Crows and Other Corvids are Really Smart Birds!

Crows and Other Corvids are Really Smart Birds!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

FOREST RAVEN (Corvus tasmanicus): / David Irving photo credit
HOODED CROW (World Life Expectancy photo)

“Every raven after his kind”   (Leviticus 11:15)

Who provides for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of food.   (Job 38:41)

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; they neither have storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them; how much more are ye better than birds?   (Luke 12:24)

[quoting from the HOLY BIBLE]

There is, as Moses noted, a “kind” (i.e., genetically related family) of birds that we call “corvids”, crow-like birds, including ravens.  [In the English Bible (KJV), these birds are always called “ravens”.] 

These black (or mostly black – see Song of Solomon 5:11) omnivores are known to “crow”, often calling out a harsh KAWWWW!   Also famous for their “ravenous”appetites and eating habits, it is no wonder that the English labeled many varieties of these corvid birds as “ravens”.

The HOODED CROW (Corvus cornix) lives and thrives in the Great North – including Sweden, Finland, and Russia.  This I learned firsthand, on July 6th of AD2006, while visiting a grassy park near the Vasa Museum of Stockholm, Sweden.  The next day (July 7th of AD2006), it was my privilege to see another Hooded Crow in a heavily treed park in Helsinki, Finland.  Again, two days later (i.e., the 9th of July, AD2006), while visiting Pushkin (near St. Petersburg, Russia), I saw a Hooded Crow, in one of the “garden” parks of Catherine’s Palace.  Obviously, Hooded Crows appreciate high-quality parks of northern Europe!

HOODED CROW (Warren Photographic photo credit)

The physical appearance of a Hooded Crow is, as one bird-book describes, “unmistakable”.

Unmistakable.  Head, wings and tail black, but body grey (can show pinkish cast in fresh plumage).

[Quoting Chris Kightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale University Press / British Trust for Ornithology, 1998), page 271.]

Like most large corvids, the Hood Crow is quite versatile in filling various habitats.

Wary, aggressive scavenger found in all habitats from city centre to tideline, forest to mountain top.  Generally seen in ones and twos, but the adage ‘crows alone, rooks in a flock’ unreliable; often accompanies other crows, and hundreds may gather at favoured feeding spots and roosts.  Watch for crow’s frequent nervy wing flicks whenever on ground or perched.  Calls varied.  Typically a loud, angry kraa, usually given in series of 2—6 calls.  Unlike Rook, pairs nest alone (usually in tree).

[Again quoting Kightley, et al., POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 271.]
CARRION CROW   (Ouiseaux-Birds photo)

Yet the HOODED CROW is not a genetically self-contained “species”, regardless of what taxonomists might wish about them.  They happily hybridize with other crows, especially the CARRION CROW [Corvus corone], whose international range the Hooded Crow overlaps.


CARRION AND HOODED CROWS.  The familiar crow.  Two distinct races occur … [In the]British Isles and western Europe, Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) is common everywhere except north and west Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man and Europe east of Denmark, where it is replaced by Hooded (Corvus cornix).  Where breeding ranges overlap hybrids are frequent [emphasis added by JJSJ].

[Again quoting Kightley et al., page 271.]

The Carrion-Hooded Crow hybrids are also noted within a larger discussion (i.e., pages 224-228) of Corvid family hybrids, in Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), at page 227. 

CORVIDS (Jelmer Poelstra / Uppsala University image credit)

Dr. McCarthy, an avian geneticist, has accumulated and summarized genetic research on Carrion-Hooded hybrids, especially examples observed in Eurasia:

Because the Carrion Crow has a split range … with the Hooded Crow intervening … there are two long contact zones, one extending from N. Ireland, through N. Scotland, to N.W. Germany, then S to N Italy, and another stretching from the Gulf of Ob (N Russia) to the Aral Sea.  … Even in the center of the [overlap] zone, only 30% of [these corvid] birds are obviously intermediate.  Due to hybridization these [corvid] birds are now sometimes lumped, but Parkin et al. (2003) recommend against this treatment since the two have obvious differences in plumage, as well as in vocalizations and ecology, and because hybrids have lower reproductive success than either parental type.  Hybrid young are less viable, too, than young produced from unmixed mating (Saino and Villa 1992).  Genetic variability increases within the hybrid zone (as has been observed in many other types of crossings).  Occasional mixed pairs occur well outside [the overlap range] zones (e.g., Schlyter reports one from Sweden).

[Quoting Eugene M. McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford Univ. Press, 2006), at page 227.]

