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Davis Journal

The crows (and corvids) of Davis County

Feb 22, 2024 11:57AM ● By Braden Nelsen
A group of crows, called a ‘murder’ gather in Utah. Photo courtesy of Utah DWR

A group of crows, called a ‘murder’ gather in Utah. Photo courtesy of Utah DWR

DAVIS COUNTY—Bird watching, or birding has been popular in this area for years. The habitat provided by the Great Salt Lake brings many fascinating birds to the area, including some well-known species like herons or even bald eagles. There are, however, local birds that get a bit of a bad rap, despite their intelligence: corvids. 

This group of birds includes many native to Utah, and Davis County, including several species of jays, but most notably, crows, ravens, and magpies. Though the reasons vary, each of these three types of birds has gained a bad reputation, whether that be from tradition or misinformation, and, although protections exist, these bad reputations don’t help their well-being.

Blain Stringham, Northern Regional Supervisor for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) admitted that there is some justification for that reputation. Crows, magpies, and other corvids are generally larger than other birds, and they are competitive when it comes to food. They’ve been known to damage crops, and drive off other birds, but, he said, there’s more to corvids than may meet the eye.

“The Corvid family is incredibly smart,” said Stringham. He wasn’t exaggerating either: over the years many studies have been conducted to see just how smart these particular birds are, and the results are jaw-dropping. Not only did crows and ravens solve problems and puzzles at the same level as a 10-year-old human child, but they were able to communicate with each other at a highly sophisticated level. 

According to a study conducted by the University of Washington, crows will not only recognize people who have wronged them but will tell other crows about those same people. The study utilized a “dangerous” mask, and each time the researchers returned to the area wearing the mask, more and more of the crows in the area would make negative noises at them. It’s an impressive fact, and all the more important given their population is increasing in the area.

Over the last decade, more and more crows and magpies have come to roost in Davis and the surrounding area, and for the most part, it’s because of development. Unlike other species, crows and magpies don’t mind development, in fact, they enjoy it because tall buildings provide an ideal place to roost. Pair that with the abundant food waste, and the giant ecosystem provided by the Great Salt Lake, and Davis becomes a veritable crow’s paradise.

Even with protections in place, Stringham said that there are things residents can do to scare off crows and magpies, like making yards and trees inhospitable, or scaring them off, with increasing numbers of these intelligent birds, it may be more advantageous to learn how to live with them. As well as remembering those who wrong them, crows and corvids also remember those who treat them well and have often been recorded as bringing gifts to people who feed them. 

Whether Davis County residents want to see them more, or less, there’s no denying that crows, ravens, and magpies are impressive creatures that, albeit a bit of a nuisance, deserve respect. After all, the choice resides between a chorus of scolding caws, or a few shiny trinkets in exchange for a simple treat like peanuts.