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IMG_6252My name is Loma Pendergraft, and I’m a graduate student in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington. I am currently studying the cognitive abilities of American crows, particularly how they interact within their social environment.

I’ve long been fascinated by the intelligence of crows and other members of their taxonomic family (a group known as “Corvids”); it never ceases to amaze me when I hear stories that demonstrate just how smart they are. Have you heard about Betty, the New Caledonian crow that created a tool to retrieve some out-of-reach food? Did you know that European magpies can recognize themselves in the mirror? Were you surprised to find out that American crows can identify and remember human faces? These stories and others like them testify to the astonishing brain power that these birds possess.

Due to their advanced intelligence, crows are able to interact and communicate with one another to a surprising degree. For my Master’s, I studied the different vocalizations that American crows give around food. For my PhD, I am studying their problem solving capabilities and the different regions of their brain that are most active when they experience different situations.

 

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19 Responses to Home

  1. Hi Loma, I enjoyed hearing about your crow project today at the Montlake Fill. I, too, find crows fascinating. I was amazed the day I saw a crow touch the water of the lake and fly away with a small fish.
    Best of luck in your work.
    Marilyn Roderick

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  2. Tom Reaume says:

    Hi Loma, Always great to find someone studying crows. Thanks for the donation. Their vocabulary is still a mystery to us. How crows describe their world among themselves and when interacting with us in the urban habitat sounds like a wonderful project. Keep an ear out for surprises. The day is full of possibilities. Tom Reaume

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  3. luanwe says:

    I have watched crows for years and have grown to love and admire them. One of the few birds that have a chance of surviving the Anthropocene.

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  4. Roxanna says:

    wish wecould hear your presentation in Tulsa sounds interesting what you are doing. we have a small group of crows that come to our yard, front porch, trees, neighborhood, I can’t remember when we first noticed them but we think they chased the pigeons that were in our trees for the past year away, which is ok with us. They are some beauties. we live in OKC.

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  5. Dominic García-hall says:

    Kaeli Swift gave me your info – wondered what your u thought about this? Today I watched an AMCR vocalising from its nest; when approached by 2 FICR it changed its call note to one that was much more akin to FICR call. Is this a kind of interspecific communication?? Pretty cool to see. Thanks

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    • How interesting! While several species are capable of interspecific communication, they almost always involve recognizing each other’s alarm calls. I’ve attracted FICR to an area by playing AMCR mobbing calls, but your anecdote doesn’t mention danger. I have a couple ideas on what might be going on, but I’d like to get a bit more information about this phenomenon before I formulate any hypotheses: Where did this happen (what state)? When did this happen (what month)? How could you tell the 2 approaching crows were FICR and not smaller AMCR? What happened after the nesting crow gave those calls?

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  6. Stella says:

    Hello Loma,
    I found your contact info in an article of Kaeli’s. It appears you are the “Go-to Crow Communication Guy”
    I have shared some Crow stories and questions with Kaeli since rescuing a nestling last May. Let me put your mind at ease, Ruckus is back with his parents. He comes “home” every day, sometimes several times throughout the day. His parents call me every morning, like a patron summoning a waiter, lol. Of course, I oblige.
    I have heard a number of different vocalizations, and even sent a video to Kaeli showing an odd behavior of Ruckus’. She could not identify it. Perhaps I could forward it to you?
    Looking forward to reading more of your work about yet another fascinating talent of our Corvid friends.
    Thank you
    Stella

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    • Hi Stella,
      I always enjoy experiencing some new facet of crow behavior. I’d love it if you could send me the video you took. I’ll create another comment with my email, but will delete it in a couple of days. Alternatively, you could post it to YouTube and share the link- other visitors to my site might want to see your video as well!

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      • Stella says:

        Thank you Loma. I will email it to you with a description of the different times/places he did it. I take pictures and video everyday to document his life, growth, and health. Have a great day! 😎
        Stella

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  7. JAMES HILL says:

    I am fortunate enough to live in proximity to a family of crows and we get to see their periodic “gathering of the clan” or “parliaments”. i am fascinated by their language, especially the unique “ratcheting” sound they make. Any ideas about what this vocalization means?

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    • There is a vocalization that crows (and other Corvids) make which scientists call a “Rattle” call- I’m guessing that’s what you heard. Unfortunately, we don’t know what it means, although some researchers have noted that only female crows give that call. Sorry I wasn’t much help! I’m considering making a new page which demonstrates some of the different sounds that crows make, but can’t say if I’ll have it ready anytime soon (PhD students don’t have much free time).