 Dr. McCarthy, on pages 224-228, lists several other examples of documented corvid hybridizations, including: Corvus capellanus [Mesopotamian Crow] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow];  Corvus cornix [Hooded Crow] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie];  Corvus albus  [Pied Crow] X Corvus albicollis [White-necked Raven];  Corvus albus  [Pied Crow] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven];  Corvus albus [Pied Crow] X Corvus splendens [House Crow];  Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow] X Corvus caurinus [Northwestern Crow];  Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus brachyrhynchos [American Crow];  Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus corone [Carrion Crow];  Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus cryptoleucus [Chihuahuan Raven];  Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow];  Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus macrorhynchos  [Large-billed Crow];  Corvus corax [Common Raven] X Corvus ruficollis [Brown-necked Raven];  Corvus corone [Carrion Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos  [Large-billed Crow];   Corvus daururicus [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus dauuricus”] X Corvus monedula [Jackdaw, a/k/a “Coloeus mondela”];  Corvus levaillantii [Jungle Crow] X Corvus macrorhynchos  [Large-billed Crow];  Pica nuttalli [Yellow-billed Magpie] X Pica pica [Black-billed Magpie];  plus it looks like an occasional Rook [Corvus frugilegus] joins the “mixer”, etc.   Looks like a good mix or corvids! 

Avian hybrids, of course, often surprise and puzzle evolutionist taxonomists, due to their faulty assumptions and speculations about so-called “speciation” – as was illustrated, during AD2013, in the discovery of Norway’s “Redchat”  —  see “Whinchat, Redstart, & Redchat:  Debunking the ‘Speciation’ Myth Again”, posted at .

CORVID RANGES of the world (Wikipedia image credit)

Meanwhile, as the listed examples (of corvid hybridizations) above show, corvid hybrids are doing their part to “fill the earth”, including Hooded-Carrion Crows. 

Now that is are something to crow about!               ><> JJSJ   

AUSTRALIAN MAGPIE (Gymnorhina tibicen) swooping to attack / CSIROscope photo credit


Crows, as well as other corvid birds (i.e., members of the Crow-Raven family), fascinate children. They should amaze adults, too, yet often we are too busy to take time to ponder and appreciate the God-given traits of the creatures who share our world.  Why should these birds capture our attention? They are alive!

Unlike plants, which are like biological machines (having no self-consciousness), higher-order animals like mammals and birds are truly alive, often displaying what might be called personalities. Although qualitatively distinct from humans—who are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)—animals have what Scripture calls a “soul” (the Biblical Hebrew noun is nephesh—see Genesis 1:20-21; 1:24; 2:19; 9:10; 9:12; 9:15-16 & Leviticus 11:46. )  This “soul” (nephesh)—is something more than the bird’s (or other animal’s) physical body. A bird’s nephesh-lifedeparts at death, yet its physical body remains. Thus, there is a difference between a bird’s immaterial life and its material body, just as we humans have physical bodies distinct from our own immaterial selves. The bird’s “soul” is revealed by how he or she intelligently thinks, communicates, learns, and makes decisions—including problem-solving choices.

Although many avian (and other animal) behaviors exhibit preprogrammed responses to outside world conditions, not all such behaviors are instinctive. Some such behaviors reveal that God chose to give these creatures real intelligence, real  cleverness—demonstrated by abilities to learn new ideas, to fit new situations, and to solve practical problems of daily living.

As [Benjamin] Beck tells us in his book Animal Tool Behavior, [a crow] was fed partly on dried mash, which its keepers were supposed to moisten. But sometimes (being merely human) they forgot. The crow, undaunted, would then pick up a small plastic cup that had been provided as a toy, dip it into a water trough, carry the filled cup across the room to the food, and empty the water onto the mash. “If the water was spilled accidently,” Beck writes, “the crow would return to the trough for a refill rather than proceed to the food pan with an empty cup.” The bird was not taught to do this. “The [problem-solving] behavior appeared spontaneously,” Beck reports

[Quoting from Candace Savage, Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1997), pages 2-4.]
Australian Magpie (Wikipedia photo)

For another example of a corvid bird—in this case a magpie—demonstrating problem-solving intelligence, consider how Australian magpies deal with the unforeseeable problem of a human-imposed GPS “backpack”, which hinders its avian wearer similar to the inconvenience of a human wearing an “ankle bracelet”: 

Here, we describe one such study trialling [i.e., trial-experimenting] a novel harness design for GPS tracking devices on Australian Magpies Gymnorhina tibicen. Despite previous testing demonstrating the strength and durability of the harness, devices were removed within minutes to hours of initial fitting. Notably, removal was observed to involve one bird snapping another bird’s harness at the only weak point, such that the tracker was released. 

[Quoting from Joel Crampton, Celine H. Frère, & Dominique A. Potvin, “Australian Magpies Gymnorhina tibicen Cooperate to Remove Tracking Devices”, Australian Field Ornithology, 39:7-11 (2022).]

Likewise, some corvid birds (such as scrub jays)—acting like helpful “first responders”—are known to rescue distressed “birds of [the same] feather”, when a predator is threatening one of their own kind.

