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Contains articles constructed around real-world observation of birds in wild or captive conditions.

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 »

Audubon’s Bird Conservation Report – Many Common Birds in Trouble

The National Audubon Society has released the 2012 State of North American Birds Report, an impressive annual study that highlights species and habitats at risk.  Because many birds respond quickly to changes in their environments, the report’s findings are also useful to organizations studying pesticide use, air quality, pollution, climate change and similar concerns.  Compiled in conjunction with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the report also relies heavily upon the input of “citizen scientists” participating in the Christmas Bird Count and similar projects (please see the articles linked below to learn how to become involved…help is needed and appreciated!).  Today I’ll summarize some of the report’s key points, including the disturbing finding that populations of many common birds, including typical garden and feeder visitors, are in steep decline.

Baltimore Oriole

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mdf

Common Birds in Decline

I was especially troubled to read about the population crashes being experienced by quite a few species that were so common that we might have been tempted to “take them for granted”.  But as with so many other animals around the world, large populations are proving no match for rapidly changing environmental conditions.  All of the common species on Audubon’s watch list have declined by at least 50%, while the 10 mentioned below have lost 70-82 % of their populations.  Bobwhite Quails (one of my all-time favorites to observe and care for), for example, have decreased from approximately 31 million to 5.5 million individuals! Read More »

Good News for African Gray Parrots – A Conservation Milestone

Adult in wild

Image uploaded to Wikipedia by Snowmanradio

Despite clear evidence that African Gray Parrots (Psittacus erithacus) are declining in the 23 countries to which they are native, conservation horror stories continue to mount.  Recently, for example, 750 parrots died on board an airplane in South Africa, and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo returned 500+ wild-caught birds to smugglers.  So it was a pleasure to read that Uganda has recently taken a giant step forward in parrot conservation.  For the first time ever, African Gray Parrots seized in Europe have been returned to the wild.  The historic 3-year effort also illustrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation between governments, zoos, airlines and conservation organizations.

Can 32 Birds Make a Difference?

Conservationists estimate that at least ¼ of the adult population of wild African Gray Parrots are trapped each year. The return of 32 birds to the wild in Uganda may, therefore, seem to be insignificant.  However, I believe that the operation’s value goes well beyond the number of birds that were rescued.
For too long, wildlife criminals have operated with near impunity once they managed to get parrots and other African wildlife out of the continent.  Cooperation with unscrupulous officials in Africa and abroad, and the inability of under-funded law enforcement agencies to compete, have kept convictions low and penalties inconsequential.  Uganda’s dogged determination to see justice done has recently broken new ground, and has hopefully set a standard for neighboring countries to follow. Read More »

Working with Penguins – a Highlight of this Zookeeper’s Experiences

Frank Indiviglio with penguin

Penguins Win Me Over

I first became enamored of penguins at the Bronx Zoo’s old “Penguin House”. Twice a day, a door would open and a pail of fish would be tossed into the exhibit.  Fashioned like a giant aquarium, the exhibit allowed visitors to watch the penguins dive and grab their meals underwater.  Living near the zoo, I had long haunted its grounds and had racked up some great sightings of both captive and wild birds by an early age (nearly 300 native species have been recorded there) – but these creatures were something else indeed!  They were birds, to be sure, but departed so radically from the typical bird body-plan that I was driven to learn all I could.

Today, of course, penguins are well known, but for us bird fanciers they still retain a sense of mystery…more so as new facts about their amazing lifestyles come to light!  Read More »

Keeping the Tawny Frogmouth with Notes on its Natural History

Tawny FrogmouthPhotos of the Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides), with its huge yellow eyes, gaping mouth, “expressive face” (an impression given by the feathery “eyebrows”) and owl-like plumage, have captivated me since childhood.  For years, I stalked Whip-poor-wills, Nighthawks and other of its relatives that dwelled in the USA.  Actual contact with a Frogmouth was delayed, however, until I began working at the Bronx Zoo.  But it was worth the wait, and I soon came to spend many days and nights cramming food into the capricious maws of hungry Frogmouth chicks…as much to my delight as theirs!


Although superficially resembling an owl in plumage, silent flight mode and nocturnal ways, the Tawny Frogmouth is classified in the order Caprimulgiformes. Numbered among this group’s 118 members is the cave-dwelling Oilbird, the only bird known to navigate via echo-location.

Tawny Frogmouths are placed in the family Podargidae, along with 14 relatives.  Three Tawny Frogmouth subspecies – the largest being 3x the size of the smallest – have been described.  Other species include the Papuan Frogmouth, of the Cape York Peninsula and New Guinea, and the Marbled Frogmouth, a rainforest dweller found in northern Queensland and New Guinea. Read More »

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