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Individual species profiles on various birds.

Hooded Crows as Pets: Keeping the World’s Most Intelligent Bird

Hooded crow

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Andreas Trepte

While the term “most intelligent” will be questioned by some parrot owners, a lifetime of working with birds in zoos and at home leaves me in favor of granting several Corvids (crows, ravens, jays and their relatives) that honor…no disrespect to the amazing abilities of other birds! My fascination with this bird family began when I took in nestling American Crows and Blue Jays as a child, and continued through work with their exotic relatives at the Bronx Zoo. In Japan, I was astounded by the tool-using wild Carrion Crows (please see article below). Among the most captivating of all is the amazingly-intelligent and curious Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix). Large, active and (very!) expensive, Hooded Crows are not for everyone, but the experienced aviculturist can ask for no finer or more responsive pet.


Hooded Crow Description

Once seen, this spectacular bird will not be forgotten. The head, wings, chest and tail are clad in typical Corvid glossy black, which is nicely-offset by the light to dark gray plumage (sometimes un-flatteringly described as “dirty grey”!) covering the rest of the body. It reaches nearly 2 feet in length, and sports an impressive wingspan of 36 to 40 inches.


Hooded crow , light colored

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bob

Long considered to be a color variant of the Carrion Crow (C. corone), the Hooded Crow is now recognized as a distinct species. Four subspecies have been described.



Range and Habitat

The Hooded Crow’s huge range extends from Great Britain to western Asia (the western edge of the range is not well-defined) and from just south of the Arctic Circle to the southern coast of the Mediterranean. Those populations that migrate in winter reach northern India, southern China, Iran and Afghanistan.


Hooded Crows seem to favor open forests and wooded scrub, but are very adaptable, colonizing farms, villages, brushy grasslands, desert fringes and cliffside forests at 3,000 feet or more above sea level.



Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Bugaga


Although generally described as “stick nests”, those constructed by the Hooded Crow are actually very complex structures. The foundation is usually of short, stout sticks, but animal bones may be incorporated – in some areas, this habit has given rise to some odd superstitions, as can be imagined! Several distinct layers are placed over the foundation, with moss, grasses and roots used as binding materials. The inner cup-like area is lined with feathers, fur, wool and/or discarded rags and the like.


The eggs, numbering 2-7, hatch in 18-20 days, and the chicks fledge at 4-5 weeks of age.


Hooded Crows as Pets

Even casual observation of wild individuals will reveal crows to be unusually intelligent. In fact, recent studies have shown their tool-making and problem-solving abilities to be on par with those of some great apes (please see articles linked below).


Opening garbage bag

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Thermos.

Like most if not all of its relatives, Hooded Crows are excellent mimics, and readily copy sounds and words. Naturally social, crows quickly bond to their owners and may even learn to respond to simple commands. Although they can become quite bold – free-ranging pets often torment dogs, cats and human visitors alike – their great intelligence is accompanied by a sensitive nature. For all their toughness, Hooded Crows are easily stressed by unkind behavior (real or perceived!) on the part of their owners…and they will not forgive or forget!


As is true for young children, their active minds have the capacity for both learning and mischief. Indeed, Hooded Crows seem driven to manipulate, and if possible destroy, anything they can get their powerful beaks upon. This is an outgrowth of their natural behavior, and cannot be “trained” away. Hooded 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!


In flight

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by انفی


Hooded Crows are large and very active, and need plenty of flight space. A custom-built or commercial outdoor aviary, or a properly-outfitted indoor room, is the only option for a pet Hooded Crow. Commercial cages designed for even the largest macaws fall far short of their needs.


Hooded Crows kept outdoors tend to be very vigorous. Although they readily adapt to cold weather, heated shelters should be available during winter. Given their wide range, it is likely that individuals from southern populations may be somewhat cold-sensitive, so try to determine your pet’s origin if possible. Indoors, Hooded Crows are best located where they can observe people…they also take an interest in televisions and phone conversations.