What if a large predatory bird attacks a small bird (or its nest of hatchlings)? Oftentimes, in such situations, the imperiled bird’s alarm-cry is followed by a “mob” attack. In effect, a vigilante-like “posse” of small birds chase and peck the predator, so the predator quickly flees to avoid the group counter-attack.  This has often been observed in corvid birds—the family of crows—such as Eurasia’s Siberian jay.

Jays sometimes gang up on owls and hawks, their primary predators, in an activity called “mobbing.” Uppsala University research [in Sweden] on Siberian jays, slated to appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, investigated the specifics of how jays communicate when mobbing predators. The study found that these birds have “over 25 different vocalisations” which combine to form “over a dozen different calls [while mobbing], some of which are specific for owls and other [sic] for hawks.”

[Quoting from Brian Thomas, “Jay Talking”, Creation Science Update (June 29, 2009), posted at — quoting from a Uppsala University press release, “Siberian Jays Use Complex Communication to Mob Predators”, dated June 8, 2009]

Many other examples of problem solving by resourceful animals could be given. Domesticated livestock, family pets, wildlife, and laboratory-tested animals come up with clever solutions to the challenges of daily living to secure food, water, air, shelter, rest, information, and reproductive success. But the resourcefulness of animals should not surprise us.

Proverbs informs us that God wisely installed wisdom into the minds of corvid birds, as well as many other animals—even small creatures like ants, conies, locusts, and lizards.  To literally translate what Proverbs 30:24 [chakâmîm mechukkâmîm] says about such animals, they are “wise from receiving [God’s] wisdom.”  Truly amazing display — of God’s creativity and love for life !       

   ><> JJSJ

father Australian Magpie (Corvus tibicen) feeding juvenile magpie (Wikipedia / Toby Hudson photo credit)

[P.S.: this blogpost updates and expands upon an earlier post on November 7th A.D.2018.]

Some Shared Videos From Dr. Johnson

JJSJ, as those of you regular readers know, is Dr. James J.S. Johnson, who has written many posts here. He sent me several links to very interesting tales of birds on video. I forget to post them, so, here are two of the latest videos:

White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) by Africaddict

The White Fronted Bee Eaters video was produced by the San Diego Zoo. They have one of the most complex Social Structures. Enjoy!

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV)

“And become useful and helpful and kind to one another, tenderhearted (compassionate, understanding, loving-hearted), forgiving one another [readily and freely], as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 AMP)

This latest one is about a Woman who gives toys to Magpies. She is from Australia.

I found these both rather interesting.  Here in Florida, we are not blessed with neither of these kinds of birds. Trust you enjoy learning about these two Avian Wonders.

Check out the many post from “Dr. Jim”, as I like to call him:

James J. S. Johnson’s Posts

Wordless Birds

Chicken, Magpie, and Easter Greetings


“Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” For centuries, Christians have used this greeting to celebrate Resurrection Day, better known as Easter.1 Ironically, there are two birds that can remind us of the historicity and importance of Christ’s rising from the dead, three days after His death and burial.


Amazingly, the Lord Jesus once compared His own willingness and ability to care and protect humans to that of a chicken—specifically, a mother hen—who uses her own body to protectively care for her own hatchling baby chicks.2 How good it is to belong to the Lord Jesus Christ forever! When He offers to take us in and protect us, we should be eager and grateful to accept His care and security.

But we more closely associate a male chicken (rooster) with the arrest, trials, torture, and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

Readers might have already guessed that male chickens are associated with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection because of the rooster who crowed after Peter ignominiously denied the Lord Jesus, thrice, in fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy.3 In fact, this incident is so important that it is reported by all four gospel writers.3

For example, Mark reports this disappointing failure of Peter, involving the tattletale fowl, a sad chapter in the life of the usually bold apostle: Peter’s triple failure to stand up for Christ, as predicted by Christ Himself. This display of Peter’s imperfect courage and loyalty (even though his inward belief never failed) is linked to the twice-crowing of a rooster.

A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And when he thought about it, he wept.4

What a sad note to end with! Except, as proven three days later, that wasn’t really the end.5


Most people are unlikely to guess that magpies—such as the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen6)—can be associated with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. How so?

The most famous variety of this “butcherbird,” formerly called the “piping shrike” or “white-backed crow shrike,” is now called the white-backed magpie (Cracticus tibicen telonocua). But many call it the Australian magpie because it appears on the official state flag of South Australia.

Whatever you want to call it, it is famous for its flute-like call, entertaining with a complex repertoire of vocalizations. The black-and-white opportunist has habituated to human-dominated habitats, such as the agricultural fields of farms, gardens, and even wooded parklands.6

The Australian magpie is not timid. It will defend its territory against raptors trespassing therein, such as brown goshawks. The Australian magpie is not a picky eater. Its diet includes both plants and animals. Its preferred diet, however, is dominated by a variety of larval and adult invertebrates, such as insects (like ants, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, cockroaches) and arachnids (like spiders and stinger-wielding scorpions!), as well as earthworms and millipedes. The Australian magpie is also known to eat some small vertebrates, such as mice, skinks, frogs, and toads.6

Some compare the problem-solving resourcefulness and the brash cockiness of this bird to the national reputation displayed by many Aussie ex-patriots.

