a murder of crows - predator or protector of ducks | PumpjackPiddlewick

We have a murder of crows. Yes, a flock of crows is actually called a murder (etymology link). They live in a big tree at the bottom of our garden. Well, actually they live or fly between a triangular series of trees encompassing our house and barn, but mostly they roost in the one at the bottom of the triangle.

I recently heard a theory that crows are good to have around if you have ducks (or chickens) in that they will protect them. But then I have also read that they will steal eggs and eat ducklings. So which are they? Protector or predator?

I think crows, and ravens, get a bad reputation due to Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘The Birds’. An interesting movie, but a real shame for the crows that it was ever made. It has made people dislike and fear these amazing creatures when they certainly don’t deserve it.

Crows are smart. I mean, really smart. It has to do with size of brain in ratio to size of body. So after humans (and apes?) there is a good argument that crows are next in line. They are able to work out tasks to get to food. They have excellent memories and can adapt to suit their needs.

Some things you may not have known about crows. They are family orientated. There are usually large flocks because the family sticks together. Aunts and uncles look after young ones. Young ones stay with the flock for several years. And they all look after the eggs and baby birds.

When a predator bird, say a hawk or a buzzard, comes into range the crows are up and on guard. They fly around, circling and screeching at the predator. Trying to make life difficult for him so he won’t find a meal amongst them.

And this is what, I think, is meant by crows protecting ducks. It’s not that they actually protect the ducks per say. But if you have a murder of crows living near your ducks you have an early warning system to flying predators. It’s not that they will scare the buzzard from your ducks, but your ducks (or chickens) may gain protection by their actions. Our ducks have learned to understand the sound and its reason when the crows are warning of a predator. They hide under trees in their enclosure for safety.

And why would a murder of crows hang out near ducks? Easy, and mother nature harshly, they are a potential food source. Ducks lay eggs and crows like to eat eggs. They also like to eat ducklings. (If you didn’t know it, many birds are carnivores. Including ducks and chickens.) Also, if you have ducks or chickens you a a human must be ‘alright’ and like birds. So it makes sense to hangout in that same space.

There has even been the question of whether they can eat a full sized duck. Well, they can’t fly away with it. But as they are carrion birds, in that they will eat dead animals, if a duck is poorly they may attack and have a go, but more likely they would prefer it die first. Much easier.

Our duck enclosure has a bird net over top of most of it. It stops attacks from predator birds, and this includes the crows. Trees stick up through the area, so we can’t net it all. This means a crow could get in through the trees if he really wanted to. (A predator like a buzzard couldn’t as they swoop in for the kill.) Even with this access, I don’t worry about our crows.

I’ll tell you a story. Our first spring here we had a young crow get into the duck enclosure. Obviously after some eggs. He must have thought it would be easy pickings. Except, he discovered once in he couldn’t figure out how to get out. And panicked. Needless to say he lost interest in the eggs.

He allowed me to gather him up and take him out to release him back up into the trees. And as crows are very smart, have memories and communicate with each other, we have never had another crow come into the enclosure since.

If you really want to understand how smart crows are, on many levels, and how their communication systems work, I recommend watching the above video. It truly is amazing to see the level of understanding these birds have.

2 Comments

  1. This is really interesting, both as regards the etymology and the behaviour. We have a lot of crows (or ravens — I can’t tell the difference) near us, as well as many predator birds such as red kites. They seem to live in harmony with many ducks and other birds along the river; also people who keep poultry and rabbits in enclosures which also have nets over the top. Recently I read on a friend’s blog (which I highly recommend https://jdriso.com/) that when a raven dies, its family accompanies it as it swoops through its final flight. The natural world is truly a source of wonder.

    1. Thank you. And enjoying reading your friend’s blog! I adore crows. I find them utterly fascinating. And the longer we are here, the more friendly or at least less cautious they become. Crows have funerals when one of their family dies. https://youtu.be/ixYVFZnNl6s As you say the natural world is a wonder. So so true. I count myself lucky to be able to sit and watch it each day.

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