Do your crows 'wash' their food? (1 Viewer)

Ruff

Two birds in one.
Following the introduction of West Nile Virus, the crow population in my area declined sharply and is only coming back slowly but they've started coming to my selection of bird feeders and looking things over. Coincidental with that, I started finding strange items in the bird bath the odd time, pieces of fur, half a mouse, things like that. Then yesterday I looked out to see a crow sitting on the bath and tearing off chunks some sort of fluffy material held under one foot and dropping them in the water. The crow flew off once I got up to get a better look and when I went out to check I found it the material was actually pieces of bread from a slice of end crust, all of which were soggily floating in the water, in company with an apparent chicken bone. Not wanting the water poisoned, I took out the bread and the bone; the crow came back later and dropped the bread back in the bath again and ate most of it; the bone has disappeared. I was telling a birder in another area about this just now and was told that crows in his region come by and wash baby birds in his yard, presumably before eating them. I had assumed 'my' crow was softening the bread I saw it eating, maybe even the bone, but in light of what I was told and the animal material I've been finding, I'm wondering if crows habitually rinse or soak their food before eating. Is this a known behaviour?
 

TFM70

Well-known member
Following the introduction of West Nile Virus, the crow population in my area declined sharply and is only coming back slowly but they've started coming to my selection of bird feeders and looking things over. Coincidental with that, I started finding strange items in the bird bath the odd time, pieces of fur, half a mouse, things like that. Then yesterday I looked out to see a crow sitting on the bath and tearing off chunks some sort of fluffy material held under one foot and dropping them in the water. The crow flew off once I got up to get a better look and when I went out to check I found it the material was actually pieces of bread from a slice of end crust, all of which were soggily floating in the water, in company with an apparent chicken bone. Not wanting the water poisoned, I took out the bread and the bone; the crow came back later and dropped the bread back in the bath again and ate most of it; the bone has disappeared. I was telling a birder in another area about this just now and was told that crows in his region come by and wash baby birds in his yard, presumably before eating them. I had assumed 'my' crow was softening the bread I saw it eating, maybe even the bone, but in light of what I was told and the animal material I've been finding, I'm wondering if crows habitually rinse or soak their food before eating. Is this a known behaviour?
I have observed the same behavior in Mississippi and Georgia so it seems to be fairly common. I throw out crust from sourdough bread I bake and they almost always soak it. They also wash McDonalds food wrappers.
 

Ruff

Two birds in one.
My 'washing' crow, which I've named Macbeth, is becoming a regular visitor and is unfortunately not limited to soaking and rinsing bread but I find is often bringing some sort of oily or greasy meat-like material that leaves a nasty looking film on the birdbath water. If it gets to be a bio hazard as things get dry this summer I may have to discourage the crow from visiting, which won't take much because they are of course used to persecution. But for now I'm quite pleased to see one close up like this, when I was a kid you never saw a crow within rifle shot- and for good reason of course.
 
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TFM70

Well-known member
My 'washing' crow, which I've named Macbeth, is becoming a regular visitor and is unfortunately not limited to soaking and rinsing bread but I find is often bringing some sort of oily or greasy meat-like material that leaves a nasty looking film on the birdbath water. If it gets to be a bio hazard as things get dry this summer I may have to discourage the crow from visiting, which won't take much because they are of course used to persecution. But for now I'm quite pleased to see one close up like this, when I was a kid you never saw a crow within rifle shot- and for good reason of course.

Again, similar experience. When I was a kid I also tried to hunt crows and I never got close enough to even try. I enjoy crows and I enjoy hearing their different vocabulary, especially when they are in a family setting.
 

Andy Adcock

Fractious Member of ill repute
England
The only bird I've ever seen that was genuinely washing their food, was a Wood Rail in Costa Rica which had what was probably a distasteful or even poisonous millipede but with the Crows, I suspect, especially with bread or furry/feathery things, that it's simply an aid to swallowing?
 

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TFM70

Well-known member
The only bird I've ever seen that was genuinely washing their food, was a Wood Rail in Costa Rica which had what was probably a distasteful or even poisonous millipede but with the Crows, I suspect, especially with bread or furry/feathery things, that it's simply an aid to swallowing?

I agree, hard crusty bread needs softening up a bit.
 

aeshna5

Well-known member
I've often seen both Carrion Crows + Magpies dunking bread + other items in water before eating.
 

WalterRayle

Emeritus Professor at the University of the Bearde
I've seen Carrion Crow and Magpie softening hard food like stale bread and dog biscuits in water before eating it. I've also seen Curlew Sandpiper and Grey Plover pulling rag/lugworms out of the mud then running to the water and washing them before eating.
 

Ruff

Two birds in one.
Well, my Lady Macbeth crow kept leaving bits of dead birds and mystery animal protein items and pizza slices and all manner of things in my birdbath, either deliberately or because she got scared off as she was dunking them, and as much as I wanted to add crows to my list of regular backyard visitors, I had to start taking out the food items and burying them. That was enough to quickly discourage further visits. More recently though, I've been finding bread items stashed in my mailbox and whereas I would have in previous years blamed the squirrels, now I wonder....
 

poledark

Well-known member
I have a small pumped stream in my garden and get lots of Rooks visiting. Wifey kept calling them Crows, and so after some months of arguing we settled on calling them Crooks.
Very apt as, almost as soon as we put any large bits of food, apple chunks,bread etc then a Rook or two will appear from nowhere! One in particular will always take the bread crusts over to the stream and dunk it in the water, I assume this helps him swallow it easier

Den
 

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
That’s a great video from FIBO thanks.

Birds, especially tool orientated species, like corvids and Herring Gulls, will frequently use bird baths to soften their food. Herring Gulls are particularly fond of scavenging human food waste (or grabbing it straight out of some poor unsuspecting tourist’ hand 😁) and although they have the proclivity to try and gulp down half a loaf of stale bread in one go, actually ingesting large pieces of hard dry food is rather hard for them.

I often think the reason for this ‘eyes bigger than the belly’ approach to food resulting in the need to soak it, is because, like many other species, Herring Gulls are kleptoparasitic so attempting to grab and then swallow large pieces of food quickly before they are robbed of it, is literally a survival instinct. I have spent hours and hours watching Herring Gulls fighting over tourist food left on beaches; whoever grabs the food in a squabbling group, often tries to gulp it on the run but frequently has to cough it out again because it is too large and dry to swallow. Invariably another gull would then manage to grab the item only to drop it into the sea to soak it (when it would usually get pinched by yet another gull!).

The funniest example I recall of watching Herring Gulls ’marinate’ their food was sitting at an outdoor cafe. Herring Gulls frequently landed on the tables in the cafe (sometimes even while the table occupants were stiil there) to demolish anything left on plates. Honestly it used to be like watching dogs diving with canine gusto into a rubbish bin to scavenge for food. One of the HGs on this day, landed on the next table to where I was sitting to consume the pile of chips it had been eyeing up from it’s rooftop perch.. To the other customers’ and my amusement, each time the gull picked up a french fried chip, it delicately dipped one end into the little bowl of mayonnaise that was also still on the table next to the plate, then unceremoniously swallowing it before picking up the next one. It did this with every french fried chip until it had cleared the plate. (I called out at some stage to see if he wanted ketchup too (which for some strange reason had all the other customers in hysterics) but apparently the mayonnaise provided all the soaking that was required 😂
 

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