The Northwestern Crow and a Semi-Tame Bird Named Canuck
Clever and Interesting Birds
Northwestern crows are clever and often confident birds. They are a common sight where I live. I see them almost every day. I enjoy watching the birds (and talking to them). They are very opportunistic animals and can be a nuisance when they investigate garbage and spread it around. Fortunately, this problem has disappeared in my neighbourhood now that our garbage in deposited in bins for the curbside pickup.
The scientific name of the northwestern crow is Corvus caurinus. In the Greater Vancouver area, Canuck is a famous example of the species. He's a wild crow that regularly seeks out humans (especially one person) and interacts with them. Sadly, there are concerns about his whereabouts at the moment, as I describe later in this article.
The northwestern crow is found in the same area as the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) in some parts of its distribution. It's often hard to tell the birds apart. Some people think that the northwestern crow should be classified as a subspecies of the American one.
Northwestern crows live in the Pacific Northwest region of North America and are generally seen at or not far from the ocean. The birds have an omnivorous diet. They eat what they can get. Their diet includes animals (invertebrates and small vertebrates), eggs, young birds stolen from the nest, carrion, fruit, and seeds. They like to explore picnic areas as well as other places where people might dispose of garbage containing food remains. The crows are known to hide food when it's present in excess. Researchers have discovered that they almost always remember where they've cached the food.
The birds walk and hop. They are capable fliers that sometimes perform complex manoeuvres in the air. They enter the ocean and tide pools to catch animals that live in shallow water. The crows probe the sand and turn over seaweed, rocks, and debris as they forage. They crack the shell of food such as mussels and clams by flying to a height and then dropping the animal onto a rock or other hard surface.
In winter, the crows roost in a group of trees located quite near my home. The roost and my home are located near an ocean inlet. It's always impressive to see numerous birds streaming through the darkening sky towards their sleeping area. Thousands of birds roost in the trees. During the rest of the year, the birds associate in mated pairs. Each pair spends the night in a tree outside the winter roost.
Some sources say that northwestern crows mate for life. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that the birds have "long-term pair bonds". The nest is usually built in a tree, but on some sea islands it may be created on the ground. Both the male and the female create the nest.
Three to six eggs are laid. They are pale green or blue-green with brown and grey blotches. Only the female incubates the eggs, but the youngsters are fed by both parents. Incubation lasts for 17 to 20 days. The male brings food to the female during incubation.
The hatchlings are helpless at birth and stay in the nest for up to 35 days. A young crow from the previous clutch may help the parents care for the hatchlings. The young birds beg for food from a parent even after they've left the nest.
Some crows nest in the trees at the bottom of my road. They are very excitable and protective at this time, vocalizing and flying close to passersby in a threatening manner. I once felt the wings of a bird touch me as it flew over my head, but the crows have never hurt me. The BC SPCA recommends that people change their route or open an umbrella when they walk through a nesting area in spring.
Northwestern Crows have long-term pair bonds, but they sometimes mate with crows that are not their partners.— Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Canuck the Crow
Canuck the crow is (or was) a semi-tame bird that is famous for his antics. I don't like to use the past tense to describe him, but he was last seen on August 30th of this year. His disappearance is strange. His mate has been calling for him without any response. It's thought that Canuck has either been captured and is being kept in captivity or he has died. I'll continue to talk about him in the present tense in the hope that he is safe and will reappear.
The word "canuck" is a nickname for a Canadian. Canuck's mate is called Cassiar after a major road in East Vancouver. Canuck and Cassiar live in this area when not at the winter roost. Though Canuck approaches various people, he has bonded with a man named Shawn Bergman. His confidence around Shawn can be seen in the video below. The bird is the star of several social media accounts, where his adventures can be followed.
Canuck's unusual fondness for humans appears to have been established when he was very young. Shortly after he was born, he fell out of the nest. A young boy found him and hand-reared him. When Canuck was able to fly, the boy released him. This happened around the middle of 2015. Shawn Bergman was the boy's neighbour. The boy was reportedly the son of Shawn's landlord.
Though Canuck accepted his new-found freedom, he remained interested in humans and their activities. He seemed to feel that he belonged to the world of crows and the world of humans.