The Australian magpie is quite a clever problem-solver. It has been observed breaking off the stingers of bees and wasps before swallowing such dangerous bugs!7

By now you’ve likely guessed why this bird reminds us of Resurrection Day—the Australian magpie’s power to neutralize a dangerous stinger.

But insect or arachnid stingers are nothing compared to the powerful sting of death. Yet, Christ’s bodily resurrection on the third day defeated death’s “stinger.”

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.8

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

1. Morris, H. M. 2006. Christ Is RisenDays of Praise. Posted on April 16, 2006, accessed April 7, 2020.
2. Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34. Cansdale, G. S. 1976. All the Animals of the Bible Lands. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 163-165.
3. Matthew 26:34, 26:74-75; Mark 14:30, 14:68-72; Luke 22:34, 22:60-61; John 13:38, 18:27.
4. Mark 14:72.
5. Matthew 12:39-40; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4Romans 10:9Psalm 16:9-10.
6. Taxonomists have also labeled the Australian Magpie as the Australian Magpie Gymnorhina tibicen (meaning “trumpeting bare-nose”). Regarding the physical and behavioral traits of the Australian Magpie, see Veltman, C. J., and R. E. Hickson. 1989. Predation by Australian Magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) on Pasture Invertebrates: Are Non-territorial Birds Less Successful? Australian Journal of Ecology. 14(3): 319-326; Cake, M., A. Black, L. Joseph. 2018. The Generic Taxonomy of the Australian Magpie and Australo-Papuan Butcherbirds Is Not All Black and White. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club. 138(4): 346-359; Brown, E. D., and C. J. Veltman. 1987. Ethnogram of the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) in Comparison to Other Cracticidae and Corvus Species. Ethology (International Journal of Behavioural Biology). 76(4): 309-333. This author also appreciatively thanks Fiona Smith, M.C.Ed.—ICR SOBA graduate and Australian creation science educator/author—for her help with research and perspectives on Australian magpies.
7. Dr. Amy L. Adams notes: “Magpies will walk along the ground searching for food by overturning debris or probing their bills into the dirt. They eat insects, larvae and other invertebrates. Magpies are known to remove the stingers of wasps and bees before eating them.” Adams, A. 2016. Gymnorhina tibicen Australian MagpieMuseums Victoria Collections. Posted on, accessed April 7, 2020.
8. 1 Corinthians 15:53-57, quoting Messianic prophecy in Hosea 13:14.

*Dr. Johnson is Associate Professor of Apologetics and Chief Academic Officer at the Institute for Creation Research.

James J. S. Johnson Articles Here

Article at I.C.R.

Birds Are Wonderful: M, N, and O !

BIRDS  ARE  WONDERFUL  . . .  M,  N,  and  O !

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Jesus said: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink . . . Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, . . . your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”   (Matthew 6:25-26)

For welcoming in the year of our Lord 2020,  below follows the fifth advance installment of alphabet-illustrating birds of the world, as part of this new series (“Birds Are Wonderful  —  and Some Are a Little Weird*).  The letter M is illustrated by Magpies, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Motmots.  The letter N  illustrated by Nightingale, Needle-billed Hermit, and Nighthawk (also called “Nightjar”).  The letter O illustrated by Osprey, Oriental Stork, and Oystercatcher.

“M” BIRDS:   Magpies, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Motmots.


“N” BIRDS:  Nightingale, Needle-billed Hermit, and Nighthawk.


“O” BIRDS:  Osprey, Oriental Stork, and Oystercatcher.


Birds are truly wonderful — and some, like the “egg-dumping” Oystercatcher, are a little bit odd, if not also weird!  (Stay tuned for more, D.v.)

* Quoting from “Birds Are Wonderful, and Some Are a Little Weird”, (c) AD2019 James J. S. Johnson   [used here by permission].



“Flag That Bird!” (Part 5)

Black Swan ©WikiC
“Flag That Bird!”  (Part 5)

by James J. S. Johnson

Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.  (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

This is the fifth and last article in this “Flag that bird!” series, on various birds that appear on national flags.  (In other words, this is this mini-series’ “swan song”.)

All of us know enthusiasm-fueled folks who proudly launch into a new project – yet they soon falter, when the initial excitement fizzles, and they somehow fail to employ the prolonged patience to follow a long-term project through to completion.  (But, as we all know, “a job half-done is a job undone”.)  Thankfully, this blogsite mini-series, on “flag birds”, has now reached its proper closure!  Of course, there are other flags (such as state and provincial flags) that depict birds, but this set of articles has predominantly focused on birds portrayed on national flags.  Accordingly, as promised before, this final sequel features two huge birds, a swan and a crane, plus another bird whose identity is less than fully certain.

For a quick review, these vexillology-related birds were previously featured, as follows:

Part 1, posted at Flag That Bird – Part 1  — Belgium’s Wallonian Chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus); Portugal’s Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis); Burma’s Green Peafowl (Pavo muticus); and Dominica’s Sisserou Parrot (Amazona imperialis);

Part 2, posted at Flag That Bird – Part 2  — the British Antarctic Territory’s Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), and the Saint Helena Plover, a/k/a Saint Helena’s skinny-legged “Wirebird” (Charadrius sanctaehelenae);

Part 3, posted at Flag That Bird – Part 3  — Kiribati’s Great Frigatebird Emperor Penguin (Fregata minor); and

Part 4, posted at Flag That Bird – Part 4  — Papua New Guinea’s Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisaea raggiana, f/k/a Gerrus paradisaea), and the ubiquitous Dove, best illustrated by the common pigeon, a/k/a Rock Dove (Columbia livia).

In this article, three remaining birds will be introduced:  (1) the black swan of Western Australia (Cygnus atratus); (2) the black and white “piping shrike” of South Australia, the exact identity of which is questionable, although this article will assume it is the same bird as the Australian magpie, perhaps more particularly the subspecies known as Cracticus tibicen telonocua, f/k/a Gymnorhina tibicen leuconota (e.g., by explorer Charles Sturt); and (3) Uganda’s crested crane (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps).

Black  Swan (Cygnus atratus).

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) Ruffled ©WikiC

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) Ruffled ©WikiC

Western Australia’s Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) appears on the official state flag of Western Australia (sometimes contracted as “Westralia”), which occupies the western third (i.e., almost a million square miles) of that island-continent country.  The Black Swan also presents prominently on Western Australia’s official coat-of-arms, flanked by two kangaroos.

Flag that bird - Flag of Western Australia

The Black Swan is well-named – their feathers are black (or black-grey, depending on how the sun shines on them), with a few white flight feathers.  Their bills are mostly bright scarlet, with a whitish bar near the tip.  And they are huge birds – adults can weigh between 8 to almost 20 pounds!  The wingspan breadth is between 5 to 6½ feet, like the length of a human lying down!  Their babies (called “cygnets”), however, are fuzzy white chicks, with dark bills, cute as they can be.

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) with Cygnets ©WashPost

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) with Cygnets ©WashPost

The first time that I ever saw Black Swans, excluding the confined context of a zoo’s aviary, was at The Broadmoor hotel complex in Colorado (located at the edge of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, within view of Pike’s Peak – an area perfect for viewing magpies).  But the Black Swan is not native to North America – it is an Aussie native.

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) with Cygnets ©Broadmoor

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) with Cygnets ©Broadmoor

Like other swans (e.g., the Trumpeter Swan, described at Trumpeting A Wildlife Conservation Comeback, its neck is S-curved and very long – in fact, the Black Swan has the longest neck of any swan.

Australian Magpie (Cracticus tibicen, a/k/a Gymnorhina tibicen).

The official state flag of South Australia features a bird called a “piping shrike”, but what bird is that?  Many have analytically identified it as the species now called the Australian Magpie, (Cracticus tibicen), perhaps more particularly the subspecies once called the “White-backed Crow Shrike”, which his now called the white-backed magpie (Cracticus tibicen telonocua, f/k/a Gymnorhina tibicen leuconota).

Flag that bird - Flag of Western Australia - Magpie

The Australian Magpie has several subspecies nowadays, nine according to some taxonomists – although ornithologists know that such lump-or-split classifications are vulnerable to slippery subjectivities.  [For an insight into the arbitrary subjectivity of “lumper”-versus-“splitter” taxonomy, see Footnote #2 within .]

Australia Magpie on Dead Branch ©WikiC

Australia Magpie on Dead Branch ©WikiC

The Australian Magpie is deemed a type of “butcherbird” as opposed to the “corvid” category that includes the “magpies” of Europe and America.  The Australian Magpie is famous for its singing, entertaining (those with ears to hear) with a complex repertoire of vocalizations.  The black-and-white opportunist has habituated to human-dominated habitats, such as the agricultural fields of farms, gardens, and even wooded parklands.

Australia Magpie ©WikiC

Australia Magpie ©WikiC

The Australian Magpie is not a picky eater – its diet includes both plants and animals.  Its preferred diet, however, is dominated by a variety of larval and adult invertebrates, such as insects (like ants, moths, beetles, bees, wasps, cockroaches) and arachnids (like spiders, scorpions), as well as earthworms, millipedes.  The Australian Magpie is also known to eat some small vertebrates, such as rodents (like mice), lizards (like skinks), and/or amphibians (like frogs and toads).

