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How to Make Friends with Crows

Updated on December 14, 2016

The Family of Crows in My Neighborhood

In 2010, I was sitting on the steps in front of my house watching my kids play on the sidewalk when I looked up and saw a crow sitting on the telephone wire. While my kids chattered and squawked and fought over who got the green chalk, that crow sat with her head cocked to one side, observing us with one friendly black eye. Although I can't be certain, it sure seemed like she was just as amused as I was.

I'm not an ornithologist or even a birdwatcher, but crows intrigue me. Since that day, I have become friends with the neighborhood crows, and I've learned a thing or three along the way.

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The Way to a Crow's Heart

The best way to introduce yourself to a crow is by feeding it. I'm sure there are other ways to go about it, but the easiest, fastest way to a crow's heart is food.

Some may argue that a crow is a wild animal and by feeding it, you encourage an unnatural dependence. And with most wildlife, this is an excellent philosophy. But crows and humans have been living side-by-side for centuries now, and researchers like Marzluff and Angell, who wrote In the Company of Crows and Ravens, point to many instances of cultural coevolution between us. It's been an arguably symbiotic relationship for quite awhile now.

Certainly, after all this time together, humans' and crows' lives and histories have become closely intertwined. I moved to this neighborhood in this small city 15 years ago. I'm relatively new here, but since crows have territories they pass on to their children, the crows in my neighborhood may have descended from birds who lived here more than a hundred years ago. They've watched people come and go for years, people who may have watched them right back.

So anyway, we're neighbors, and feeding is the neighborly thing to do.

How to Befriend a Crow: Step-by-Step

  1. Find some food that the crow seems to like. This requires some trial and error, as they can —or maybe it's just the urban ones can—be surprisingly finicky. You'll know the crow likes it judging by how quickly it swoops down to grab it. If that pile of leftovers sits all day, the crows just aren't interested, so try something else. Only make sure it's healthy. Crows like junk food, but giving it to them is probably not a kind thing to do. (For more food options, Aves Noir has a nice list of things crows do and don't like.)
  2. Stock that food. Buy enough so you don't run out. I buy huge bags of unsalted peanuts from Costco. If you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments section below.
  3. Establish a regular feeding schedule, so they know when to expect you and vice versa. If you don't establish a rhythm for interaction, the relationship may never gel. And don't feed them so much that they become dependent—just a handful of something to show you care.
  4. Be dependable, steadfast, and observant. Don't just throw the food out there and walk away. Stay (at a safe distance) to watch them eat (or select carefully and fly off to cache it for later). Since crows have territories, take some time to try to get to know how big your local crow family is. (FYI usually, a mated pair builds a nest and lays an egg or two every year. Some of the previous years' hatchlings hang around for several years before they mate and take a new territory. This is what a "normal" family looks like, but I've heard stories about multiple generations sharing a turf.) (Please describe your neighborhood's crow family in the comments.) My crows feel most comfortable swooping down to grab the peanuts I throw if I'm sitting in my car, so I keep a bag full of nuts in the front seat for this purpose.
  5. Don't try to get too close. These are wild animals, after all. Your goal shouldn't be to tame them or take them as pets, which is illegal in most states anyway, and ethically questionable. Even after years of friendship, a crow will be skittish and standoffish (but admiring from afar) and it's better this way.

My neighborhood (American) crow: Although this one appears to be showing off its lovely profile, this is actually how they observe you: Out of one eye.
My neighborhood (American) crow: Although this one appears to be showing off its lovely profile, this is actually how they observe you: Out of one eye. | Source

What Do Crows like to Eat?

Crows are omnivorous scavengers so they're quite open-minded about what they eat. They'll do fruit, vegetables, insects, berries, kibble, popcorn, kitchen scraps, road kill, and vomit. I've heard that they show a preference for food wrapped in a fast-food wrapper (yes, they even recognize the brand). Their bad reputation as harbingers of death probably has something to do with the fact that they'll swoop down to help clean up a battleground (they are scavengers, after all). They'll pillage eggs from other birds and they'll rummage through your garbage can if you let them.

At least those are the reports I read. The crows in my neighborhood are slightly more choosy about what they eat, perhaps because they have access to many sources of food and can afford to be picky. I imagine that the diets of country crows differs vastly from that of my city-dwelling cousins. I've tried getting them to help me out in the garden by eating the snails, but they're not interested. I've tried kitchen scraps with mixed results—they pick out what they want and leave the mess for me to clean up—so mostly, I give them boiled eggs (which they gobble up, shell and all) and I keep a bag of roasted, unsalted peanuts in my car so I can toss them a handful whenever we meet.

Sometimes, the crows will gulp down the food right there in the street. Other times, especially with the peanuts, they'll stuff their gullets and fly off to cache their horde so they can enjoy it later. The peanuts' shells make them very portable and cacheable.

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Why Don't They Trust Me?

