Creature Feature: Corvids

A corvid? What on earth is a corvid??

Corvids are a family of birds (technically named Corvidae) that includes crows, ravens, magpies, and jays, among a few others. This bird family is huge, containing almost 120 species, and can be found everywhere on earth except the polar ice caps. Most species are medium to large sized birds, with stout builds and strong, sturdy beaks. They are usually extremely social, mating for life and often roosting in large family groups.
Common Ravens are almost the size of a 
hawk and make a hoarse, croaking caw.
In the Okanagan-Similkameen, the most well known corvids are likely the Common Raven, American Crow, and Black-billed Magpie, but Steller's Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers, and Grey Jays (aka Whiskey Jacks) are also members of the family.

Corvids are a very unique group of birds.  Even though they are classified as Songbirds (a bigger group  of birds that includes many other small birds like robins, sparrows, warblers, etc), most do not truly sing as other songbirds do, instead using a multitude of caws, whistles, chirps, gurgles, and chatters to communicate. It is also interesting to note that many corvids are exceptional mimics as well; hand-raised Common Ravens can be taught human words and Steller's Jays produce a surprisingly accurate Red-tailed Hawk scream.  Many corvids, crows and ravens in particular, have been observed participating in activities that can really only be classified as 'play'; tobogganing down inclines, tug-of-war with siblings, and aerial acrobatics are just some of the activities that have been observed.


Canada's new national bird, the 'Whiskey
Jack' is a corvid! Photo by Walter Siegmund
Corvids are by far the smartest group of birds on the planet. After accounting for their smaller body size, these birds have brains comparable to dolphins and apes, two animals we have long known are highly intelligent. Various species of Corvids have been proven to be able to use tools, solve puzzles, recognize facial features, and count to 5. Others have the ability to recall past events or plan for the future (episodic-like memory) and communicate information about something that is distant, either physically far away or far away in time (lingual displacement).

To learn more about corvids and more about how amazingly smart they are, feel free to visit the links below:
A writer befriends some corvids
Impulse control in jackdaws and ravens
Have issues with an annoying corvid?
Wikipedia article on Corvids

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