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Sentinel Crows

american-crow-sentinel-049a2673Ornithologists have noted that especially during the winter, American Crows assign one or more of their flock to keep watch over the rest of the group, or “murder,” as they feed on the ground nearby. While acting as sentinels, the crows will call frequently, even when predators are not present. When they intensify their calling, the crows that are feeding often flush.

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13 responses

  1. I love crows. Over the past 55 years I’ve raised (from nestlings), and then released seven crows. They imprint vocally on the one that feeds them. They remain attached to you; will fly down and greet you and play. In the fall they join migrating flocks and do not return in the spring.

    There is always a sentinel, except perhaps crows acting like pigeons feeding along the interstate. Three “caws” means danger, take flight; two “caws” is warning, be aware; four “caws” means ‘come here’.

    January 25, 2017 at 8:30 am

    • The “code” for the number of calls is fascinating!

      January 25, 2017 at 4:14 pm

  2. Chris

    Beautiful photo, Mary! And the crows are so fascinating. Many times lately when I’m in Brattleboro, later in the afternoon, by Ramuntos, hundreds of crows fly in from all directions and roost in the nearby trees. I’ve never seen that many before, and they just keep coming and coming. It’s incredible. They don’t always pick the same trees. Amazing to see.

    January 25, 2017 at 8:58 am

  3. Alice Pratt

    Smart birds. sweetpotato7: Interesting about “how many caws.” I wonder why they don’t return in Spring?

    January 25, 2017 at 9:02 am

    • Thanks Alice, I believe they become accepted by and they accept the flock they join. Wild life is preferable. One did return and stayed around but would not fly down to land on my arm. No nuzzling the second summer.

      January 25, 2017 at 9:06 am

  4. Peggy Curtis

    I have known some sentinels , and may have taken on this role myself occasionally.

    Sent from my iPad


    January 25, 2017 at 9:54 am

  5. Cheron barton

    Smart birds!!

    Sent from my iPhone


    January 25, 2017 at 10:35 am

  6. Skip Jones

    I raised one crow decades ago. He would accompany me camping in northern Maine. Sit on my shoulder or top of my head, check me out for lice, warn me of dangers [cats mostly. once a hawk], lite on the roof of the car & peer in the windshield upside down, sit on my feet to keep me from walking, bring shiny objects & devise simple games to play. He did return briefly the following spring. That’s the last I saw him. I do feed them off & on now,& they will recognize me in the store parking lot, which is close to my home, as the crow flies.

    January 25, 2017 at 11:51 am

    • I am happy to hear of your experience. I am no longer climbing to collect baby crows but I am always on the lookout for those that fell from the nest. They too can be tamed. My crows were always attentive and eager to fly down and accompany me. All the tales of attraction to shiny objects etc are true.

      January 25, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    • Alice Pratt

      What a wonderful story to share!

      January 25, 2017 at 6:36 pm

  7. Hope McLaughlin

    This reminds me of the joke:
    Why does one rarely see a dead crow in the road in New England? Because his friends in the trees constantly alert him to oncoming traffic by calling, “Cah! Cah!”

    January 25, 2017 at 12:15 pm

  8. I have been feeding a crow family in the winter off and on for five years. Actually two different families as I moved. Initially and usually throughout, a sentinel keeps watch from a tree, though with increasing trust, when quite a few tidbits are spread around, the pair or group will all come down. But usually the sentinel eats last and they either eat or make off with the food to cache it in short order.

    When I first started feeding them and they were more cautious, they would take quite a while observing after I put some food down before they would come down for a closer look and then to eat. A variation on this was when I put out some entirely different looking food. They would wait, observing, until finally a squirrel came to check it out. If the squirrel found it to be palatable (and didn’t drop dead of poison) then the crows would swoop in and take over. Maybe I was reading into this that they were using the squirrel as a guinea pig but I wouldn’t put it past them. I have found crows to be twice as clever as I first expect.

    January 25, 2017 at 2:26 pm

  9. Phil Fitz

    In my experience the sentenal will call three times as a warning. I have observed this on numerous occasions.

    January 30, 2017 at 4:53 pm

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