One day a man was walking by while I was feeding the crows. He was excited by the idea and wanted to try, so I gave him a handful peanuts. He walked under the telephone wire they were sitting on and held up his hand. The crows just eyeballed him.

"They're not going to come to you," I told him. "You have to throw the peanuts into the street."

So he tossed the peanuts down at his feet and looked up at the crows, who didn't budge. "What's the matter with them? Why won't they eat?" he wanted to know, and when I explained that crows aren't like that, that even though I'd been feeding them for years they never came closer than a few feet away, he lost interest and continued on down the street.

Crows can be skittish and aloof. They are never going to come running like a dog will for a lick and a pet, and their standoffish attitude is probably a major reason why they have thrived as a species for so long. Remember, crows are wild animals. In the US, it is illegal to keep native songbirds (crows included) as pets. If you want a pet you should get one, but if you're interested in crows, you'll have to learn to appreciate their charms from afar.

Besides, get real, most humans view crows as ominous, murderous evils (or at best, rats with wings). For centuries, they have played the bad guys in the stories humans tell themselves, and I'm sure they noticed the eye-daggers most people shoot at them, how cars veer to the shoulder to intentionally run them over, so why wouldn't that distrust be mutual?

So anyhow, crows will take their own sweet time deciding if they trust you or not, but once they know who you are, they'll never forget. At first, they may give you the cold shoulder and ignore your offerings, but don't take it personally. Remember that paranoia is all about survival but patience and vigilance will eventually pay off. If you pass the test, they will decide to trust.

Crows Recognize Faces

Communicating with Crows

There are stories of crows who have learned certain words—the way a parrot can—but those stories are rare. Most of us will settle for a subtler kind of bird/human exchange and will learn to interpret the crow's own natural forms of communication.

Experts can identify many different calls, but even an amateur can begin to recognize certain sounds: when the crow on lookout sees the food you've offered, she'll summon her family members with a caw, caw, caw. To me, it sound a lot like the scolding noise they make when they see a stranger or a dog or some other possible threat. Then there's that rattling they do most often during mating season. After awhile you may begin to recognize the difference between the vocalizations of an adult and a baby crow (the babies often sound whinier and chattier than their parents, go figure). If you're lucky and the crows like you, they might mutter at you from above.

The crows will return the favor of your attention by learning to interpret your signs, as well. They will memorize your schedule and the sound of your car keys. Sometimes, when I'm standing like a crazy person in the street with a hard boiled egg in my hand and no crows in sight, I've taken to whistling to let them know I'm there. My whistle (a "yoo hoo" sound issued between my teeth) is like the dinner bell letting the crows know it's time to eat.

One summer I went away on vacation for a couple weeks and within a few days of my return, I came out of my house to find a huge group of crows waiting for me, making a cacophony of caws. It was a quite a spectacle and I don't know what they were trying to communicate to me, but I know it was something (see video below).

Crows Communicate (But I Don't Know What It Means)

(The video above is one I took when I discovered a huge flock of crows outside my house one day.)

Where Did the Crows Go?

Although the crows you see in your neighborhood "own" that territory and are very territorial, that doesn't mean they never leave. For most of the year, before the sun goes down, crows fly to a communal roost. They may fly for miles to get there, stopping here and there along the way to chat with other crows until they reach the roost, where they'll all sleep together, perhaps as many as a thousand in one place (I've never seen a roost myself; one report says up to 40,000 crows may roost in one spot, another says that a roost may be a few hundred to two million.)

The only time crows build individual nests in their territory is during spring, when they become quite secretive to protect their young from predation. You may spy them from afar, carrying nest-building materials in their beaks. During this time, after the eggs are laid and when they're newly hatched, crows become even more skittish and standoffish than usual.

So if the crows suddenly disappear, don't worry—check your watch and calendar and you may understand why.

Do you want to be friends with crows?

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      Leah 2 years ago

      I've always wanted to try this; especially lately with how there are so many in my area where I live by the university. They only come by my house every once in a while, but when they do I'm very careful not to frighten them or move too fast.

      They're pretty chill around me already. I fed them some pretzels once and haven't seen them in a while.

      At one point when I went out to my car, I saw them chillin half on the road and half on the sidewalk. They walked away a bit but othewise didn't seem concerned with my presence (I'm actually really good with animals in general.) Anyway I got in my car and turned around and left, and they didn't seem concerned for their safety even though they were MAYBE five feet in front of my car. I did back up a bit to make sure I didn't hit them, but it kind of surprised me. Anyway that's my little story, haha...

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      Joe Piker 5 months ago

      Been feeding them for about a month now. I can walk about and they don't fly off, or at least one, named Jackson. However no way to tell male/female. Anyway the like bagel chunks. One time I had some past due raw chicken breasts, I flung them into the yard and drove away. Upon return we had a mob of them or perhaps a murder of them? When we returned they naturally flew away. But it was very cool to see them in mass. The take turns eating. One or two look out while one eats. Also they have pecking order as boss crow eats first.