Even if provided adequate space, Hooded 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 VERY severe. It is critical to keep one’s face and eyes out of reach, and to understand that crows cannot be trusted in this regard. Please post below for further information on handling.

Hooded crow, adult

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by pelican


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


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 crows, magpies and jays 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 long term health.


Tossing a handful of crickets or other insects into your crow’s aviary is a wonderful way to keep the bird occupied. 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 Hooded 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 should also be provided.




Further Reading

African Pied Crow Care

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

Japan’s Amazing Carrion Crows



The Best First Bird: My Choice for “Perfect Pet Parrot”

Gray Cheeked Parrakeet

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by markaharper1

Choosing a “Best First Bird” from the hundreds of captive bred species is very challenging because personalities vary so much among the same species. The qualities you seek in a pet should guide your decision.  For example, do you want a quiet bird, one you can interact with, or a pet to observe in a large flight cage with a mate? Bearing that in mind, today I’d like to introduce you to my hands-down favorite parrot, the Gray Cheeked Parakeet or Pocket Parrot (Brotogeris pyrrhopterus). Also known as the Orange-Winged Parakeet, this delightful bird is an excellent choice for those new to parrot keeping and without the space needed for large species. And trust me, its attractiveness will not dim as you gain experience, for those of us who started out keeping these little guys remain enamored of them decades later. No doubt my experienced readers will have other favorites; your thoughts will be of great value to novices, so please share your experiences by posting below. Please also post below if you’d like advice on choosing your first finch or softbill.


Pet Qualities

The ease with which Gray Cheeked Parakeets adjust to human companionship is my primary reason for recommending them to folks without parrot-keeping experience. Within their native range, it is said that even wild-caught adults make fine, handle able pets. Captive born youngsters, even if not hand-raised, offer new owners the best chance of obtaining a friendly, hands-on companion. One may even be able to train an adult that has little human contact…a virtual impossibility with many other species.


Bee Bee Parrots

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

Of course, taming and training must be done properly…please post below for further information. But it is worth the effort, as well-adjusted Gray Cheeks are the most charming, affectionate and entertaining avian pets one could hope for!


Midway in size between lovebirds and cockatiels, Gray Cheeks are small enough to accommodate in most homes, and generally not quite as noisy as many parrots. They also break the parrot mold by tending to bond with all familiar people, rather than to their primary caretaker alone. Despite their diminutive size, well-habituated Gray Cheeked Parakeets are usually quite fearless, taking on dogs, larger parrots and strangers indiscriminately. While very amusing to observe, this aspect of their personality can get them into trouble, so watch yours closely!


Gray Cheeks do not have a reputation as talented mimics, but some individuals do quite well in learning to repeat words and sounds.


A number of the Gray Cheek’s relatives, including the lovable Bee Bee Parrot, are popular among bird enthusiasts (please see photos) and also suitable for beginners. Please see the articles below and post any questions you may have.



The 6-8-inch-long Gray Cheeked Parakeet is clad in various shades of yellowish to bright green, and sports blue highlights with a gray chin, forehead, and cheeks (no surprises there!); small bright orange feathers decorate the under-wings.


Plain Parakeet

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Dario Sanches

Range and Habitat

The Gray Cheeked Parakeet occupies a limited range in Ecuador and northwestern Peru, where it may be found along moist and dry forest fringes, in thorn scrub, and on ranch and farm outskirts.



Wild populations appear to be much reduced from former years, due to over- collection for the pet trade and habitat loss. Certain sections of their range now lie within protected areas, so there is at least some hope for their future survival.


When I started working for bird importers back in the 1970’s, Gray Cheeks rivaled Budgies and Cockatiels in popularity. Breeders here in the USA did not make up for the shortfall caused by the prohibition on importing wild parrots, so that today captive-born individuals are not always easy to find. However, they are well-worth searching for!



