No Caws for Alarm!

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Published on: Jan. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

already been attacked, it will give a distress call, summoning other crows to its defense.

Crows are also highly social. They have up to 25 different calls and seem to use them all. Crows may roost in cities as protection from the weather. During winter nights, urban areas tend to be five to ten degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.

Cities, with their smorgasbord of overflowing trash bins, are ready-made crow cafes, offering savory eating for birds that aren't particular about their diet.

One of Missouri's biggest crow roosts was in the trees around city hall in St. Joseph. St. Louis is also blessed with a number of roosts. In Kansas City the biggest roost is in the trees over Brush Creek, near the Plaza shopping district.

Crows begin arriving at this roost at dusk. Some come singly, others in groups of five or more. They alight in the branches that bend under their weight. Some birds are soon settled while others are restless. They move from branch to branch or drop to the trickle of water in the creek below for a drink.

There is much cawing. The sound travels up and down the tunnel formed by the creek and overhanging trees. Their human neighbors have little choice but to accept these noisy interlopers.

Though it is now a violation of both federal and state law, there was a time when crows were fairly common as pets. A young crow fallen from the nest but still too young to care for itself can imprint on humans. Crows can also be taught to speak a few words. The practice of splitting their tongues, though, is simply cruel. It doesn't help the mimicry and probably causes many young crows to bleed to death.

Crows were once thought to be nothing more than vermin, worthy only of destruction. They got this reputation in part because they're big and loud. Crows are not as numerous as they might seem; in fact, their numbers are relatively small compared to other birds.

Winter roosts were often the sites of massive attempts at crow extermination. In one incident, the branches of a roost were laced with dynamite and cans of scrap metal during the day. When the crows returned that night, the dynamite was set off. At dawn more than 100,000 crow corpses littered the ground.

Grain farmers believed crows guilty of damaging their crop by pulling up the seedlings to eat the planted seeds.

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