Some compare the problem-solving resourcefulness and the brash cockiness – of this bird – to the national “reputation” displayed by many Aussie ex-patriots.  (Maybe Ken Ham should set the record straight on that topic!)  The Australian Magpie is quite a clever problem-solver  — it has been observed breaking off the stingers of bees and wasps, before swallowing such otherwise-dangerous bugs!  The Australian Magpie is not timid – it will defend its territory against raptors trespassing therein, such as Brown Goshawks.

Crested Crane (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps).

The official flag of Uganda sports a stylized depiction of a Crested Crane, a/k/a “East African Crowned Crane” (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps), which is a subspecies of the Grey Crowned Crane (Balearica regulorum).  The same crane appears on the Ugandan coat-of-arms.

The Ugandan coat-of-arms provides a more realistic picture of a Crested Crane.

Ugandan coat-of-arms Crested Crane

The East African Crowned Crane (a/k/a Crested Crane) is a tall bird, standing up to 4 feet tall!  It can weigh 6 to 8 pounds, while sporting a wingspan breadth of 6½ feet.  The plumage is dominated by slate-grey feathers, with wing feathers of white and chestnut orange.  The Crested Crane’s black head is adorned by white cheeks (accented with red) and a showy 3D “fan” crest, of golden top feathers, somewhat resembling fireworks.

Grey Crowned Crane ©WikiC

Grey Crowned Crane ©WikiC

Cranes – of various species – are famous for their long necks and long thin legs. Unlike herons (which fly with their necks “pulled back”), the Crested Crane (like other cranes) flies with its neck straightened and outstretched.  Like other cranes, the Crested Crane is gregarious – their aggregate nesting territories may host a flock of up to 200 residents.  These cranes are typically monogamous and territorial.  These socially stable birds are known to live as long as 20 to even 40 years of age.

In the wild, the Created Crane eats a mix of seeds (such as grains), other plant materials, insects, and worms.  Other foods eaten include eggs and fish, and even small lizards and frogs.  This diet is similar to the diet of other cranes (e.g., Sandhill Crane, Whooping Crane, Common Crane, etc.) around the world.  Cranes routinely eat whatever is available and convenient, so cranes are classified as “opportunist” feeders – consuming small mammals (like rodents), fish, snails, amphibians (like frogs), worms, insects, seeds (like grains, nuts, acorns), berries, root vegetables, and other plant materials (such as leaves.  As a matter of biome ecology, most cranes prefer wetlands, such as mudflats and other shorelands, or in wide open fields, such as prairies.

Common Crane in Estonia ©WikiC

Common Crane in Estonia Wetland ©WikiC

The “Common Crane” (Grus grus) is a cousin the these African cranes.  The Common Crane has a summer range, typically boreal forests (called taiga in Russia) that covered most of the top half of Eurasia, with blotches of winter ranges in Europe (Spain), Asia (e.g., China), and parts of Africa.

The zoologist George Cansdale [see his ALL THE ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE LANDS, pages 158-159] – after analyzing the mix of Biblical, ornithological, and biogeographical evidence – concludes that the Hebrew noun ‘agûr (e.g., in Jeremiah 8:7 & Isaiah 38:14) refers to the noisy Common Crane (Grus grus), an identification that the learned Hebrew scholar John Joseph Owens concurs with [see his ANALYTICAL KEY TO THE OLD TESTAMENT, volume 4, pages 116 & 242].  Matching the ‘agûr of Isaiah 38:14, the Common Crane is clamorously noisy, especially when agitated.  Cranes are also phenological migrants, a trait that accords with Jeremiah 8:7.

A review of our introductory verse provides another insight, the contrast between patience and pride:

Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.  (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

In Ecclesiastes 7:8 the Hebrew adjective translated “patient” is ’erek – it denotes someone or something that is prolonged, drawn out, slow, longsuffering.  Accordingly, to be “patient in spirit” is to be willing to wait one’s turn, according to God’s providential line-up (and timing).  A humble person doesn’t butt in line; he or she patiently waits in the queue, for his or her turn.

In Ecclesiastes 7:8 the Hebrew adjective translated “proud” is gabah  — it denotes someone or something that is high, haughty, or high-minded, in some contexts what we sometimes call “uppity”.  Accordingly, to be “proud in spirit” is to regard one’s self as higher that one should, which is the opposite of what God (through Paul) commands us to be:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each [i.e., all of us] esteem others better than themselves.  Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Interestingly, humility and patience go well together, because accomplishing a long-term project often requires interacting successfully with other people, and getting other people to coöperate with you (so that your goals can be furthered) routinely requires you to serve their needs and goals.  This is called mutual symbiosis when we see it in birds; we call it “win-win” coöperation when humans do it.  In win-win situations the coöperating parties both further their respective goals, so their interactive relationship is not one-sided. (Contrast this with “parasite”-like people, who habitually take, but won’t give).

Unsurprisingly those who are haughty-minded, being selfish, are slow to appreciate this life principle, because “uppity” people cannot understand or accept the law of Acts 20:35, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (quoting the Lord Jesus Christ Himself).  Consequently, many who could help them, with their project checklists, may shy away  –  why host a parasite?   And so it is that many who are haughty are proud to assertively start – yet don’t finish – complex projects that require prolonged patience.   Why?  Part of the cost of succeeding was the cost of benefiting others who contribute to the project.  The end is predictable:  failure and shame.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?  (Luke 14:28)

A sober lesson for long-term projects (including long-term relationships)!  Yet, this is a lesson much needed in America, nowadays, where impatient and high-minded “get-rich-quick” tactics all-too-often end in disappointment and discord.  (This author has seen many illustrations of this in business bankruptcy cases and in employment law contexts.)

In sum, thankfully, this “flags” the end of this mini-series on national vexillology-related birds.


“Flag That Bird!”(Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4) 


James J. S. Johnson’s Articles


Ian’s Bird of the Week – Common/Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) by Ian

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Common/Black-billed Magpie ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter ~ 2/9/2015

The Australian Magpie of last week generated quite some interesting correspondence, about both it being an iconic species and bird names and their derivation. I also got a request for a BotW on Butcherbirds, which I’ll do soon, but in the meantime here is the original Magpie of the the Northern Hemisphere. It is, incidentally, on the Australian list, a record from Port Hedland in May 2007 having been accepted by the rarities committee. This species is quite sedentary, the nearest place it occurs naturally is China and Port Hedland is an iron ore port so you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out how it got there.

This, unlike the Australian Magpie, is a member of the crow family, Corvidae, and I think you’ll agree that the resemblance between the two species is fairly superficial, not that that ever got in the way of names. The Common or Black-billed Magpie – I’ll get back inevitably to names shortly – has beautifully iridescent wings and tail which can appear blue or green under different lighting conditions, which tells us that the colour is due to the prismatic microscopic structure of the feather rather than coloured pigment. The first photo shows one on a garden wall in suburban Dublin.

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) by IanThe second one was taken in Catalonia at the Northern Goshawk site. Like their cousins the Common Ravens the Magpies were quite brazen and prepared to steal a morsel of food from under the noses of much larger raptors. Also like the Ravens and unlike the raptors, the Magpies noticed the sound of the camera shutter and you can see this one peering warily at the hide. This photo shows the extremely wedged-shaped tail, which is very obvious in flight. The third photo shows a juvenile one in Ireland, very similar to the adult plumage but it still has the slightly swollen gape of a very young bird and, maybe I’m imagining it, an atypically innocent expression.

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) by IanCommon Magpies are iconic too, and as kids in Ireland we attached great significance to the number seen together, according to the nursery rhyme ‘One for sorrow, Two for joy …’ Magpies, and other crows, have long been considered birds of ill-omen.

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) by IanBack then, we called them just ‘Magpies’. In later decades, I became aware that, like The Kittiwake and for similar reasons, it acquired a coloured qualification ‘Black-billed’. In the case of the Kittiwake this was to distinguish the black-legged Eurasian one from the Red-legged Kittiwake of the eastern Bering Sea; in the case of the Magpie, it was because of the Yellow-billed Magpie of California, fifth photo, having a very restricted range that overlaps with the much more widespread Black-billed Magpie (fourth photo). The fifth photo, incidentally gives a good idea what the very similar Common/Black-billed Magpie looks like in flight and the white patches on the wing are very striking.

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) by Ian

Plus ça change … as they say. I discovered while researching this BotW that Handbook of Birds of the World (HBW) and Birdlife International have accepted the split of the Black-billed/Common into three species: the Common Magpie (Pica pica) of Eurasia, the Black-billed Magpie of North America (Pica hudsonii) – fourth photo – and the Arabian Magpie (Pica asirensis), restricted to a tiny range in SW Saudi Arabia. So the European bird is back to where it started from.

I’m losing patience with avian taxonomists. Molecular studies over the past thirty years have led to countless changes in classification and naming, and not just at the species level. The 2014 HBW Checklist of Birds of the World, volume 1 (non-passerines) has many changes at every level up to order. I’ll repeat what I’ve said before that Linnaeus – he who tried to impose order on chaos – must be turning in his grave. Maybe he is just laughing, and perhaps that’s the right approach.

I used to think what the latest taxonomists said – starting with Sibley and Monroe in 1990 – was the gospel truth and a huge advance in our understanding. I don’t think that anymore! Here is a quote from Birdlife International on the fate of the Rainbow and Red-collared Lorikeets: Trichoglossus haematodus, … T. rubritorquis… (del Hoyo and Collar 2014) were previously lumped as T. haematodus following Christidis and Boles (1994), and before then were split as T. haematodus and T. rubritorquis following Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993): Lump, split, lump, split!

