Well, you never know what you will record when you are out in nature. While set up for stereo recording in an attempt the capture the very low pitched “drumming” of a male wild turkey, an American Crow perched near the mics and began to call very loudly. After several of these “rattle” calls I was hearing, through the headphones, a softer cooing. As I watched the crow it would deliver the rattle calls while upright, ever so slightly bowing its head during the call. Then it bowed its head way down, as if to touch it’s stomach, then quickly it raised its head slightly to a more typical bowing posture and cooed. The clicks that are heard with the cooing were coming from the crow. These clicks didn’t appear to be bill snapping, but rather a vocal utterance.
Here are two examples of this rattle call followed by several cooing calls.
American Crow rattle call and cooing example 1. Berkeley County, WV. April 18, 2010. ©Wil Hershberger.
American Crow rattle call and cooing example 2. Berkeley County, WV. April 18, 2010. ©Wil Hershberger.
There was no obvious behavioral context for this call and display. There were no other crows in the immediate area. The SASS mic system is black, about crow sized, was well out in the open and very close to this crow. Did he/she think that this was another crow? We’ll never know, but this is certainly a neat audio capture.
Bent’s Life Histories of North American Birds refers to this cooing:
Later [Charles W.] Townsend (1927) made further observations which he elaborated upon as follows:
Spending the nights in an open lean-to in my “forest,” at Ipswich, I found myself listening every morning to the courtship song of the Crow close at hand, and, on May 3, 1926, I discovered from my bed that a pair had their nest in a white spruce twenty-five yards from me, so that I was able to watch them closely. At about four-thirty every morning I awoke to the rattling song of the Crow, and I often saw one flying about in irregular circles, singing and chasing another. Both alighted on trees, especially on a spruce, from time to time. The song was given in the air and from a perch, and once I heard it given as a whisper song. I also heard for the first time at the end of the rattle a pleasing sound which suggested the cooing of a Pigeon or the note of a cuckoo clock, but softer and more liquid. It was usually double–I wrote it down ‘coi-ou’ or a single ‘cou’–and generally repeated several times, although sometimes given only once. These soft sounds, which I heard many times when the bird was near, generally followed the rattle, but were often given independently. When the bird was perched, he bowed and puffed out his feathers at the time of their delivery as during the rattling song. The cooing was also given in the air and on one occasion, I saw a bird drop slowly down with wings tilted up at an angle of forty-five degrees, singing as he fell. The rattle song was once given fifty-four times in succession, followed by a series of ‘cous.’
The female was at times very importunate, calling slowly ‘car car’ like a young bird begging for food. If the male approached, the calling would become more and more rapid and end exactly as in the case of a young bird in a gurgle or gargle–’car, car, car, cowkle, cowk!e, cowkle.’ After mating the male would fly to the next tree and call loudly ‘caw-caw’ several times. Occasionally the loud ‘wa-ha-ha-ha’ was given. An examination of the nest made at this time showed three heavily incubated eggs.
You would have to be very close to a calling crow to hear this cooing. Other than the posturing, there would be no indication as to what the crow was doing if you were farther away, out of hearing range.