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      • Jim says:

        Thank you Loma! Please don’t apologize; I learned something new from your post — that it sees only female crows make the Rattle-call. Recently I’ve begun to be curious about an aspect of Corvid diet – do you know of corvids ever intentionally consume any plants or fermented plants that have a mind-altering effect on them? These corvid minds are ancient and alien (non-human).

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      • It’s actually fairly common for birds to get drunk. In fact, birds whose diet is mostly composed of fruit (cedar waxwings, for example) have extra large livers to handle the high-alcohol content of fermented fruit. I don’t know if crows inherently seek out mind-altering substances, but individual crows can develop a taste for beer or coffee if they have regular access to it (an easy task if the bird lives near a bar or coffee shop). Interestingly enough, crows will also seek out cigarette butts- they’ll groom themselves and even line their nests with them. Scientists think they function as a bug repellent, although it’s possible that they gain some sort of drug effect from them.

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  8. Kevin Watson says:

    Dear Mr. Pendergraft,
    I’m writing from the coast of humboldt county, California, where
    there are many crows and ravens, many of whom I’ve gotten to know over the
    past couple of years, although most not to an individual level yet.
    I’m eager to read any material you have on this site
    regarding crow vocalizations.
    I wonder if you might be able to direct me to any website with
    trustworthy information on corvus corax vocalizations.

    Some raven calls seem basically the same as crow calls, and some
    raven calls I haven’t heard from crows–although I havent spent
    the same kind of time around crows as ravens.

    Ravens seem to have a song, which was unexpected and extremely
    pleasant to hear.
    A warble in the throat topped by nasal whistles–if they were
    human.
    Also a click that seems like it comes from the neck–but may also be the beak.
    I’m sure you’ve seen this. I have video and some audio of, i believe, most calls that I’ve heard. The young seem to babble like human babies.

    Thank you very much–there’s so much on the web,
    but so little that seems in-depth or dependable.

    I came here from Kaeli Swift’s fascinating blog.

    Sincerely,
    Kevin Watson

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    • Hi Kevin,

      I’m glad to hear that you’re interested in learning more about crows and ravens. I don’t know much about Common ravens (my study animal is the American crow), but recommend you look into the research of Thomas Bugnyar, Bernd Heinrich, and John Marzluff. All of them are accomplished scientists who’ve published popular science books about raven behavior.

      Alternatively, the Macaulay Library has around 800 audio samples of Common raven calls. They aren’t organized into any categories, but they offer plenty of examples of the various sounds that ravens are capable of making.

      I hope I was able to help you out!
      -Loma

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  9. Michael says:

    Hey Loma, are your audio recordings available somewhere? i have a friend that often clicks and mutters when hanging out with me. She too recognizes either herself or crow-ness in the clips i’ve made. check the link. i didn’t raise her, we just met this year yet the murder seems to know me and gives her only moderate heat for hanging out with a lowlife like me.

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    • Hi Michael,

      I haven’t posted any of my audio recordings yet (I’m trying to get my research published, and journals don’t want results or materials posted prior to publication). However, you can find some audio recordings at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Crow/sounds. Additionally, there is a link on that page to the Macaulay Library, which contains around 900 American crow audio samples (that link is too ling to post here).

      As for your video, I would guess that your friend was hand-reared by humans at some point early in her life; wild-reared crows won’t become that tame. I’m also glad to hear that her flock-mates aren’t terribly agitated by her proximity to you. In his book “King Solomon’s Ring”, Konrad Lorentz described something similar happening with wild jackdaws when he walked around with his pet jackdaw riding on his shoulder/head.

      I hope I was able to provide you with some answers!
      -Loma

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  10. juliemhepp says:

    Hi Loma!
    I asked on a a corvid drawing I did while listening to Kaeli Swift’s interview on the podcast “Ologies” if there was any opportunities to help with corvid research in Seattle and she directed me to you!

    Would love to hang out and talk crovid if you need some help from a fellow UW Grad and a enthusiastic nature educator.
    – Jules

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  11. Chris Winter says:

    Hi, I searched ‘corvids’ on twitter and found you. Admittedly it was in relation to a t-shirt design on my site (https://neverdeny.co.uk/?product=raven-black) but I am genuinely fascinated by crows, ravens etc. I have some playful magpies in my garden that like to treat the branches of a dead tree like a climbing frame, pinging about between the branches like a bunch of hyperactive children. I’ve just read The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman and wonder if you can recommend any interesting corvid-related books? Thanks in advance, and your project is fascinating.

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