01.31.18 Shoreline Spotlight
January 31, 2018


I got a call for an injured fish crow by the shrimp boats on San Carlos Island. It was December and noisy flocks of crows were having boisterous parties all over the area. It wasn't hard to find the poor creature, just follow the riot of crows and look down. The injured crow was standing on the rip rap between the dock and sea wall with what looked like a broken wing. The other crows got louder as I got closer, and when I scooped it up with my net and placed it into a box they erupted and noisily took to the wing. I chatted to the shrimpers who had called about the injured crow, and by the time I got the box loaded into my truck the crows were mostly gone. It seemed oddly and suddenly quiet and peaceful.

This seemed like pretty unique behavior, so I did some research. University of Washington professor John Marzluff studied crow behavior. Crows have been known to gather around dead crows, and the researchers were interested in learning more, because that is what researchers do. They would have a flock of wild crows fed at a certain area until they regularly gathered for the food. Then they had a volunteer walk through the feeding area carrying a taxidermied crow. The volunteer carrying the taxidermied crow were mobbed and dive bombed by the live crows.

In another experiment, they would use a net to capture crows. Crows are known to be able to identify human faces. They had researchers measure and handle seven immobilized crows while wearing a caveman mask, then let them go. Afterwards, volunteers wearing the masks never managed to capture more crows and just walking wearing the mask would cause the crows to alarm. Remarkably, this behavior continued for over eleven years, with crows that were not yet born when the initial experiment took place.

We have many similar looking birds here. I hear people regularly call plovers, terns; terns, gulls; and crows, grackles. Crows may not be the most colorful bird, and they have messed up my truck a bunch, but they and their corvid relatives are among the world's smartest creatures. Crows are stocky with short tails, boat-tailed grackles are long and slender with long rounded tails. Female boat grackles can show brown and males can show blue in bright light. European starlings and cowbirds are both smaller. Identification can be important, because although fish crows like my truck, I am guessing I won't be much help capturing them for another eleven or so years.


Regular Size Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer