However, they are certainly not the sinister, villainous creatures they're sometimes made out to be.

Why is it called a murder?

Crows are very social birds that like to hang out together. Ornithologists have even discovered that crows will kiss and make up after a fight. Then why would they come to be known collectively by a word like murder? Ancient folk tales, mythologies, and superstitions are possible explanations for the origin of the term.

Scavengers are frequently associated with death in literature and art. Rambunctious, loud, and very intelligent, crows have a long connection to the macabre.

murder of crows in the snow

(a murder of crows in my backyard)

From numerous folktales that tell of a crow's trial by his fellow crows to tales of crows scavenging human bodies to The Simpson's Crow Didley, these corvids have been associated with death for centuries. Folklore and superstition fueled the idea of the crow’s murderous nature, and the designation stuck.

Even William Shakespeare has been associated with the crow. He was once described as an "upstart crow" in a 16th-century pamphlet penned by another playwright envious of his success.

They form relationships with humans

Whether through ancient folklore, myths, or legends, crows have a long and sometimes sinister association with people. Inquisitive, clever, and constantly curious, crows are one of the rare bird species that not only recognize humans but also form relationships with us.

native American crow tribe

(tribal flag of the Crow Nation)

Want to attract a crow?

There are two requirements to gain their trust: pay attention to what they do, and be patient. Establish a regular feeding schedule and observe them from a safe distance. Be sure to keep pets inside at feeding time. Most dogs and cats will chase crows.

Once a crow knows when, where, and what to expect, you're on your way to forming a good relationship with the bird.

Is feeding them legal?

In many jurisdictions, it is specifically forbidden to intentionally provide food for wild animals that may become a nuisance. Check your local ordinances.

crow in a tree

What they like and dislike

Surprisingly, these curious corvids can be extremely picky eaters. Discovering what crows like to eat is trial and error. The primary rule: no junk food. They like it; however, there are foods you should and should not feed a crow.

Kibble is a favorite. Crows have also been known to chow down on eggs, food scraps, and nuts (no salt, please). Just make sure it’s healthy. Over time, you can build trust with the crow and perhaps a friendship as well.

Start things off right by offering your crows (and squirrels and other birds too) raw peanuts in the shell.

crow with food in its mouth

(apparently crows like junk food)

They're very intelligent

Aesop didn't just make that up. Scientific research shows that crows possess impressive intelligence. They can remember names, people, pets, and they also hold a grudge when trust is broken.

It has been proven that zero is not just "nothing". It's one of the most complex mathematical concepts ever conceived. It demonstrates that rather than an empty space, something can and should represent "nothing" as a placeholder.

This concept of “nothing” as the number 0 is touted as one of the greatest mathematical achievements ever. But for the majority of human history, we didn’t understand it.

Crows do. They grasp an empty set as a quantity that is represented next to the number 1. It took humans until at least the first century B.C. to firmly establish the empty or base value.

In an experiment, crows were shown two sets of dots on a screen and taught to indicate if the two screens had the same values. When the screens showed no dots, the crows demonstrated an understanding that this was a numeric value and also contained nothing.

illustration of a crow putting something in a jar

(Aesop's fabled crow was quite clever)

Keeping crows out of your garden

Crows can do real damage to a garden by biting off plants, tearing up crops, and generally making a colossal mess.

For some unknown reason, shiny things frighten them. Hang disposable pie tins, old CDs, or other reflective items throughout the yard. Noise machines work, as does bird netting. Avoid using large bird feeders. Crows will attempt to raid them. Keep trash can lids secured. Hang crow Halloween decorations upside down with the wings spread. Believing their brethren dead, live crows are likely to make their getaway as quickly as possible.

What hasn't worked? Fake owl decoys, including those with a moving head. I have two in the backyard, along with a bunch of happy crows.

fake owl decoy

(my photo)

Can I keep a pet crow?

In the U.S., crows are listed on the Department of the Interior’s Federal Register of Migratory Birds and are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This makes it illegal to possess them or any of their parts.

Additionally, they require specialized care, including constant interaction to keep them entertained. That's why researchers and wildlife rehabilitators frequently compare them to small children.

Both ethical and practical issues prohibit owning a crow. Even if you find an injured or sick bird, never take it home. In the United States, it is illegal to do so.

Additionally, the work it takes to keep a crow healthy would be overwhelming. A crow belongs in its natural habitat, entirely free to live out its life in the best possible way.

crow at a suet feeder

Crow or raven?

Determine if the bird you see is a crow or a raven by first finding out which species inhabit your location. If you see a large black bird, listen for its call. If it sounds something like two "gronks", it's a raven. If the call is "caw-caw", that's a crow. Ravens are larger and have a graceful soaring and gliding flight. Crows flap their wings frequently.

To hear a reading of Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem, The Raven, click here.

raven with damaged wing

(raven with a damaged wing can still fly with ease; Jessie Eastland, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)