Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005
* Japanese name: Hashibuto-garasu
* Scientific name: Corvus macrorhynchos
* Description: The Jungle crow is a large, black, fearsome-looking bird with a wingspan of up to 104 cm and a body length of 50 cm. It weighs up to 650 grams and lives up to 19 years. It has a close relative, the Carrion crow, and the two can be difficult to distinguish. However, Jungle crows caw with a bobbing tail and a lowered head; Carrion crows bob their head up and down. The Jungle crow's cry is a deep, clear "kaaar."
* Where to find them: If you live in a city or town, then look out the window and you might see a Jungle crow (their Carrion crow cousins prefer more rural areas); there are an estimated 35,000 in Tokyo alone. Crows' nests are often made from metal clothes hangers plundered from washing lines.
* Food: Almost anything, including carrion: Jungle crows are ecological generalists. Crow numbers have exploded in the last decade in Japan's cities, due to the readily availability of food in garbage bags. They will aggressively defend their favored garbage sites against other crows, and in the breeding season (April-May) there are often reports of attacks on humans. The population explosion has led to the decline of other bird species, as crows will prey on the nestlings of other species (sometimes attacking with such violence that the nest is destroyed). Some reports suggest that storing garbage in yellow bags deters crows -- but surely it would be better to place it in metal cages or plastic bins.
* Special features: Intelligence. Crows drop clams from a height to break open the shells, and they have been seen in Tokyo waiting at traffic lights for the red light, and then placing walnuts on the road. When the lights change, cars run over the nuts and crack them. At the next red light, the crows stroll into the road to pick up their meal. One crow at the University of Oxford, known as Betty, showed unprecedented ingenuity by not only using a material not found in nature -- a piece of wire -- but using it to devise a solution to a problem. She was faced with retrieving a food-laden bucket from a tube but only had a straight piece of wire to work with. So she bent a hook into the wire and hoisted the bucket free. Betty showed that crow intelligence rivals that of primates.