Hooded Crow

David Coultham

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Hooded Crow

Until the year 2002 the Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix) was classified as the same species as the Carrion Crow (Corvus corone). With the benefit of hindsight we can see that whilst they may be closely related, they not only do they look completely different, but their social behavioral patterns are the opposite to each other. Carrion Crows have black plumage whilst Hooded Crows are a mixture of grey and black. Hooded Crows are very sociable animals, and form friendship groups (called a murder of crows) whereas Carrion Crows are solitary animals.

Hooded Crow

MANKIND’S IMPACT ON THE Hooded Crow

Some countries in Europe seasonally hunt the Hooded Crow in a similar way as the U.K. hunts pheasant. However, mans main impact on the hooded crow has a foundation based on superstition and rumor. Crows have long been associated by humans with witchcraft, which is where the term murder of crows comes from. Combine with this the fact that crows eat carrion, and perhaps facilitated with the long-standing Alfred Hitchcock horror series which immortalized the crow, and the result is that crows in general get a bad press.

A trawl of the internet reveals numerous research articles. One of the more recent ones conducted in Hungary in 2013[Ref 1] claims that the Hooded Crow is a nuisance in urban areas because humans:

“Dislike their cawing noise as it is scary”.

Likely this is based on nothing more than superstition! At least no substantiation is given as to why cawing is a particular issue.

“Dislike that crows go through and scatter garbage”.

Assumedly the very same garbage that humans scattered about the place in the first place!

“Crows peck at thin plastic membrane on residential roofs and can cause damage”.

Perhaps humans should not have used sub-standard materials during building?

“Crows are aggressive towards humans”.

No tangible evidence at all of this latter point is provided anywhere in the research! Interestingly, another scientific article from Hungary[Ref 2] looked specifically at the issue of human perceptions of the Hooded Crow in urban environments. Amongst other things, one striking conclusion was that amongst the entire survey population, they very little evidence of anyone who had directly experienced crows being aggressive to them. Most examples being given were based on here-say.

The article [Ref 1] goes on to state that in rural areas that Hooded Crows:

“Are very good hunters, and often depredate other birds’ nests”

This is very true, but how is this different from the other predators that exist in the countless food-chains on our planet?

“Reduce the numbers of ground nesting game species, such as the Common Pheasant”.

In other words, land owners who profit from breeding pheasant for hunting purposes dislike that they have attrition that does not involve their clients shooting the animals.

“Can reduce the numbers of not just game species, but protected, endangered species as well”.

Also very true, but let’s not forget that the reason most species are endangered in the first place is due to human persecution and reduction in the natural habitat supporting wildlife.

These very reasons are then used to justify that culling the Hooded Crow population is a very valuable and important activity. Unfortunately here, the humble Hooded Crow is a victim of its own success. They are extremely adaptable to their environment, and where food supplies are abundant, their population size will grow to meet the supply. So, if humans discard trash which contains food, or feed pigeons and waterfowl in parks and gardens, or leave food out in zoos then the Hooded Crow is sure to exploit this abundant food source. So rather than jumping straight to the conclusion that we should cull animals that exploit humans behaviors, maybe we should be re-educating humans to be more responsible in the first place?

Another interesting scientific article on Hooded Crows was conducted in Cyprus[Ref 4] in 2020. The article outlines an interesting perspective on how the culling of Hooded Crows came about in Cyprus.

The legal origins of culling corvids in Northern Cyprus emerged during British colonial rule in Cyprus (1878–1960). In 1911, a law pertaining to the collection of eggs of birds deemed to be harmful or overly plentiful was passed, and later in 1922 amended to include the shooting of birds. With these legal changes Cypriots, as British colonial subjects, had to provide British colonial officials with a specified number of corvid heads (approximately 25) caught through trapping and/or other methods in order to gain a hunting license. 

This could perhaps give a historical basis for mankind’s uncomfortable relationship with the Hooded Crow, as the British Empire had a far reaching influence at this time. What is fascinating from this study though, is the conclusion that:

Annual culling is inevitably inefficient and cannot achieve its stated goals, potentially delegitimizing environmental management practices.

Essentially what they have discovered is that the Hooded Crow is so adaptable, that culling ultimately doesn’t lead to a reduction in population, because the animals over-breed to re-establish their numbers,

Hooded Crows are a protected species in the U.K., under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Under this, Hooded Crows cannot knowingly be killed, injured or caught and taken into captivity.

Hooded Crow DIET

The Hooded Crow is an omnivore, and a very successful scavenger, and its diet includes carrion, the eggs and youngsters in bird nests, invertebrates, grain, seeds, nuts.