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      Lisa W 4 months ago

      So I have a pair that visit on and off all day for the last 2 years. I usually offer them dog kibble, but they really love cheese and chicken. The female is friendlier and often sits on the gutter just inches from kitchen window where she watches me in hopes I will come out with another treat. This pair also flies along on my dog walks and recognize my car when I return to my community gates and will follow along. I am very attached to these two!!

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      Charles Jaye 4 months ago

      We live in southern Oregon in a semi-rurual area. We had a dog that died two years ago. She protected her turf and did not like birds. But we fed the small ones anyway - seeds. One day, a crow came to the feeder and ate some seeds. This became a regular practice. Not wanting to deprive the small birds of seeds, I started using TV dinner dishes with rocks in them to hold them onto the deck railing, and gave them part of my meals. They love fried chicken, turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, corn, and even the brownie.

      In the morning, I make a cheese melt - using a slice of multi-grain bread and a slice of cheddar that I cut up. Thirty-five seconds in the microwave melts the cheese onto the bread. I cut off a half a dozen pieces for them, which they love. They grab two or three pieces at a time and fly off with them.

      In the evening, I used to call them by name - one name - Escrow - like ABBA. They would come. Then one day I got a whistle at the fair, and started using it, as it makes a more shrill, louder sound. They would hear that and have transferred my verbal call to the whistle as a food command.

      They are wild, and definitely standoffish. Especially when the baby was born. They would carry huge mouth (beak actually)full of food off. Eventually, they brought the baby to us. So now, three of them (even saw a fourth a few times) visit us daily. They are difficult to differentiate. Although the female seems to be mouthier and around more often than the male. Her head is a little flatter, so she is fairly easy to spot. Plus, when she drinks water (from another tV dinner tray) she drinks from the segment that has a rock in it. Why? Who knows? Her preference. She has recently taken to dropping food into the water then removing the food in a few seconds.

      They can sit on the roof edge and watch me in the kitchen preparing a meal. The glass window provides an element of safety for them. They are curious to see what I do in here.

      Even when outside, they will fly just above my head and make noise. I speak to them in friendly tones (baby talk) so they know who I am when they see me.

      I used to have a wild squirrel visit me when I lived back east. The squirrel would recognize me on the street and run down a telephone pole to get a peanut from me. So I had to keep a supply of peanuts in my pocket for her. I used to pick peanuts from a barrel, so I would especially get the triple peanuts for her - so she would get an extra nut to take back home.

      Critters know who their friends are. And while they may not be as friendly as domesticated critters, their level of trust can be increased a bit over time. So far, the crows have been actively fed for about 2 years now. I would like to think I am making a difference in their lives. But I see them on the ground searching for grubs, etc. to supplement their diets.

      As winter approaches, I have to feed them earlier. If they don't come due to impending darkness, I put the food up in a hanging basket and save it for morning. They make their noises to tell me they are about. So far, we are tolerating each other's company. But I am not going to try to push it - as they are better off remaining wild and wary of danger.

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      An Interested Fellow 3 months ago

      Has anyone ever received any gifts from crows or ravens? I've seen one story where this family made friends with these ravens and they would bring them shiny objects.

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      PsychProf 3 months ago

      I've talked to the crows on my college campus for years. This year I decided to start feeding them. It only took two days for them to figure it out. At first, there were only 3 or 4; now there are around 10-15 who regularly come when I call. They are on the lookout for me in the mornings, because I come at the same time each day. Since I leave at different times, they're around sometimes, but sometimes are elsewhere. I throw handfuls of unshelled peanuts on the ground. A few will come within 5-10 feet of me, but most stay much farther away. I leave peanuts on top of my car, too, so they know my car, too, even though it looks exactly like half the other cars in the lot.

      I've been doing it for about 2 months and recently the Seagulls have discovered what's going on. They're pushy and loud and as many as 30-40 of them will mob the peanuts. The crows have learned that I will shoo away the gulls, but that I don't intend to shoo them. I've learned to feed the crows under the trees, as the Seagulls tend to be most comfortable in the open parking lot. I've also learned that is I throw a handful of peanuts and let the gulls fight over them, then walk away, the crows will follow me and we have a private feeding farther away.

      It's been great fun. Of course, you have to be comfortable enough to look like a lunatic yelling at the sky. It's interesting to see people's reactions, though more and more people are beginning to catch on and think it's entertaining.

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      Ash 3 months ago

      We actually have a group of crows and ravens flocking together locally there are only two or three crows who travel independently or occasionly with a raven, but the ravens will fly together all the time there are about five of them and one magpie who tags along, I've recently started giving them some scraps since its winter and I spend most of my time in there territory range.

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      3 weeks ago

      so its been since 2yrs there is this crow that comes at my window everyday between 12-1 and takes his fill from either my dads hands and seldom from me or my mum.. its unlike for a crow to literally take it straight from a human hand..

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