Log Comic Relief (mp3)

Comments

  1. Barb Riley says:

    Dang, Julia, I wish we were neighbors… I would *love* to continue on in this experiment with you. It’s rather goosebump-inducing to watch the crows descend and keep hovering around your car (FYI to MEH, no motion sickness for me). I think birds are the coolest creatures, and crows are so beautiful. I love the results of your experiment—it makes me smile to see firsthand how intelligent (and shy [my kind of bird, lol]) they are.

    Just yesterday, I sent a friend a link to one of my favorite Counting Crows songs, called A Murder of One… and I didn’t even put it together that a flock of crows is called a murder! (Side note: what the heck? who came up with that title? no wonder why people are afraid them!)

    Soooo…. the question is…. will you or won’t you?!?

    (continue to feed them and spend lotso moolah on peanuts?)

  2. That is awesome, Julia! Those birds are super cool. 😀 I hope they continue to visit for tasty crow snacks (even if they are not given peanuts) and sing their most excellent crow songs for you. :3

    ~Ashlee
    http://ashleesch.com
    http://theDragonsHoard.bigcartel.com

  3. Erika Marks says:

    So wonderful, Julia!

    Everyone who gets to watch this experiment unfold is lucky but I feel SO especially so knowing the scene so well–and I know I’ve said it a hundred times before (okay maybe not 100, but certainly LOTS) but I so love seeing your videos and photos from TB.

    Now back to the research–ta da! They are smart as heck, aren’t they? And does memory serve that you were a biology major? This explains your expertise in structuring an experiment (My husband would be so impressed!)

    (And I love your DD’s response to your study–she has a point! ;))

  4. Barb, I so wish we were neighbors too. We would have a blast birdwatching together! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post and the video. Such fun to make; MEH was happy to hear no motion sickness was induced, by the way! As for the continued feeding, that is indeed the question…. you’ll have to stay tuned! :) Here’s a link that explains a little bit abou the “murder” name…in a story about a video that MEH and I can’t wait to watch!

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/a-murder-of-crows/crow-facts/5965/

    Ashlee, Glad you enjoyed the most excellent crow adventure! I hope they keep coming by to sing their crow songs as well! Believe it or not, some people feed crows dog food — another preferred snack, so maybe we’ll switch to that! (of course then the dog will be even more jealous!)

    Erika, I’m glad you enjoy the experiment! TB certainly provides lots of interesting interactions with birds and people too — we’ve met up with some lulus lately, I’ll tell you about it sometime. I actually majored in journalism (after finishing 3 years of a zoology degree! and I found out after we were married that MEH wanted to be a zoologist when he was a kid, so there you have it…. a match made in bird-watching heaven :) Two zoology-wannabes! As for DD’s reaction — we were very amused! And she can’t wait to come home for Thanksgiving to see the crow experiment in person!

  5. country wife says:

    What a great read! I love how you and your husband enjoy these research projects together. And those are some spoiled crows, eating pricey peanuts. And while chipmunks are adorable, chipmunks in the kitchen would make a scrumptious treat for Abby. :)

  6. I like to watch crows roost in the trees in our back yard, but my dog objects. Any large bird is an intruder as far as she’s concerned, so she always barks at them until they fly away.

  7. You are awesome, Julia. I LOVE that you conducted this experiment (and I, for the record, think they ARE the same crows. I’m a BELIEVER!)

    Maybe I can get my MEH to conduct a similar test with me regarding our railroad ravens?

    Your last audio is hilarious, and so are your reasons why people are afraid of crows (Bob Newhart). If that was your “excited-to-see-crows” voice in the first audio, you should have heard ME when we saw our first baby javelinas. Ha ha.

    Lovely post. Thank you SO much for sharing this fun experiment. Let’s hear it for the crows!

  8. Excellent read, Julia. And funny too. My hubby likes to feed the birds in our backyard, but unlike your wonderful dog, Zeus delights in chasing them. No restraint!

  9. Wonderful post series, really showcases your sharp, witty sense of humor. I like how you to refer to your car as the “nondescript station wagon” as if you guys are legitimately employed undercover cops.

  10. CMSmith says:

    Definitely think if you were real scientists, you would catch those babies and tag them.

    Still all and all a fascinating and successful experiment. Are you going to send a scientific paper into the journals?

    When you realize they are Hitchcock-inspired crows, use the dark sedan as your getaway car.

