January is Corvid month here at Calgary Wildlife! This month we will be posting about all things CORVID related for your awareness and learning pleasure, including how intelligent and diverse this group of amazing birds truly is!
Did you know that Alberta is home to several species of Corvids?
They include all of the following:
Jays: Canada jay (aka Whiskeyjack), Pinyon jay, Steller's jay, Blue jay
Nutcrackers: Clark's nutcracker
Magpies: Black-billed magpie
Crows: American crow
Ravens: Common raven
Fun Fact: Corvids display remarkable intelligence for animals of their size, and are among some of the most intelligent birds to have been studied.
Stay tuned for more information about these smarty pants, coming all this month.
For our second Corvid Month post, let's talk about the infamous magpie!
Magpies are birds that many people love to hate, but they are so much more than their sometimes loud squawks and bird feeder domination.
Black-billed magpies are just about everywhere in most Albertan cities, as they are in fact native to Alberta. Though they have a sharp squawk that some may not find endearing, but magpies are highly intelligent birds that learn quickly and can adapt scavenging techniques easily.
They eat insects, fruit and rancid food and they even eat sick animals, a typical bird-of-prey act. This scavenging keeps our living spaces clean, reduces disease and keeps insects at bay. They're even known to play tricks on each other, Calgary naturalist Brian Keating says.
Did you know the magpie is one of the only birds in North America that makes an elaborate domed nest? Though, it takes up to 40 days to construct, which is considerably longer than most other birds require. As an added bonus, when magpies abandon their nests, they are taken over by other wildlife species, such as the long-eared owl.
Please leave magpie nests in place, for other wildlife to use!
For our last Corvid Month post, let's talk about the ravens and their smaller counterparts, crows!
Did you know that the Common Raven is one of the heaviest passerine birds and the largest of all the songbirds? It can reach up to twice the size of an American Crow!
Despite their size difference, the Common Raven is often mistaken for an American Crow, as both birds are from the same genus and have a similar black colouring. But in reality, the two species are quite different. The American Crow is much smaller (with a wingspan of about 75 cm) and has a fan-shaped tail when in flight, while the raven's is wedge shaped. It also has a narrower bill and lacks the raven’s hackles. Even their cries are different: the raven produces a low croaking sound, while the crow has a higher pitched cawing cry. While adult ravens tend to live alone or in pairs, crows are more often observed in larger groups.
Common Ravens are habitat generalists. They are found in forests of all kinds, shrubland, rocky cliffs on coasts or mountains, the tundra, grasslands and even deserts. They tend to avoid large cities, but are common in smaller cities and towns. It is the most widely distributed of all corvids!
Ravens will eat just about anything they can find! They are opportunistic omnivores, mostly eating animal matter but also plant matter if needed. They prey on adult and nestling birds, eggs, small mammals, sick and dying larger mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and invertebrates.
The raven is of high importance to Indigenous Peoples throughout Canada, appearing in myths, legends, art and traditions. It is particularly important to First Nations peoples on the coast of British Columbia, where it symbolizes creation, knowledge and prestige. The raven is also a messenger, a trickster, a teacher, a healer and a guardian spirit. Inuit People also hold the raven in high esteem as the Creator of All Life, but it is a well-known clan totem for several other Indigenous Peoples.
To sum it up, it is important to keep the raven around. Not only is the Common Raven a fascinating species with strong ties to Canada’s First Nations peoples, it is an important inhabitant of our ecosystems, helping nutrient cycling by consuming carrion and controlling prey populations. Getting to know the raven and its important role in both our ecosystem and First Nations peoples heritage is a great first step!