Smoking Joe was quite a character!
By Douglas H. Domedion
As a young boy I had several pet crows over the years. This of course is illegal now. Although they eventually returned back to the wild (I allowed them to roam free) they were very interesting to study and have as pets.
I always named a young crow “Joe” because they could learn to say “Hello Joe” quite easily if they hear it repeated enough. This would happen without splitting their tongues as old myths claim you had to do to get them to imitate the human voice.
A pet crow is always getting into trouble stealing some item from people and then hiding it. One of my crows loved to take coins or a pair of sunglasses and hide them behind the wheel of the car. When I worked at the golf course someone nearby had a pet crow and it would fly over to the greens and steal golf balls.
One of my pet crows would either ride on the handlebars of my bike or fly above me when I went over to my girlfriend’s house. He would sit on the roof for about a half an hour and then start a ruckus, calling to let me know it was time to go home.
Another would occasionally follow Dad and me when we went pheasant hunting and we always had to be alert of where he was as not to accidentally shoot him. Gunfire didn’t bother him and he would perch on the barrel of my .22 and not fly off when I shot. That one was a character as he would hold a lit cigarette in his beak until it burned down enough that the smoke bothered him. I brought a miniature smoking pipe one time and when I offered it to him he would grab it and sit there holding it in his beak like he was smoking!
All these pet crows made good watchdogs and nothing entered the area around our house that they didn’t see and would alert you with loud calling. This of course alerted the dog that would then join in with her barking.
Crows in large numbers can be a serious threat to crops or nesting birds such as ducks. They especially like corn that is just sprouting. They also can be a problem with their droppings and noise when they gather in huge roosts at night, as was the case in the town of Auburn a few years back.
However, overall crows can be beneficial because of the great amount of destructive insects, such as grasshoppers and cutworms, that they eat. They will eat about anything including road kill, garbage, fruit, mice, small birds and even dead fish washed up on shore.
They were hunted heavily in the past because of the damage they caused but this never seemed to effect their numbers. I believe that DDT caused them a lot of problems in the past as it did with other birds such as our Bald Eagle. No one ever worried about the crow though like they did about the eagles. When I think back on it now, many of the nests we checked for baby crows as kids had broken eggs just like the problem the eagles were having. Of course little was known about the negative effects of chemicals on our wildlife at that time.
It seemed that for a long time you just didn’t see many crows in the fields. In more recent times, with the wiser use of our chemicals, they seem to be on the upswing again.
An interesting thing about crows is that they tend to remain in a family groups. In fact, sometimes the younger family members that are not paired up may help build a nest or feed the young.
They build nests of sticks and line them with soft things like grass or feathers. They will use hardwood trees for a nesting site but prefer evergreen trees. The eggs, usually four, are greenish with brown spots. After hatching, the young leave the nest in about three weeks but travel as a family for a considerable time.
Crows are known for their “caw, caw, caw” calls but they also make a great many other noises which sometimes do not even seem to be of bird origin. Their loud and aggressive calling is often heard when they gang up and decide to harass a hawk or owl. The chase will build in intensity and all the crows in the area will join in. They will repeatedly chase, dive-bomb and harass any hawk or owl that enters their area in hopes of driving them off.
Crows are interesting birds and very intelligent. You may want to take the time to notice their lifestyles sometime. Heck, you may learn something from them, but don’t start smoking!
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