  11. Country Wife, Thanks for reading! You have no idea how many research projects and adventures we’ve had over the years — always great fun! Funny you would mention Abby and the chipmunks…. she has virtually NO reaction to any birds, chipmunks, squirrels, etc., beyond merely raising her ears slightly! One calm dog! :-)

    Shary, Your dog is so different from Abby — who I don’t think even NOTICES the crows! Except of course if she thinks there are peanuts involved…. then she moves between us and the crows, to try and intercept the peanuts!

    Melissa, I think they’re the same crows, too… that one definitely knows me, no question! And MEH thinks they wait outside the house, then when we start to drive to the dog place, they follow us. As for a similar test with your railroad ravens? MEH would JUMP at the chance, I’m certain! Wouldn’t that be an amazing adventure! So happy you enjoyed the last audio… I debated on that one… haha. (p.s. when are you going to post your javelina reaction? :)

    Cynthia, Glad you enjoyed the post! About Abby not chasing the birds at the bird feeder — my guess is Zeus has more access to the bird feeder — Abby is always with us because our yard isn’t fenced, but the most I’ve ever seen her do with it is eat the bird seed, LOL :)

    Sara, Thanks for your extra kind and sweet comments…. we do have a lot of fun with these adventures. We like to laugh, that’s for sure, even at our own expense! As for the “nondescript white station wagon,” what makes you think we’re NOT legitimately employed undercover cops? :-) (seriously, I always wanted to be a P.I. — can you tell!?)

  12. Oh this just gets better and better… and funnier and funnier! I sat with jaw dropped watching those crows on your vid as if I was watching a Steven Speilburg film! I will play it again later for dort as she is as fascinated by your experiment as I am. Your dedication to the cause is commendable. ‘Rock on’ them crows. I wonder if they’d eat already shelled peanuts? That’s how we get our bird nuts here – just the nut, no shell.

  13. Christine, It really was a fun experiment — not scientific in the least, but fun nonetheless! I was thinking of freelancing some part of it but possibly not to a scientific journal :) And I LOVE your suggestion of using the dark sedan as our getaway car. That is INSPIRED! And/or we can set up experiments with that as the cover car! Good thinking!

    Abi, So happy you liked it. Wasn’t that video amazing? I hope your dort enjoys it, too! As for shelled peanuts, I assume they would eat them! I can’t wait to hear your experiences! ROCK ON, CROWS! :-)

  14. I’m glad, albeit shocked, to hear they are shy! I know I mentioned that they scared me to death in The Art of Racing in the Rain!
    Your part of the country always looks so lovely, and your portray it beautifully.

  15. Reeling, It is surprising that crows are shy, isn’t it? They seem like they should be scary, but I think not! Glad you love the looks at Maine — and thank you so much for the compliment! :)

  16. Emma Pass says:

    This is such a great experiment, Julia – thanks for sharing! Have you ever read ‘Corvus’ by Esther Woolfson? It’s about a woman who adopts a rook (and also a magpie!). I think it would be right up your street!

    Also, my blog was presented with the Liebster Blog Award yesterday, and I’d like to award it to you too. :) You can read about it on my blog (emmapass.blogspot.com) and collect it by dowloading a copy of the picture at the bottom of the sidebar.

  17. Lisa Ahn says:

    Okay, I have to agree with your daughter. What are you going to do when you STOP feeding those birds and they are waiting outside your door in the morning?

  18. Pet says:

    Well, I will call it science :-)

  19. Emma, Thank you for the wonderful book recommendation; I will certainly be checking it out at amazon.com! And THANK YOU again for the lovely Liebster award. That is incredibly nice of you to think of me! Very very kind of you!

    Lisa, haha, I’ll let my daughter know that several people have validated her questioning of our tactics! And if we conduct THAT experiment of STOPPING the feeding, I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted! :-)

    Pet, I’ll call it scienceXO :-) Thanks for reading!

  20. Ann says:

    Julia this is GREAT! I’m sorry I didn’t get to read it earlier – I’ve been out all day! I loved hearing your voice and I’m glad you eye is better!

    I think the crows are the same band of 7. I would love to meet you in the dog park with Sunny Pup, but she would chase them all away!

  21. This is exciting! Seriously. I love that you did this experiment and it worked. Makes me want to do it too.

  22. Ann, Glad you enjoyed the post — it was a lot of fun! I think the crows are the same 7 too. Isn’t it so funny that Abby pays absolutely no attention to the crows? Does Sunny Pup really chase birds…? I’m afraid these large crows would scare him!

    Leah, It is really exciting, and I hope you try it too — I’ll look forward to hearing all about the San Diego crow experience if you do!

  23. I was wondering the same thing as your daughter. What happens when you stop feeding the crows? The classic Hitchcock film THE BIRDS comes into mind. Creepy. I also was thinking about peanut allergies and your science experience. My mind is certainly in a dark place this morning. I love your writing about this experiment.

    Lisa

  24. Lisa, haha… I agree that Hitchcock’s movie did spring to mind a few times — but then I realized how shy and fearful crows are….I never think about it at all! Your peanut allergy would definitely make this experiment off limits for you, no question, but glad you enjoyed the writing of my experience. And I assure you. Crows? The nicest birds around but definitely have a bad rep.

  25. Ann says:

    Sunny Pup is a year old, 7 pounds and absolutely FEARLESS! She would chase a LION in the jungle! We have to constantly watch her because of her fearlessness! Heights mean absolutely NOTHING to her….as do commands to come and stay!

    She’s absolutely adorable and knows that with her extreme cuteness she can get away with anything! Sad, but true!

    Crows?! She’s bark and bark and honestly do her best to have one for breakfast!

  26. Interesting experiment – crows are smart indeed. Here we have northwestern crows which are fairly small and totally non obtrusive and generally stay around the beaches whereas the common crows are much bigger and very obnoxious. They are very smart though and occasionally if they are in disagreement (I shake my finger at them if I don’t like what they’re doing)they will toss a stick down at me.

  27. Uh oh, Julia. You and MEH have just signed on for a lifetime of feeding these crows. Otherwise you’re going to have a very Hitchcock situation at your house soon. I was thinking the same thing as Lisa. The birds will follow you home. Then they’ll be pecking at your windows. “Give me some peanuts!” :)

  28. Michelle, That’s so interesting–the scientist who does most of the crow research I’ve seen lives in Washington state, and there are huge resident crow populations in that area! (I think our crows are somewhat migratory). How amazing that they know you aren’t happy with them so they throw a stick down at you! YIKES you’ve convinced me–I better watch my crows and always carry an emergency peanut! (an idea for you, too? :-)

    Jackie, What’s so interesting is that the crows — because they’re so opportunistic — aren’t always at the dog walk or at our house. But if they do come pecking at our house, at the very least I’ll get a blog out of it…. maybe even a book! SO then I’d have another reason to love them! :-)

  29. Incredible! I have some random reactions having little to do with your main point (I feel like I do that to you a lot with my comments!) Anyway, I got a kick out of the scientific write-up, then immediately had bad flashbacks of science homework in high school. I’m SO happy to that as an adult I get to immerse myself in literary stuff and ignore science! Second thing: so impressed with your tech-savvy ways. Look at you including audio, video, etc! I’ve never really made use of that stuff and I really should to mix things up!

    Congrats on the great experiment. And MEH gets kudos too for his participation.

  30. Nina, I love comments you make to my posts–they help me think about things in other ways, which is one of the reasons I enjoy blogging! You should try the audio and visual; it’s so much fun! Thanks for the kudos to MEH, although I should tell you he is the great instigator of all these experiments! :-)

  31. Was so looking forward to the second installment – but when it came out I was busy doing stuff offline. Have been meaning to get back here ever since. . . .

    What amazing (and fabulously fun) results! I’m with Lisa Wields Words: I started visualizing your yard becoming a scene from THE BIRDS. Good thing you can tweet, blog or use your iPhone and also that you have such loyal blog readers. That way you can call for help from inside your crow-encrusted house and we’ll send help from the outside world if you need it! ;~)

    Actually, in my experience, blue jays can be the most Hitchcockian when it comes to stalking you (albeit they’re too gaily colored to look ominous). We had a wild jay once back in Texas (the Hill Country) that would come to our deck every day and INSIST on being fed peanuts. He would even follow us from room to room through the windows until we relented.

    (I hear ya about the price of peanuts. Even back then our budget was starting to be challenged by the blue jay viewing us as his own personal soup kitchen.)

    Once we went for a walk through the scrub down to the lake. Our orange tabby came with us (just like walking the dog! so cute!) and the jay followed us overhead. I think he made our cat pretty nervous. Caster would get down on his belly and scuttle under cover of brush whenever the jay could see him from above. ;~)