And just why is this guy doing a crow page in a sailing magazine? Because they’re not just crows, a common bird that everyone knows, but a Northwestern crow. Yes, we have our own crow species! Looks exactly the same but smaller, ‘KAWWW’ sounds the same but deeper and hoarser voiced. If you’re on or around salt water in the Salish Sea and north all the way to Alaska, likely the all-black beach bird you’re looking at is a Northwestern crow. Problem is, you can’t be sure because in urban areas they now mingle, mix and interbred – but once you get to the Olympic Peninsula, you can be fairly confident you’re seeing one of these guys.
By far, the best trait you can look for are their clamming skills. Browsing the shoreline wrack for anything edible, they’ll often pick up a live cockle or clam, fly straight up to about 30 feet, change course to level off – and drop the shell to the rocks below. Most of the time the shell breaks on the first try and down they go for lunch. Evidently they level off to see where the shell lands so they can grab it before a gull does. Normal American crows don’t seem to do this, just Northwestern crows. On some beaches, I’d have to say that of birds on the beaches, there may be more Northwestern crows than gulls.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.