Don’t birds fly south for the winter?

 Kristin Zwiers, of Kristin Zwiers photography (www.kristinzwiers.com)

At the University of Washington, Wildlife Ecologist Loma Pendergraft uses a parabolic microphone to amplify the call of a distant crow in order to record its sound.

Every day as you leave school you see them. Hundreds fly overhead, cawing at each other. Briefly, you wonder where they are going.
A large murder of crows fly over Hale daily after school on their way to the UW Bothell campus.
“They all like to roost at night at the University of Washington in Bothell,” said wildlife ecologist Loma Pendergraft. “There’s a cop of trees there where they all like to sleep.”
Crows love Seattle’s temperate climate. In the summer, there are plenty of resources for crows, such as berries, nuts, and bugs. Seattle doesn’t have harsh winters, so these necessary resources are available year-round.
Nathan Hale is an especially popular stop on the crows’ way to the UW Bothell campus.
“You have the river, and you have Meadowbrook Park which is a pretty nice habitat. You [also] have a community in the area where people feed them,” Pendergraft said.
Pendergraft knows the importance of caring for local animals. In high school he worked with ‘lost’ baby birds that people had taken to the vet. The vet, who had struggled to manage all the birds on his own, appreciated the help. Pendergraft did this for several summers, and was so inspired he decided to pursue a career in this field.
Pendergraft finds crows to have many admirable qualities.
“They are very smart. They’re expressive, they’re charismatic,” he said. “It never ceases to amaze me when I hear stories that demonstrate just how smart they are.”
One of the many interesting things about crows or corvids (a category of birds which includes crows and ravens) is their problem solving ability. In one recorded instance, a New Caledonian crow named Betty bent a wire into a hook in order to reach nearby food.
Corvids in general are an intelligent species. Ravens have proven that they can learn to speak basic human language due to their ability to repeat sounds, and because crows have such a wide range of melodies, some can be taught to recite opera.
Crows are known for their excellent memory. They can stash food and remember the exact spot they left it. Crows’ brain to body ratios are exceptionally similar to those of chimpanzees and humans.
Pendergraft’s interests have led him to tracking crow calls. He wears a different mask each time he observes crows in the same area. This way he doesn’t have to deal with the complications of the crows remembering him as he records the sounds.
“If you feed it every day it will expect you. It’ll follow you around. It will recognize you from a crowd. It’ll swoop down, and land near you, wanting to be fed,” Pendergraft said. “Of course the flipside is if you antagonize a crow: if you throw rocks at it, and chase it away, or if you get too close to its kid, it will also remember you, and then you’ve made yourself an enemy.”


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