Today Canuck associates with humans as well as crows. He goes inside a local McDonald's restaurant to see what he can scrounge. He also visits a local gym. At least once, he has ridden on SkyTrain, Vancouver's light rapid transit system. He also enters people's vehicles through open windows.
In a famous incident, Canuck stole a knife from a crime scene. A man burnt his car in a McDonald's parking lot and threatened police with a knife. When the crime scene was being investigated after the incident, the crow flew in and stole the knife. He eventually dropped it and police were able to rescue the knife.
The Soccer Field Incident
Canuck's association with humans hasn't been completely happy. In 2017, he was attending a children's soccer game, as he often did. He had ridden with the sports director as he marked the field. During the game, someone hit Canuck on the head with a flagpole in what witnesses say was an unprovoked attack.
Understandably, the children were very upset about the incident. Canuck was unconscious at first but eventually flew away as the sports director held him. The SPCA was contacted. They in turn contacted Shawn Bergman. After a frantic search, Shawn found the still-dazed bird on the balcony of a nearby home. He took the crow to the Night Owl Bird Hospital, where he recovered.
A bird's brain has a different structure and organization from a mammalian one. This doesn't necessarily mean that birds are unintelligent. Some types—including crows—are clever animals.
A Job at the PNE
I believe that I once saw Canuck. At that time, he wasn't banded on each leg as he is today. Canuck visits the annual fair at the PNE, which is held at Hastings Park in East Vancouver. A couple of years ago when I was at the fair, I noticed a very confident crow on the counter of a food stall beside the staff. I also noticed that the staff weren't shooing him away but were tolerating his presence, which suggested that they knew him.
Canuck explores the fair and investigates what people are doing. One woman who works in an office there says that if she leaves her window open, Canuck flies in and steals the keys off her keyboard. In 2017, the PNE decided to pay the crow a salary of $12.27 an hour because of his "job-shadowing" activity. The salary was donated to the Night Owl Bird Hospital.
Canuck has a band on each leg. The orange band makes him recognizable to people. The silver band comes from the Federal Bird Banding Office and means that he's officially recognized by the government.
The Letter Carrier Incident
Canuck has had an interesting relationship with a letter carrier named Tyler Macleod. The two met in 2018. At first, the crow was aggressive towards Tyler, dive-bombing him and pecking and scratching him. The behaviour may have been related to Canuck's new relationship with a mate. He might have had a nest nearby. The mail delivery to three homes had to be stopped due to problems caused by the crow.
Tyler came up with the idea of bribing Canuck to behave well by giving him peanuts. The ploy worked and the two became good buddies. In fact, the crow now gets into the mail van as a passenger and "helps" Tyler deliver the mail.
I don't live in Vancouver, but I do live in an area adjoining the eastern part of the city. My location and the fact that Canuck still hasn't been discovered is probably why posters about him have recently appeared in my neighbourhood. The $10,000 award has been provided by donors who want to remain anonymous.
Canuck once disappeared for three days and then returned, but the latest incident appears to be much more serious. As the situation continues, people who were involved with the crow are becoming very tense and suspicions about other people's activities are growing. The idea of kidnapping (or crow-napping) has been raised. Canuck may have been killed in an accident or by a predator, however.
Beauty and Danger in Nature
About two months ago, I was walking in the area where the poster above has been placed. Suddenly a bird of prey of some kind (probably a hawk) swooped in front of me as it chased a crow into a bushy but semi-open area beside a creek. I hope the crow escaped further along the creek, but I don't know how likely this was. The event was so rapid and unexpected that it took my breath away. The crow wouldn't have been Canuck, but it reminded me of the dangers that nature presents for animals that are eaten by predators.
I hope Canuck didn't face a similar threat to the one described above. It would be wonderful if he's safe and if he's eventually found. At the moment, rumours about his disappearance exist but no facts. If his fate is discovered—whether it's happy or sad— I'll update this article.
- Northwestern crow information from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Facts about the bird from Audubon
- Corvus caurinus facts from the City of Richmond, British Columbia
- The Misadventures of Canuck from Audubon
- Canuck injured at a soccer game from the Vancouver Sun
- Canuck is paid for his PNE job from Global News
- The letter carrier and the crow from CTV News
- Disappearance of Canuck the Crow from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Linda Crampton