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Crows as Pets: The African Pied Crow, a Most Intelligent Bird

Pied Crow, Etosha

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. My fascination with Corvids (crows, ravens, jays and their relatives) began in childhood, when I cared for injured American Crows and Blue Jays.  In time, I was able to work with their exotic relatives at the Bronx Zoo, and was thrilled to observe the antics of Japan’s famous tool-using Carrion Crows (please see article below) in the wild.  Possessed of keen intelligence, insatiable curiosity and voice-mimicking abilities, hand-raised crows have few equals as avian pets.  Native Corvids are protected in the USA, but foreign species may be kept, and several are regularly bred by hobbyists.  Among these is the spectacular African Pied Crow, Corvus alba, which makes as responsive a pet as can be imagined.

Description

Although not common in the US pet trade, the Pied Crows that appeared in recent Windex TV ads have now made the species somewhat recognizable.  Once seen, this 20-inch tall bird will not be forgotten.  The Pied Crow sports an impressively-thick black beak that is midway in size between that of the American Crow and the White-Necked Raven (please see photo).  A brilliant white collar and breast contrasts sharply with the glossy, jet-black plumage.

Range and Habitat

Africa’s widest ranging Corvid, the Pied Crow occurs south of the Sahara and inhabits most of the eastern and southern portions of the continent.  They are also found on Aldabra, Madagascar, the Comoros and other nearby islands.

Pied Crows favor open forests and wooded scrub, but are often most common near towns, cities and farms.  They do not occur in the rainforests or deserts.

African Pied Crows as Pets

Even casual observation reveals crows to be unusually intelligent…and not “just” by bird standards!  Recent studies have shown that their tool-making and problem-solving abilities are on par with those of some great apes (please see articles linked below).  Both ornithologists and those who have worked with crows generally consider them to be the most intelligent of all birds…apologies to parrot fanciers!

All are excellent mimics, and need little if any encouragement to copy sounds and words.  Naturally social, crows quickly bond to their owners and may even learn to respond to simple commands.  Their great intelligence is accompanied by a sensitive nature…despite being quite bold, Pied Crows are easily stressed by unthinking behavior on the part of their owners.  They will not forget actions they perceive as threatening, so be careful not to make any mistakes…please post below for further information.

Another aspect of their brilliant minds is the capacity for mischief, and the need to manipulate, and if possible destroy, anything they can get their massive beaks on.  This is an outgrowth of their natural behavior, and cannot be “trained” away.  Pied Crows should never be left at large in a room that is not completely “crow-proofed”.  Before allowing your bird access to a room, go through it as if you were about to release a gang of toddlers, and then check again!

Pied crow

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Richard001

Housing

Pied Crows are large and very active, and need ample flight space.  They will not adapt to commercial bird cages…even those designed for the largest macaws are far too small.  A custom-built or commercial outdoor aviary, or a properly-outfitted indoor room, is the only option for a pet Pied Crow.

Crows kept outdoors tend to be very active and vigorous. Although they can be acclimated to cold weather, heated shelters are a must in temperate regions.  Indoors, Pied Crows are best located where they can observe people…they also take an interest in televisions and phone conversations. Please post below for further information on aviary location and set-up.

Even if provided adequate space, Pied Crows will languish if not stimulated by toys, behavioral enrichment, and out-of-cage time.  Daily interaction with people is essential if they are to remain handle-able.  Concerning handling, it must be understood that the beak is a formidable weapon, and that even accidental injuries can be severe.  Please post below for further information on handling.

Diet

Although they take an incredibly wide range of foods, Pied Crows have distinct carnivorous leanings.  Rodents, carrion, eggs and insects form a large part of the natural diet.

White-Necked raven

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Greg Hume

Crow owners have had success with diets based on cat and dog foods, but I prefer a diet similar to that I’ve used for many Corvid species in zoos.  Commercial bird-of-prey diet, into which I mix pigeon pellets and softbill food, provides the bulk of their food intake.  I believe that whole mice (or chicks) and insects are essential in assuring proper calcium intake and general good health.  Tossing a handful of crickets or other insects into your crow’s aviary is a wonderful way to keep the bird occupied, especially if the insects are able to hide.  Canned grasshoppers, snails and other invertebrates can be used to provide critical dietary variety.  A wide range of vegetables, chopped nuts, and fruits (in moderate amounts) should also be provided. Hard-boiled eggs are an especially favored treat.

The Pied Crow’s natural diet contains a good number of whole animals, and is likely calcium-rich.  In addition to pink or adult mice, pets should receive calcium and vitamin/mineral supplements.  Natural sunlight and full spectrum bulbs will help assure adequate Vitamin D levels.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

Do Tool-Using Crows Surpass Parrots and Apes in Intelligence?

