To Know the Crow: Insights and Stories From a Quarter-Century of Crow Study [Video]

April 24, 2014
American Crow by Kevin McGowan American Crow by Kevin McGowan.

American Crows have followed us into our suburban and urban neighborhoods, becoming one of our most familiar birds. They have socially intricate lives, with more complex goals than converging at your local dumpster—in fact, socially, they are probably more like us than any primate. Ithaca is home to the longest running study of marked American Crows anywhere: it is now 26 years since Kevin McGowan first began banding them.

McGowan, a scientist who works in the Cornell Lab’s Education program, and his collaborator Anne Clark, of Binghamton University, gave a seminar about their research to a packed house at the Cornell Lab. Watch this archived video of their talk to hear their crow studies and stories, including tales of family values and treachery, stay-at-homes and travelers, dynasties and disease:

(Note: if you want to skip the introductory matter, the main talk begins at about 7:10)

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The talk took place on April 21, 2014. It was part of the Cornell Lab’s long-running Monday Night Seminar series, a tradition established decades ago by Lab founder Dr. Arthur Allen. If you enjoyed this seminar, check this page for our list of future speakers—we’ll note which upcoming talks will be livestreamed—or come visit us in person! If you missed any talks, please see our index of archived livestreamed seminars.


  • Jason Haywood

    I’ve know crows to be intelligent from my own observations. I now think they are the smartest of all animals. I’m a lifetime advocate and observer of birds. The work and dedication that has been put in to your study is very appreciated! Thank You!

  • Cheryl Kudsin

    Finally got a chance to watch the seminar and really enjoyed it. I have noticed a family of crows around my property for three years now. (Two acreas near Doylestown, OH.) First noticed a nest which was eventually destroyed by a huge owl over a two week period which they did battle against every day–and lost) They are very active around my house this spring — they love my suet feeders and clean them out every couple of days — but I love them. They put on quite a show for me. Note: one day I saw one with a white tag on the wing. It was just that one day, though. I keep watching for it. Thanks again. I love knowing they are a family.

  • Dr Anne Clark, I have had the same crow family nest in my neighborhood for two years now. Neither of them are tagged or banded. Last nesting season they brought three youngsters out and about our yard after fledging for quite a while. This year so far I have seen both parents and perhaps at least two of last years fledglings helping out. The male who is a very large bird has been using our bird feeders to collect mealworms and I do believe he helps himself to other foods as well. He consumes as many mealworms as possible, jests over to the water, takes a drink and flies off to a neutral location first and then back in the direction of the nest secondly. Is this a behavior you see all of the time? His vocalizations when entering the yard are no longer loud or audible. Prior to their nesting they both always announced themselves before entering the yard and visiting the feeders.

  • Sorry I forgot to say. I am in Central Florida.

  • Juanita Baker

    Excellent review on crows, thank you for making this available.
    I am Concerned that that the video camera is in the woods might not show the real picture of predators….How misleading is this?
    Is there a similar study showing predation in suburbs, city, or rural areas?
    This would be a perfect opportunity to educate about cat predators.
    If there is a study like this, it would be educational, perhaps you could please give the reference
    Thank you

  • So glad I finally got a chance to watch this. I particularly love Kevin McGowan’s stories about Crows and peanuts because I have been feeding Crows peanuts in downtown Chicago for years and have to say that not only do all the Crows in the Loop recognize me, but I never have to look for them anymore, they always find me, and they anticipate where I am going by reading my thoughts. Or rather, they may be suggesting to me which tree to put the peanuts under. Sometimes it’s a collaborative effort. There is definitely a lot of nonverbal communication going on between us. And I might add if you really want to impress crows, start feeding them hot dogs now and then, cut up in small pieces – but only if you are out of range of gulls! Also I have not climbed up into the crows’ nests but have noticed that increasingly year after year newly fledged crows behave as if they already know me. I have watched many a fledgling being weaned and figuring out its first peanut. The crows trust me, but not anyone, to be around their young.

To Know the Crow: Insights and Stories From a Quarter-Century of Crow Study [Video]