Crows sometimes exhibit human traits from counting to telling time

"The crow is intelligent. Those who have studied it in the field and laboratory tell us it can count … that it has a vocabulary of twenty-some sounds; that it can solve puzzles and work its way out of predicaments."

--George Miksch Sutton, artist and director Sutton Aviary Research Center in Oklahoma.

Through the years, I suspect I have written more often about American crows than any other bird, excepting perhaps the red bird. This is because crows -- once you get to know them -- are captivating. And the more you know about their various strategies, the more eye-opening their behavior becomes.

Have you ever noticed how crows always seem to be up to something, flying here and there as if they were embarking on secret missions?

"Caw-caw-cawing" back-and-forth, they parade across my field of vision in small groups -- flapping low over the pasture like pieces of black flannel in the wind -- and disappear in the woods below the house. In 10 minutes or so they return "cackling" happily as if their mission (whatever it was) had been accomplished. 

 They conduct what sounds to me like a "conversation" -- a back-and-forth communication -- conducted in guttural tones. I'm serious. I don't know if they're "talking" about me or making their plans for the day or what. I am convinced, however, that they are exchanging information in a manner that approximates human speech.

"Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans" by University of Washington wildlife biologist John Marzluff and Seattle artist Tony Angell was published in 2012. Here are some of their conclusions.

Crows have a sense of time — if not by a watch, by other prompts. A dozen wild crows at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo followed a feeding ritual. Once a week (noon Friday), the penguins received live fish. The crows learned the routine and showed up like clockwork to get their share.    

Crows and other members of the Corvid family (jays, ravens, nutcrackers. magpies, etc., have exceptional memories. Jays can remember for months tens of thousands of locations where they cache seeds each year.

Crows like to have fun. To amuse themselves they nip on the tails of dogs and cats and pull the feathers from the tails of turkeys. And they bring gifts. A woman who regularly fed crows received "half of a red poker chip, a penny, a paper clip, a red die, bits of pottery, a blue glass bead, a red wire twist tie, a tiny pin that says Loyal Legion Week 1933, and ... best thing of all — a blue plastic Cap'n Crunch figurine." 

Just watching them come and go makes me feel better.