Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Hooded Crow vs the Eurasian Crow and What Is Play for Play's Sake?

Courtesy of 10,000 Birds

Look familiar?

This is the visiting bird seen on Staten Island in 2011.

New York City birder Eleanor MacDonald was the first to pop up with an ID for the snow sliding Corvid-

Dear Donegal

Anyone who has spent time in Scotland will recognize a Hooded Crow, or "Hoodie". They are more common in the North and West of Scotland and almost the only crow seen in the Outer Hebrides.

One frequently sees both the all black and the hoodie versions in the same locations in Scotland.

A hoodie was recently reported in Staten Island.

Eleanor MacDonald

Then I received an email from long time contributor Diane D'Arcy--
Hi Donna:

Thanks for the posting. The bird is a Eurasian Crow just having fun!

Happy New Year,


Dear me, I thought. Here we have the exact problem, the use of two different common names for possibly the same species...or not, that was supposedly solved by the use of "Scientific Names". A problem I expressed to Diane while scrambling madly for hours looking for unavailable answers as to the incidence of triplets in sheep.

Diane came through with another email-

Hi: Thanks for writing and here is the information I derived from the following field guides...
1) Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, Petersen, et al and
2) Birds of Russia and Adjacent Territories, Flint, et al;

The bird is Corvus corone cornix or Corvus corone.
It can be divided into two races one solid black and one black with grey.

The bird in the English book is named the Hooded Crow and in the Russian book it is the Eurasian Crow.

Suffice it to say that looking at the range maps in both books the bird has a huge range over Western Europe and all across Russia.

Interestingly one showed up in NYC last year and Rob Jett posted photos on his blog City Birder. I am no expert but have come into a large library of bird books.

It is fun to look through them and in instances like this they are very useful.
Best, Diane

And I'm glad she did. The plot thickened. Once done with the triplet sheep search I did a little sleuthing on my own on the net. And a very thick and downright messy plot over centuries it turned out to be.

Many thanks to Wikipedia,, for the following information-

Back in 1758, Linneaus, the father of scientific names and scientific classification, classed the bird in question as--

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Corvidae

Genus: Corvus

Species: C. cornix

Binomial name Corvus cornix

Then the games began. Corvus cornix as per Diane's email is a very widespread species which peskily looks somewhat different depending upon where its home range occurs.

The group in Iraq and Iran look almost white against the black from a distance.

There were heated arguments amongst naturalists and ornithologists as to whether some of these odd versions of Corvus cornix weren't other species altogether. And if there were different species how many different ones were there?
And in the meantime, Corvus cornix got a new scientific name and the rows propagated. That is until not so many years ago when DNA testing became available.

Guess what? After all that Linneaus was right and the name of the species reverted back to his original binomial name Corvus cornix.

BUT... it was also decided that there were a number of subspecies which took in those pesky differences within the population. The subspecies then were renamed the their scientific names in subspecies form that the people who originally brought them to light in the scientific community
gave them.

Better but let us just say that there are still some questions....

Four subspecies of the Hooded Crow are now recognised; previously all were considered subspecies of Corvus corone. A fifth, Corvus cornix sardonius (Trischitta, 1939) has been listed though it has been alternately partitioned between C. c. sharpii (most populations), C. c. cornix (Corsican population) and the Middle Eastern C. c. pallescens.

  • C. c. cornix, the nominate race, occurs in the British Isles (principally Scotland) and Europe, south to Corsica.
  • C. c. pallescens (Madarász, 1904) is found in Turkey and Egypt, and is a paler form as its name suggests.
  • C. c. sharpii (Oates, 1889) is named for English zoologist Richard Bowdler Sharpe. This is a paler grey form found from western Siberia through to the Caucasus region and Iran.[7]
  • C. c. capellanus (P.L. Sclater, 1877) is known as the Mesopotamian Crow or Iraqi Pied Crow. This distinctive form occurs in Iraq and southwestern Iran. It has very pale grey plumage which looks almost white from a distance.[7] It is possibly distinct enough to be considered a separate species.[8]


Exactly where is our bird who is doing that sliding? Siberia maybe?

She does look slightly paler than the bird seen in Staten Island. Might she be C. c. sharpii?

Enter all the variables about light on feathers, type of camera, and operator that we just went through with Bobby of WSP's new girl...


I sort of always thought that animals' play was survival / skill based, as in young goats (kids) bouncing around like ping-pong balls to increase their agility for rock climbing, and Ice Man and Rocky head-butting, but for the life of me, I can't think what skill is being developed or affirmed in a Corvid who has developed snow-boarding skills? Maybe there is just play for the sake of play?

Robin, perhaps there is as we see it. And perhaps there is a lesson in this. You're right, typically we think of young "playing" animals developing physical skills as above or stealth skills- as in kittens hiding and jumping out at each other.

Corvids have a brain capable of coming up with solutions to obstacles when it comes to food at least, right? For example, the jay that bent the metal wire in the form of a hook to retrieve the food. She's capable of figuring out how to get around three differing obstacles, three steps to get the food. She keeps her eye on the prize. She has focus.

Corvid play like human play might well include the more advanced honing of problem solving skills. Why do humans love puzzles of many kinds? We like jigsaw puzzles. We like mystery novels. Do we enjoy them because they are building pathways in our brain-- which they do. Or do we enjoy them because they are "fun"?

Is the feeling of "fun" our body's "reward" for doing things that will stand us in good stead for survival later?
Those of use that feel the joy of fun do those activities that give it to us. And let's posit that those activities might help us survive later.

Those of a species that don't do the activities because they have no "feeling of fun" doing them, don't. Therefore not gaining a possible survival advantage which might lead to a demise before reproducing?
Was the sliding crow not testing perhaps what she could do to improve "the fun"? Problem solving?

For instance, the pecking up of the lid to make the lid slide when it didn't immediately go when she got on? Had she already realized the importance of steep slope as she brought the lid up on the roof but perhaps not the importance of a particular amount of snow cover on a steep slope? After all the snow stopped her lower down where it was deeper.

Once one solution has worked in a situation, does it cross over to others?

Crows have a reputation for problem solving as do parrots. Some parrots are absolute wizards at escaping parrot cages which often have a sequence of manipulations necessary to get the door open. Sometimes in such cases they do manage the door or go for another cage weak spot such as lifting the bottom grate, then tipping the catch drawer to escape through the gap. Some parrots even put everything back in place after going back into the cage so unless caught in the act the humans are mystified as to who in the world opened the sugar canister and dumped the contents into the floor.

How does honing mental skills fit with the crows watching each other ride pigs? I suppose that had something to do with problem solving but not so one could notice. The pigs were crowded and broad backed. The crows hopped on while watching each other, in a similar manner, and the pigs didn't react noticeably. Perhaps they would have if the crow wasn't delicate in landing? Or was it all on a dare?

Bet you won't ride the pig!
I'm wondering if bragging rights aren't as important to crows as they are to humans. Is there a built in urge to one up one's fellows in crows? One upping ones fellow crows would go with outsmarting them in food stashing.

Cleverness in tricking others so they don't find one's own stashes but seeing what they do with theirs and stealing them would mean more food for the "one upper" and therefore increased survival possibilities.
When we think about it, exactly "what is play for the sake of play" anyway? Definition anyone?

"01/18/12: Our parents have really been hiding the
eggs -- even putting grass on them -- so it's been hard to rule out a third egg. We'll post a clear photo of the eggs once we get one."

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