Hooded Crow
A Hooded Crow strikes a very ominous pose on this dead tree. Perhaps this appearance contributed to mankind’s negative perceptions and uncomfortable relationship with these beautiful animals?

HABITAT

Hooded Crows are extremely adaptable, and live in urban, sub-urban, woodland, mountain, marine, intertidal, wetland, grassland, and pastoral environments.

Note that this map is for a rough illustration of animal distribution across the UK, whereby light green indicates established populations. For a more accurate illustration see RSPB[Ref 3]. Note also, that, some populations of Hooded Crows migrate from Scandinavia to the North-East of England in the winter months. Other than this temporary migration, Hooded Crows are only resident in Scotland and Ireland.

BEHAVIOR

Hooded Crows are highly intelligent, and there are many examples whereby they demonstrate an ability to solve problems. Take a look at this video of a Hooded Crow which appears to be helping out a Hedgehog so that it doesn’t get run over.

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It may be the case that the Hooded Crow in this video had alternative intentions. However, there are several scientific studies that show that corvids can perform cognitive actions comparable to primates[Ref 5-8]. It is established that Hooded Crows can differentiate between different human faces, and that with time and patience, they will establish positive relationships with humans that are kind to them; bringing gifts to people that feed them. They will also exhibit negative behaviors to humans that are unkind to them.

They breed from March laying up to six eggs in large twiggy nests lined with hair and/or wool. They prefer to nest in trees and on rocky crags. Both parents feed the chicks for around 5 to 8 weeks until they can fend for themselves. The young tend to stay with the family group for the first winter.

STATS

Their feather color is predominantly grey and black, but some also have brown feathers. All Hooded Crows have black legs. Adults weigh between 370-650g and are up to 47cm tall with a wingspan of up to 104cm. In the wild they live up to 17 years. It is thought that there are up to 260’000 resident pairs.

Hooded Crow NATURAL PREDATORS

Hooded Crows can be preyed upon by Golden Eagles, Eurasian Eagle Owls, Goshawks & Buzzards. Interestingly, a murder of hooded crows will gang up on these predators and chase them away.

WHERE & WHEN TO PHOTOGRAPH

With the population being centric around Scotland & Ireland, then this is obviously your best bet. Also with so many birds being resident in the U.K., combined with that they populate pretty much any environment, then you can spot them in most environments at any time of year.

CAMERA & SETTINGS

Hooded Crows can be quite skittish in the presence of humans, so a longer lens is generally needed up to 400mm. If you have time to spend around a particular group of crows then you can build up trust. You will need to stay quiet and calm at all times in their presence. Feeding them regularly will build up their trust in you. In this case you can get away with a shorter focal lengths such as 200mm.

REFERENCES

Map distribution data and behavioral references based on JNCC & World Owl data.

Conservation status and population based on IUCN 2016 assessment.

  1. The impact of population management on urban and rural Hooded Crow populations – 10.34101/actaagrar/2/13015.
  2. Is the Hitchcock Story Really True? Public Opinion on Hooded Crows in Cities as Input to Management 10.39390/ani12091207.
  3. Royal Society for Protection of Birds. https://www.rspb.org.uk
  4. A Murder of Crows: Culling Corvids in Northern Cyprus. Betz Heinemann, K., Betmezoğlu, M., Ergoren, M.C. et al. A Murder of Crows: Culling Corvids in Northern Cyprus. Hum Ecol 48, 245–249 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-020-00154-4
  5. Smirnova, A., Zorina, Z., Obozova, T., and Wasserman, E. (2015). Crows spontaneously exhibit analogical reasoning. Curr. Biol. 25, 256–260. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.11.063
  6. Smirnova, A. A., Kalashnikova, Y. A., Samuleeva, M. V., and Zorina, Z. A. (2019). Evaluating the capability of mirror self-recognition in hooded crows (Corvus cornix). Biol. Bull. 47, 836–843.
  7. Soler, M., Colmenero, J. M., Pérez-Contreras, T., and Peralta-Sánchez, J. M. (2020). Replication of the mirror mark test experiment in the magpie (Pica pica) does not provide evidence of self-recognition. J. Comp. Psychol. 134, 363–371. doi: 10.1037/com0000223
  8. Soler, M., Pérez-Contreras, T., and Peralta-Sánchez, J. M. (2014). Mirror-mark tests performed on jackdaws reveal potential methodological problems in the use of stickers in avian mark-test studies. PLoS One 9:e86193. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086193

If you enjoyed this article, and are maybe interested in some of the photography, please check out my Corvid Gallery.

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