Crows Never Forget a Face

Crows are amazing birds. While writing BLESSED MAYHEM, I researched them extensively, and became so intrigued I longed to befriend a crow of my own. Let’s backtrack a bit so you can see why I became so enthralled, and then we’ll move on to the bizarre events unfolding in my yard.

First, a demonstration…

“No other animal—not even a chimp—has ever spontaneously solved a problem like this, a fact that puts crows in a class with us as toolmakers,” Non-Fiction Author Candace Savage

Not only do crows problem-solve, they teach other crows. In this next video you’ll see a crow using a vending machine. If you’re short on time, fast forward to 1:19, where he figures out how to use the machine. When the vending machine malfunctions, he gets mad and steals the quarter (2:21). So funny! Also cool is the part where one crow demonstrates how the machine works so his buddies can receive a treat too (3:31).

Mostly likely these crows are family, because oftentimes when crows find a good food source they’re unlikely to share. Much like a dog, it’s been documented that a crow is not opposed to playing dead next to a tasty morsel so crows flying overhead won’t stop. 

Probably the most amazing aspect of crows are their ability to consider, reconsider, learn, feel sorrow, love, fear, hatred—I could go on and on—also their memory is unparalleled to any other bird. Although ravens are intelligent, with the wherewithal to use what they’ve learned. For the purpose of today’s post, I’m concentrating on crows—who can also count!

There’s been numerous experiments to validate crows innate abilities. One of the most fascinating for me was when researchers at Washington State University donned latex masks and captured seven crows. Once released, the crows “scolded” them with distinct screeching calls. They also dive-bombed their heads. Every time the researchers wore the masks around campus, more and more crows would join the angry mob. Yet, without the masks the researchers were free to roam the campus. 

To prove the crows weren’t just opposed to latex, they asked several other people to wear masks. Sure enough, only the person in the caveman mask got scolded. What does that tell us? While we’re minding our own business crows are taking mental snapshots of our faces and passing on the information to other crows. It’s this tidbit that drove me to include crows in BLESSED MAYHEM, because, well, they’re so cool. Crows also added a unique creepiness. Once a crow memorizes your facial features as a “dangerous face,” you’re marked for life. Generation after generation, entire crow communities will teach their young that you’re not to be trusted. Crows know how to hold a grudge too.

What can we learn from this? Never piss off a crow.

If you happen to stumble across a dead crow (God forbid), do NOT dispose of it. They may mistakenly accuse of killing that crow, then you’re screwed. 

Here’s a preview of the caveman mask experiment … 

I’ve mentioned a small fraction of crows incredible abilities. You can learn more about them in BLESSED MAYHEM. Mr. Mayhem, the antagonist and Shawnee Daniels’ nemesis, has three pet crows. I hope you fall in love with their relationship as much as I did.

Poe, Allan, and Edgar became so real I had to befriend my own crows. So, in my yard I set out three piles of circus peanuts. Then waited. Circus peanuts are one of their favorite treats, so it didn’t take long for Poe to notice (affectionately named after Mr. Mayhem’s Poe, although later I learned she’s Poe-lene). Little by little Poe got more and more comfortable in my yard. I’d watch her staring at me as she perched in trees, with a direct view of my sunroom, which doubles as my office. I’d talk to her, let her know I’d never cause her harm. Apparently she believed me, because the next thing I know she brought Edgar, her mate. They’d munch on peanuts and take turns flying to the nest where their crowlettes awaited their meal. Fledglings or chicks are the proper terms, but crowlettes sounds so much cuter.

Soon after, a blonde squirrel with a red, bushy tail invaded their peanut haven, stealing nuts to bring back to her new litter. At first, Poe was not happy about this at all. Shawnee, the squirrel (get it? She’s a thief), would chase Poe, trying to scare her away from the tasty morsels. Poe let it slide a few times before she’d had enough. The next time Shawnee tried to get her to flee, Poe stood her ground. After all, she had babies to feed too! 

Within days, the most amazing thing happened. 

The two mothers came to an understanding: you stay at your pile; I’ll stay at mine. Meanwhile, a tiny baby chipmunk, with only a dotted line on his back rather than full stripes and an itty-bitty tail, skulked to the unoccupied third pile, which just so happened to be close to his burrow. The minute he stuck a peanut in his mouth, he sprang into the air in “Hip, hip, hooray” fashion. For the entire trek to his burrow he kept leaping a good 6” to 8” into the air. I’ve never seen someone so excited over peanuts. Adorable!!! I named him Hippy. Believe it or not, Shawnee and Poe both welcomed him to the yard. Maybe they want to mother him as much as I do. 

Later, Poe and Edgar brought their beautiful chicks. I can’t express how much I’ve enjoyed watching them grow. Shawnee also brought her babies. I think she’s a single Mom. Crows mate for life, but squirrels must be content with, “Wham, bang, thank you, ma’am.” 

A strange phenomenon is now unfolding in my yard.

Over months and months I’ve never seen another crow or squirrel near the peanuts. You’d think they’d attract crows and squirrels for miles. Crazy, right? It’s like Poe and Shawnee put the word out, and no one dares to cross the border no matter how delicious the wafting aroma of roasted peanuts smell. Hippy eventually brought a friend—named Chippy, Charles if he’s ignoring me. But no other chipmunks come around, either. 

I love my new buddies. I could watch them for hours. Alas, books don’t read or write themselves, so instead some days I shutdown my computer a little early to spend time with my feathered and furry lovebugs. 

Anyway, back to my new release. I’m so excited about BLESSED MAYHEM!!! To date, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever written.

Crows in Blessed Mayhem

A chance encounter …a deadly predicament …a lethal decision.

The infamous Mr. Mayhem is not your average serial killer. Reminiscent of the beloved Hannibal Lecter, minus his thirst for flesh—because eating humans is just plain rude—Mr. Mayhem storms on the scene with style, grace, elegance, and a zest for life unlike any other. Impeccable manners also help. He may commit murder, but there’s no reason to be impolite about it.

Accompanied by his loyal crow companions, Poe, Allan, and Edgar, his crimes strike fear in the hearts and minds of folks across Massachusetts’ North Shore. When Shawnee Daniels—cat burglar extraordinaire and forensic hacker for the police—meets Mayhem in the dark, she piques his curiosity. Sadly for her, she leaves behind an item best left undiscovered. Or is it serendipity by design?

Color him curious, but he yearns to examine the psychology behind her life choices, tough girl routine, witty banter, and unique double-life. In a different time and place they may even become friends. But unfortunately, their predicament defines the risk.

The stakes are too high to stop now.

For reasons authorities cannot fathom, these seemingly unrelated murders will go down in history as the most impressive killing regime of all time. His coup de grace, if you will. Even if it means permanently erasing Ms. Daniels from the equation. All the pieces are there if the authorities look hard enough. The question is, will they? The only new wrinkle is Shawnee Daniels, and she may be his toughest opponent yet …if she’s clever enough to play the game.

Pre-order now and save $2.00! http://smarturl.it/Mayhem2

Oh, I almost forgot. Look what else happened this week … A huge thanks to all of you. Without your support, this award wouldn’t be possible.

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. Sue's short stories and flash fiction have appeared in OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine and numerous anthologies, and her forensic articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project, and co-hosts the radio show "Partners in Crime" on Writestream Radio Network. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud contributor to The Kill Zone (see details in full bio -- menu bar).

25 Comments

  1. I love the videos. Have watched some before and it does amaze me how intelligent they are…and kind of creeps me out too. Congrats on the award and the new release.
    sherry fundin recently posted…One Sentence Review – Apparition Lake by Doug & Daniel D Lamoreux @dracsdemeterMy Profile

  2. Well, wasn’t all of that fascinating. I love your attention to detail and research.

    (You might get a kick out of this… When you first said “circus peanuts” I thought you meant the confection and wondered if it was wise to give crows that much sugar. Took me a while to straighten that thought out!)

    Congratulations on the new release. I’m really looking forward to reading it. 🙂

    • Hahahahaha! Thanks, Staci! No salt and no sugar is best. 😉 It’s easy to forget others don’t use the same lingo, especially with a term like this. I just had this conversation with the narrator who’s working on Wings of Mayhem. She says it’s best to dial back Shawnee’s Boston accent a bit so people who aren’t familiar with New England don’t have to rewind to understand what she’s saying. Makes sense to me.

  3. Great post, Sue! Reminds me of a PBS (NOVA? Nat’l Geographic?) special about crows and how smart they are. They showed the mask experiment. Another experiment required the crow to figure out how to use a stick to get a treat. It was able to work out it needed to make the stick shorter in order to make it work. It was fascinating! I also remember seeing a YouTube video of a crow using a discarded plastic lid (I think) as a sled on a snow-covered roof. It would sled down the roof, then bring its ride back to the top to do it again. It’s almost scary how smart they are.
    JHolmes, author recently posted…Saturday sighMy Profile

    • I saw those too, Julie. Loved the crow sledding! So cute.

      Too true. They’re freakishly smart. Which made them all the menacing in BLESSED MAYHEM. I also concentrated on their gentle side to help rid the stigma attached to them, but I do write psychological thrillers. I couldn’t make them sweet and cuddly all the time. Fabulous birds. Can’t say enough about how much I adore them.

  4. Wow, so much excitement in one post! Congrats on the blog award. That’s fabulous and well-deserved. I’ve pre-ordered my copy of Blessed Mayhem and can’t wait to discover your latest Shawnee tale (I still have to read the novella).