On a lighter note, I’m giving a talk on ‘Australia: Land of Parrots?’ at the BirdLife Townsville AGM next Saturday 14 February at 2:00pm in the Sound Shell meeting room at Thuringowa. If you’re a local, and even if you’re not, it would be great to see you there. The talk is about parrot diversity and bio-geography – all the Gondwanaland stuff.


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737
Bird Photos

Lee’s Addition:

I know and am acquainted with all the birds of the mountains, and the wild animals of the field are Mine and are with Me, in My mind. (Psalms 50:11 AMP)

Ha! Ha! Ha! Thanks Ian for saying what I have been feeling. Sounds like we both agree on all the renaming, splitting, re-shuffling and “Lump, split, lump, split!” (Birds, People and DNA

The Magpies above are neat and I especially like that expression of the juvenile one. He (or she) still has the gape of an immature bird.

The Corvidae Family Crows, Jays, Ravens is where you will find the Magpies placed. (at this time). There are 130 members that make up this family.



Ian’s Bird of the Week – Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) by Ian

National days are occasions in which icons play a big, maybe dominant or even overpowering role, and Australia’s, January 26th, is no exception. So here is the Australian Magpie. It’s not strictly a Magpie in the Northern Hemisphere sense and it’s not strictly Australian, as it also occurs naturally in southern Papua New Guinea and has been introduced to both the main islands of New Zealand.

It is, however, certainly iconic, and not just in the sense of something that is typical of Australia. It was incorporated in various South Australian insignia just after Federation, and features “displayed proper” against the risen sun of federation. All six state coat of arms were incorporated into the Australian coat of arms in 1912, so the magpie, along with the Black Swan of Western Australia, made it to the national coat of arms. The bird referred to in the original South Australian design documents is called the “Piping Shrike” but the Australian Magpie has had various names including “Piping Crow-shrike” (Charles Sturt, explorer, 1840).

Australian National Coat of Arms

There are several races of the Magpie and I thought it would be easy to describe and illustrate them as part of this bird of the week. In fact, the descriptions, delineations and ranges of the various races are both messy and vague so I’ve settled for three easily recognised categories based on the colouration of their backs between the universally white (or pale grey) nape and rump: Black-backed, White-backed and Western.

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) by Ian

The Black-backed group, first and second photos, is the most widespread occurring everywhere except in SW Western Australia and SE Australia and Tasmania. The nominate race ‘tibicen’ of eastern Australia is Black-backed and the name is derived from the Latin for ‘trumpeter’: tubicen. Male and female Black-backed have similar patterning except that the females have greyish tinge to the white and the black is less intense.

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) by Ian

The familiar Magpie of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia is the White-backed. The bird in the third photo is a male, while the one in the fourth photo is a female. The grey tinge and scalloping on her nape and back is quite obvious.

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) by Ian

The male of the Western Magpie in SW Western Australia is like the male White-backed. The female, however, has very dark scalloping on the back to the point where it is almost black, fifth photo.

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) by Ian

Australian Magpies have group territories with the group varying in size from a pair of adults to several adults and juveniles of varying ages. Usually only one pair in the group actually nests with the female doing the nest-building and most of the incubation. The young are fed by the female, often with help from her male partner and sometimes from other group members. Magpies can be aggressive towards people near the nest, and many Australians can recount stories of being attacked when cycling to or from school. Juveniles have greyish rather than black plumage, like the juvenile Black-backed in the sixth photo.

Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) by Ian

Australian Magpies, and their close relatives the Butcherbirds, are candidates for being the finest song birds in Australia. The Magpie has a varied and complex repertoire and is well-known for its flute-like choruses by a pair or group. It is usually started by the senior male or female in the group with other members, including juveniles, joining in. Less intense warbling songs are done by individuals, often for long periods, contain elements of the choral singing and mimicry. The New Zealand Poet, Denis Glover, in his best known poem, The Magpies, rendered the song as ‘and Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle/The magpies said’.

The flute-like quality of the voice features in various European names for the Australian Magpie: Cassican flûteur (F), Flötenvogel (G) and Verdugo Flautista (Sp). I think the Germans have got it right with their Fluting-bird – much better than naming it after some unrelated Northern Hemisphere bird that it vaguely resembles. Maybe we should launch a new name for it next Australia Day. Now that would be a fitting Australia Day honour.


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737
Bird Photos
Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland:  iTunes; Google Play Kobo Books
Recorder Society

Lee’s Addition:

He (Solomon) spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish. (1 Kings 4:33 NASB)

Ian, thanks again for sharing your Magpies from Australia. Seeing that he travels all around, he gets to see these different Magpies as he goes off on his birdwatching adventures. Their expressions give a look of intelligence to them.

Check out:



%d bloggers like this: