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We've had at least one discussion about what to feed birds in the crow and raven families in our yards. This question is about the most effective way to do so.

When setting up the feeding areas of our yard, we often keep the small birds in mind. However, we've seen the small and medium sized birds chase the larger ones, including crows/ravens, off the feeders, away from birdbaths, and around the yard, so we know size is not necessarily an indicator of dominance. I'd like to know what conditions and accommodations might be the most conducive to keeping those big birds here.

For example:

Is there an optimal time of day to feed these birds?

For the foods they eat from feeders, are certain types of feeders better than others?

Does placement of food (either in feeders or on the ground) matter in terms of proximity to things in the yard, such as

  • other bird feeders
  • birdbaths
  • trees, bushes, plants
  • houses, sheds or other structures

What other factors should be considered to make sure ravens and crows get the right amount of healthy food? Since they tend to eat most of the same types of foods, I'm assuming the factors would be the same or similar. If that's not the case, would you kindly answer for whichever one you know, and specify it.

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    I upvoted this Q and will be interested in the answers. Crows visited our patio for years, then stopped for several years when the West Nile Virus hit and are now back. My impression is that they are not at all picky, either about food or ambiance, but that they are not nearly as dominant as one would expect such large birds to be. As an aside, if you don't already have "Mind of the Raven" by Bernd Heinrich, get it! (I have very little first hand experience with ravens.) – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Mar 18 '18 at 3:27
  • @ab2, thanks for the upvote! You're right that bigger doesn't always mean more dominant. Sometimes it seems to be the other way around. Your comment made that important point, which I had forgotten to mention, so I edited it into the question. Thanks for the helpful contribution, which I hope readers will notice came from you. I hadn't heard of that book. It looks awesome! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Mar 18 '18 at 22:10
  • As a person who's more likely to shoot a crow than feed it, I'd suggest one factor would be whether or not your neighbours would appreciate more crows and ravens being attracted into the neighbourhood. My neighbours are fed up as it is, they'd be furious if they found out someone was feeding the noisy creatures. I'm assuming the opinion about Corvidae may be different out where you are. – ShemSeger Mar 19 '18 at 22:02
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Birds of the genus Corvus are intelligent and generalists. They are not picky, and can survive on lots of different types of food. They are also more able than other birds to find clever ways to get to food.

Anything edible that isn't small seed they can't pick up easily will interest them. I've had ravens catch little bits of cheese I threw up in the air.

If you want to selectively feed these large birds, make the morsels too large for most other birds to manage.

That all said, these birds are fine on their own. If you aren't really sure you are helping them, then I'd do nothing at all. They've been here long before people sometimes fed them. Nature will find its own balance.

Whatever you do, make sure you don't put out bear food. Black bears (Ursus americanus) are now all around where you live, even if you don't regularly see them. They will tear down bird feeders and anything else they can reach that they smell food in.

The bears by themselves are not really much of a problem, but bears that become habituated to humans are. Bird feeders and garbage left out are the two most prevalent reasons bears come in contact with humans. They are intelligent, so they quickly learn that food is available by humans if they happen to find it there a few times. They also lose their natural fear of humans. That's bad for you if you happen to be between a habituated bear and what it thinks is food in your back yard. Even if you don't get hurt, these things often end by the Fish and Wildlife folks coming out and shooting the bear.

  • In areas where there are no bears, rats and other pests are to be considered, big birds can make big messes and rats will come to 'clean up'. – Willeke Mar 18 '18 at 19:47
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I am a little late in answering, but thought I would answer in the event you were still feeding your local Corvids. As Olin said, they are intelligent and amazingly so. That is important when trying to woo them to a feeding area because they will stay away if something has made them feel at risk (pets, wind chimes, clanging objects like ladders or loose metal structures). They remember everything and communicate any important information to others for the sake of preservation. They can recognize individual people through facial recognition and will connect people to individual behaviors, good and bad. So if you boisterously throw peanuts at them and accidentally hit a couple of them, be assured all the crows in the vicinity for months, even years, will know and you will instantly go from nice lady with yummy peanuts to the lady who uses peanuts as weapons (as my youngest son found out).

That said, they will also communicate if your yard has the goods. I, personally, didn't have any luck with conventional, hanging feeders. I would get one or two crows that would come get food from them, but you could tell it was kind of awkward for them. They will eat from hanging feeders, but if they have more favorable access to food nearby they may choose to opt out of your hanging feeders. They will get food from anywhere they can access, even if that means using "tools"; however, if they land on the feeder and it starts shaking or swinging violently from their weight, they will tend to just stay away from it. So, to make your yard enticing, you need to clear out any "noise makers" and take some extra care if you have dogs that use the yard. Some say if you have dogs you will never get the crows in your yard. But, I disagree (I am not sure about any other pets, though). You can, but it takes some dedication and some work. I have two Great Danes and have been able to get the crows into my small, fenced yard. There are two hours, twice a day, that I do not let my dogs out at all. Regardless of any other schedule we might have at my house, our dogs are not allowed in the back yard from 9am to 11am and from 5pm to 7pm each day. It only took a few days for the crows to notice I was placing food in the back yard (I wanted to move them from the front so I could observe them better), but it took them close to a week to be confident the dogs would absent from the yard after I filled their plates.

They are VERY easy to condition, so it is really important to hold a routine. Try to feed them at the same time each day, in the same place - especially when it is cold out. On cold days, they generally have a sentinel that will sit where he can see the food. As soon as you put it out, he alerts the others in the roost to come eat. The more consistent you are, the more consistently they will show up.

As for feeders, I don't use conventional hanging feeders. Not that there is anything wrong with them, I just have better results with non-hanging feeders. Crows like eating from the ground, so spreading some unshelled peanuts on the ground will pull them in rather quickly. For food you want off the ground, you can get the platform feeders on posts. Try to stay away from things that sway too much when they land on them, like the hanging feeders.

This is what I did. I built a simple, flat, pergola type structure that they love. The platform (made of lattice) is about 2ft x 2ft and it's about 3 feet off the ground. We just concreted in 2 4x4 posts with another 2x4 (3ft off the ground) connecting them. We then centered and secured a piece of 3x3 lattice on top of the 2x4, cutting out notches in the lattice to fit around the 4x4 posts. We bordered the lattice with small boards to make it more aesthetically pleasing, but just the lattice would have worked fine. The 4x4 posts were cut to 5 feet in height and my husband built a kind of flat, A-framed little roof to cover the lattice area so their food didn't get wet in inclement weather. So, all in all the whole thing is barely over 5 ft tall. I had to train my dogs to stay away from it, because they kept eating the nuts. But, now the crows (and squirrels) love it.

I get the Reynolds bakeware disposable pans with lids from the store and use those to put their nuts in. When they start getting worn out or ripped up, I just throw them away and grab a new one. No washing necessary! I say "ripped up", by the way, because I have one crow who would throw a fit if the pan was empty and he would throw it off the platform. So I put a big rock in it and his attempts to get the pan up tore the pan. Ahh, gotta love them. The rock also works when it is windy, to keep the tins from flying off.

You mentioned bird baths. During the summer they LOVE baths! Same thing as with food, just make sure they feel safe and they will usually come. I have a typical stone bird bath, but I have seen people do small kiddie pools and all sorts of things.

I wouldn't worry about any other wild life. When it comes to those things, my rule of thumb is to let them all work it out. Crows will coexist rather nicely with everyone, but just like us there are disagreements and they will chase each other or fight. We haven't lost any of our wildlife here because of the crow population. I still get roughly the same numbers of birds and squirrels as I did before.

Now for the fun stuff. For food, they will eat pretty much anything. But, they have preferences. They generally like unshelled nuts over shelled. They will pick the unshelled far more often over the shelled. I put out walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, and peanuts. My area doesn't have unshelled nuts very often, so most are given shelled. But, they almost always have unshelled peanuts, so I give those out regularly.
I also give them cut up hot dogs about once every few days. The go crazy for that. I have also given them raw corn, raw cilantro, raw broccoli, and raw strawberries. Whatever you give them, just try to stay away from anything with seasonings and I stay away from breads. Basically nuts, berries, and meat. Yum!

I hope that helps!

  • Welcome AbvTimberline! We're so glad you joined us! Thank you for taking the time to provide such a thorough, interesting and helpful answer! It's never too late to answer a question here, especially one so full of great information! We feed a large variety of birds and rodents, but we still don't have as many crows as I see around the neighborhood. Now I have more things to try! My husband laughed when I mentioned hot dogs, but we're going to do it! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Jan 8 at 0:30

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