Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Carrion Crow cawing display

I haven't blogged on Carrion Crows this year at The Rattling Crow, and that needs to be amended. So today, I bring you a sequence from this morning, when I documented a Cawing Display. This is a series of movements carried on when cawing from a prominent perch, often by territory holders. The whole body arches and bows as the same time that they call loudly, giving the impression that they put all their might into it. This pair were sitting initially close together and I thought they were getting ready to preen each other, but then they must have spotted an intruder in their territory, as they started performing the cawing display in amazing synchrony. Each display involved cawing and bowing three times, while fanning their tails, and keeping their belly feathers raised. I noticed that in many of the photographs (see the top one, in the middle of a caw) the nictitating membrane - which makes their eyes look cloudy - was drawn at the same time that they called, something that is only possible to notice with photographs.
The pair watching intently. Their tails are touching and slightly fanned and their belly feathers are also a bit ruffled.
The start of a caw.
The end of a caw.
The intruded came closer and both birds called noisily and gave it chase.
Carrion Crows pair for life, which is often not that long (average 4 years, with a maximum recorded age of 9) and the pair remains together all year round. Only territory holders breed, with one year old birds and non-territory holders often moving in a flock and intruding in territories in search of food, leading to squirmishes with the territory holders, in which both members of the pair participate.

More information
Coombs, Franklin (1978) The Crows. B.T. Batsford Ltd, London. 255 pp.


  1. A most evocative piece with pleasing pictures. Wish I understood more of the language of these fascinating birds. There is a pair of crows in the park who come to me for peanuts. When one has arrived first and sees his or her mate coming and utters a gentle kya kya kya greeting, often there is a reply from a tree some distance away, a lower-pitched, slower call, thioo, thioo, quite melodious and like the sound of an 8 foot wooden flute stop on a German baroque organ, with a noticeable 'chiff' of breath at the beginning of each utterance. Is this a senior crow saying 'I'd like to remind you two that you're on my territory, so behave yourselves'?

  2. Thank you Ralph! I am with you that Crows seem to have a complex language and once you listen what most people would describe as a 'caw' it is actually a very rich range of calls with different tones and qualities. During the winter there is a crow roost at campus and it is amazing to listen to them, who knows what they are saying to each other!

  3. What a marvellous post and comments,, thank you both.