    I loved this post too. I have an affinity for crows (and ravens) and have an entire trunk novel spun around them…although, admittedly, it deals more with the mythology of both birds. They factor into folklore in many cultures and are utterly fascinating in all aspects.

    One of my cats, McDoogal (who crossed the rainbow bridge many years ago) had a special love for crows. He would sit at the screen door and “talk” to them. They are indeed exceptional and highly intelligent birds. Great post, Sue!
    Mae Clair recently posted…Times a Tickin’ . . . Kim Cox #RRBCMy Profile

    • Thanks, Mae!!! I was stunned when Feedspot sent me the award. Psyched, though. I touched on the symbolism of crows in Blessed Mayhem, but my main focus was to show how amazing they are, doing my part to help wipe out the stigma attached to them. I would have sent you an ARC, but I figured your TBR is as huge as mine since we share so many mutual friends. Lots of releases this summer. I really need to do a share the love post.

  5. Great piece to launch a great book, Sue. Congrats on all the success coming your way – books, awards, certainly a lot to crow about. You’re flying higher with each day. Releasing Blessed Mayhem is another feather in your hat.

    Okay, enough bird puns. Crows are frikkin’ smart. We have a resident murder in the park across the street – about 100 of them. They roost in some giant Douglas Fir trees. This year a pair of blue herons attempted to rook there but the crows ganged up and kicked them out. Bald eagles also land but quickly give up cause the crows are relentlessly territorial. We’ve watched crows have an organized funeral, have a community picnic by dragging stuff in but the cleverest thing is when the chestnuts are ready they drop them on the street to crack open and even place nuts in vehicle paths so tires do the work.

    You also know the story about Canuck, the crow who stole a murder weapon. I suspect that had something to do with the black market 😉
    Garry Rodgers recently posted…THE GUY ON THE GREYHOUND BUSMy Profile

    • Hahahahaha! I love Canuck!!! I recently watched a crow funeral on YouTube. So touching and heartbreaking. They feel things so deeply, and I love that about them. The crowlettes have doubled in size. They’re bigger than Poe now, but way more skittish. Looks like I need to start over in order to get them to trust me. I wish Poe would tell them I’m safe, but Edgar is wicked over-protective.

      Thanks so much, Garry. It’s been a helluva year so far!

  6. Back to the crow vending machine. I wonder if the crows ever started bringing their own quarters.

  7. Wonderful post. I’ve been a “birder” for X# of years, with 400 on my “life list” (need another trip out West to add on). Crows are fascinating critters. They also “collect” items that strike their fancy. I read of one who found a small (compact?) mirror and propped it near its nest. I guess she/he was the “fairest of them all!” 🙂
    –Michael
    Michael Helms recently posted…Deadly Spirits has Launched!My Profile

    • Hahahaha. Love it!!! There was a crow story that hit the news not long ago, where a crow brought “gifts” (bottle caps, coins, anything shiny) to a young child who left him treats. Such a touching story that showed how loving they can be. In my yard I’ve witnessed the love Poe and Edgar have for their family. Edgar sits high in a tree while the kids and Poe eat peanuts. As they grow, the kids now fly peanuts over to Dad while he stands guard. I’ve welled up more than once watching that beautiful family interact. I’m thinking of writing a children’s book entitled Peanuts for Poe. Their story has to be written. It’s too sweet to keep to myself.

  8. Crows are amazing animals. We get some here, but most of ours are ravens, also pretty sharp. You’re killing it lately. What’s that, two new Shawnee Daniels books to read.
    C. S. Boyack recently posted…Buster and Moo, on #LisaBurtonRadioMy Profile

  9. Congratulations on the new novel, Sue. I pre-ordered my copy. And congratulations on the blog award. Something more to crow about. Heh heh.
    Paul Dale Anderson recently posted…Scottoline Scores AgainMy Profile

  10. Sorry – I meant ‘the next day…’ 21st Century technology is certainly not perfect!

  11. Wow! Crows really are amazing, Sue. Your stories remind me of a time I was walking our dogs, and passed a crow that was sitting nearby. The crow yelled at us for disturbing her (his?) peace, and we walked on by. The next day, we walked along the same path. There was the same crow. As soon as we got in sight, we heard a crow tirade (‘I thought I told you to leave me alone!’). Amazing!

    • Amazing is right! The more I learn about them, the more intrigued I become. Another interesting tidbit: they can mimic human voices. This woman did the same thing I’m doing with a crow in her yard. Little by little she taught him/her to say, “Help!” So, there’s the crow, sitting on a branch screaming “Help!” in a woman’s voice. Hilarious!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

  • Follow me on Amazon (click image of books)

    Books by Sue Coletta