Although not very large, Gray Cheeked Parakeets are quite active and, like all parrots, are prone to stress-related disorders when kept in small enclosures. Large cages or aviaries stocked with a variety of parrot toys are ideal, and daily out-of-the cage time is essential. Pairs that are closely confined may over-preen one another to the point of severe feather loss.


Fresh produce

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jina Lee


Fruit and greens figure highly in the natural diet, and are essential to your pets’ long term health. Provide your Gray Cheeks with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, and be sure to search out “exotic” varieties if these are not available from your usual store. Pomegranate, prickly pear fruit, apples, kiwi, carrots, peas, corn, dandelion, kale and many other types of produce will be readily accepted (introduce new foods slowly to avoid digestive upset).


The balance of the diet should be comprised of a good small parrot seed mix. Dried fruits and vegetables are relished, and may be used as training aids.



Breeding should be given more attention by pet keepers, especially given this species precarious status in the wild. So far, results have been sporadic, but this may be due to a lack of interest, given the huge numbers of inexpensive, wild-caught animals that were available early-on.


Gray Cheek clutches average 4-6 eggs, which are incubated for 24-30 days. Only the female incubates, but the male often sits beside her in the nest hollow – the mothers among my readers must, I’m sure, wonder just how “useful” this is!




Further Reading

 Bee Bee Parrot Care

Dutch Law Prohibits Hand-Rearing Parrots



Penguin Facts – African Penguins in Captivity and the Wild

Penguins are beloved by bird enthusiasts and “regular” people alike.  While they are not typically thought of as “pets”, in the course of my zoo career I have run into several people who have managed to keep penguins in their personal collections.  One such instance involved a well-known entertainer who donated his flock of flamingoes – which he housed in a climate-controlled building in the desert just outside Las Vegas – to the Bronx Zoo in order to make room for penguins!  I’ve had the good fortune to work with several species in zoos and today would like to cover the care and natural history of a great favorite, the African Penguin, aka the Black-Footed or Jackass Penguin, Spheniscus demersus.

African Penguins

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Jurriaan Schulman

Captive Care

Penguins are demanding captives…I found this to be true even though I had the Bronx Zoo’s resources, and the expertise of experienced co-workers, at my disposal.  Most species lack defenses to local fungi, bacteria and parasites …in NYC, West Nile proved to be especially dangerous.  The range of preventative medications and vitamin supplements they require necessitated that I hand feed each daily – an enjoyable but tedious task.  They learn to “line up” for food right away, but squabble continually…and the numerous wing tags attached to each bird complicated individual identification (the opposite of a wing tag’s intended purpose!). Read More »

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

Pied Crow, Etosha

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

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.


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. Read More »

Breeding and Keeping the Nonpareil Finch or Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch

Nonpareil FinchWhen translated to English, the French language name for this little finch – Nonpareil – means “without equal”.  The name suits the gorgeous bird perfectly…so much so that aviculturists of all nationalities have adopted it.  Also known as the Pin-Tailed Parrot Finch (Erythrura prasina), the brilliantly-colored Nonpareil has long been among the most desired of all Southeast Asian finches.

My first experience with these beauties came while working for a bird importer.  I was captivated by their colors, but despaired over the stress caused them by shipment and confinement to quarantine facilities.  Fortunately, an experienced private breeder helped me to learn the keys to keeping them alive and well.


The 5.5 inch-long male Nonpareils are clad in “grass green”, bright red and brilliant blue, and sport elongated central tail feathers.  Females have shorter tails and are not as gaudy, but are also quite colorful.  While most related parrot finches are attractive (please see photos), none are as spectacular as the Nonpareil.

Yellow-bellied individuals are found in some wild populations, but are not common in captivity.  Birds originating from Borneo have more blue in the plumage, and are considered by most to be a subspecies.  Although few aviculturists see any need to experiment with color mutations, largely-green and pied strains have been established. Read More »

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