Re: Corvid buried treasure

To: WM James Davis <>
Subject: Re: Corvid buried treasure
From: (Syd Curtis)
Date: Fri, 7 Nov 1997 11:10:53 +1000
>   First, I compliment you on your keen observations.  I hope
>you have time to continue watching this particular crow.  Second, there
>are reports in the literature that describes the behaviour you have
>witnessed first hand (e.g. The Food Storage Behaviour of the Northwestern
>Crow by P.C. James & N.A.M. Verbeek 1983 in Behaviour; also see Recovery
>of Cached Food by Torresian Crow by Andrew Ley, Australian Bird Watcher
>in which other Australian reference are given). Currently, I am collecting
>references on caching behaviour in birds for an upcoming article in the
>Interpretive Birding Bulletin. If you are interested I'll let you know
>when it gets written.
>  In general, many corvid species will cache food including crows,
>butcherbirds, nutcrackers, rooks, etc.  Also many small passerines will
>also store food.  However, in your case, I am not sure why the crow would
>store plastic items which can't be mistaken for food, or could they?
>It would be nice to find out if the individual in question was a juvenile.
>If so, the behaviour you observed could have been a form of "practicing"
>an interesting possibility.
>Cheers, Jim

Thanks Jim.

Yes please, if you would kindly let me know when your caching behaviour
article is published, I'd be grateful.  If you can include my crow episode
on a pers. comm. basis and wish to do so, please do.  If you need to have
it in print, I could seek to put a note in a local journal.

Yes, I wondered if the crow thought the plastic to be edible.  From the
distance of my observations they could have been a couple of crusts of
white bread.  Close up, not much resemblance to food to my eyes, but who
knows what they looked like to the crow ... especially if it was a young
one.  But 'practicing' seems a more likely explanation.

 I think it likely that it was an immature: I could not get any impression
of pale eyes, but equally I couldn't be certain that this wasn't just
because of distance.

Sadly, no follow-up observations are possible - except in the extremely
unlikely event of my happening on the same bird retrieving the plastic:  We
have a loose population of a dozen or two crows that roam at will over a
couple of square kilometres, and there's no way of indentifying

An amusing incident from lomg ago (mid'50s): I stopped to eat my sandwiches
with a chap cutting plantation Hoop Pine in the Imbil State Forest, south
of Gympie.  We were at a loading ramp in one of the grassy hollows left
unplanted to provide feed for bullocks in pre-tractor days.  The cutter had
his lunch there every day and fed crusts to the birds: several magpies and
a few pied  butcherbirds.  The magpies kept the butcherbirds from getting
any crusts, but eventually when they had eaten all they wanted the magpies
started caching them.  That was what the butcherbirds were waiting for:
they watched and immediately retrieved and ate the cached items!

I'm being lazy, but could you please give me a year for the Andrew
Ley/Australian Bird Watcher reference.  Thanks.

Best wishes.

Syd (At Hawthorne,  Qld. 4171, 07.11.97)

H Syd Curtis

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