 

Japan’s Amazing Carrion Crows

8 comments

  1. avatar

    hello,
    Just read your page. Great info.
    Just wanted to let you know the last photo is not a Pied crow, it is a White necked raven.
    I dont know if you were aware of that or not, but I believe when you attempt to teach or inform people, they need to have the right info. A picture of a White necked raven on a Pied crow info page would lead one to believe that it IS a Pied crow. The beak structure are very different.
    That ravens beak is the biggest distinguishing factor, if some one sees that beak and associates it with a pied crow, they will be misinformed.
    I just worry that poor kid will be on a field trip to the zoo with his class, they come to the White necked raven cage. The kid “recognizes” the black and white bird with the huge beak. He decides hes gonna show off to the cutest girl in the class. He leans in to her and tells her its a Pied crow. She smiles, looks at the sign on the cage and says, “It’s a White necked raven, dumb ass!”, and walks away. LOL! J/k….could happen….
    anyway that’s my .02. I hope I havent offended you in any way, it was not my intention.
    Take care,
    Joe

  2. avatar

    Hello Joe,

    Thanks for your interest; I’ll look into it…I don’t always get to see photos before they go in.

    As a kid, I dreamed of meeting a girl who would be impressed by my animal-smarts; to no avail, unfortunately…but then again, I did grow up in the Bronx!

    Best, Frank

  3. avatar

    Hi I’ve recently given a home to a carrion crow and an African pied crow. They came from a rescue centre and the pied crow has really bad gout in her feet due to her only wanting to eat meat. I’ve been advised to just try to get her to eat other things and this should improve. I’m making mixtures of fruit, veg, bread, nuts and mixing in a third of meat in a blender in order to get her to eat other things. Also been giving her natures diet dog food low in protein. She would still prefer just meat but is eating and can now stand on her feet but the still very swollen. I’ve had her a month is there any advice you could offer re diet that may help her condition? Thanks janine

  4. avatar

    Hello Janine,

    The steps you’re taking are ideal…crows won’t starve themselves (smarter than that!) and will adapt in time.

    Even if gout was accurately diagnosed (many conditions show similar symptoms), other problems can arise from that….the bird begins to favor one leg or the other, perches differently etc and strains the feet; also, other nutritional problems may be associated with the bad diet. Improper perching could be a factor, esp as owner did not have a good handle on proper care, etc. Difficult to make suggestions without having a full picture of all that is going on, health-wise; A work-up by an experienced avian vet is advisable. Pl keep me posted, best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Thanks for your quick response. She has seen a vet at the centre and I’ve been told to give her a couple of months to see how she goes on before taking her to another vet as there is nothing they can really do. I’ve been told she was living with a group of crows and had a mate for 8 years but he rejected her, she got depressed and they had to take her out as the other crows began to bully her. After that she went down hill, lost condition and began the fussy eating. I wouldn’t say she is depressed now but she doesn’t bath or preen, I’m bathing her a couple of times a week. She doesn’t like it but looks and smells much better. She seems to like the company of the carrion crow who is next to her. She sits watching him he’s very lively n vocal. I was told they could go in together but he has a few problems and in the past has had two broken legs and someone has badly clipped his wings. He is very friendly but then will suddenly bite for no apparent reason especially when changing his food and water dishes. So don’t want to put them together in case he becomes aggressive with her. He is also very greedy and I wouldn’t be able to tell what she is eating so for now they will have to stay separate.

  6. avatar

    Thanks for the update, Janine. Like parrots and some others, crows are very intelligent, socially complex…this makes them quite interesting, but also complicates captive care. Please keep me posted, I hope all goes well, Frank

  7. avatar

    Hi Joe

    Thanks for a wonderful informative site.

    Thought you might be interested in my African Pied Crow, Mortimer. I live in a country where these amazing birds are indigenous. We found Mort as a 3-week-old baby who we presume had fallen out of his nest. We couldn’t find a nest in any of the large trees nearby, so we took him home. We discussed outside aviaries for when he was older, and by the time we had decided on where to put it, Mort had taken to roosting on the top of our bedroom door at night …. and the rest is history.
    He doesn’t have an aviary, has free range of the house and garden, and despite how scary that sounds, it actually works. We have a very large house and garden. When we go to bed at night, we find bundles of sticks, stones, etc that he is squirreled away. I think he sort of sees our bed as his nest, as he will patrol up and down it, and not even let my kids on it sometimes. I spent a lot of time with him when he was still a baby, keeping him in my shirt and taking and singing to him, so he has imprinted on me completely.
    What is interesting is how the wild pieds interact with him, we have thousands flying around here. Mort will parade around on the verandah, cawing and immediately there will be a few wild pieds who are interested. They come and sit in the big trees in front of Mort or right onto the roof and look at him and Mort clacks his beak at them. He then starts to show off, and actually brings some of his toys outside and nonchalantly plays with them. The wild crows come closer and closer, until our dogs come out and they move off.
    He is, without doubt, the most intelligent animal I have ever seen. Surprisingly, he is great friends with our cats and they often all hang out together.
    He is now 20 months old and literally, does rule the roost. It’s a great way to get my kids to pick their toys up “or Mort will get it”. He responds to his name, you can call him from anywhere in the house and garden and he will come jumping to find you.
    I am not sure if he knows he is a bird.
    Many thanks again for your great site.
    Kind regards
    Claire
    South Africa

  8. avatar

    So nice of you to write in with thus , Claire..thanks very much! Many of my readers are in the USA, and so are fascinated by first-hand accounts with these birds,. Please keep me posted, Best, Frank

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About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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