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OKI Wanna Know
Perhaps the most hyper-local reporting around, OKI Wanna Know answers listeners' nagging questions about stubbornly unexplained things in the Greater Cincinnati area. Bill Rinehart, local host of WVXU’s broadcast of All Things Considered, dives deep into researching the backstory of each crowdsourced mystery and reports back with his findings twice a month.

OKI Wanna Know: Are those big, black birds crows or ravens? And what are they doing?

birds fly around the spire of a building in a gray scale photo
Philip Myrtorp
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Unsplash

There's probably something in your world that makes you go "Hmmm..." Our feature OKI Wanna Know is a chance for you to get an answer. This week, WVXU's Bill Rinehart enters the world of birds.

Spence Ingerson of Westwood noticed something when driving on Westwood Northern Boulevard.

"Very often I will see a staggered cloud of some kind of corvid — I assume they're crows — coming toward Westwood. And then sometimes in the evening when I'm going home — west — they're coming east. Do these crows nest somewhere at night and do they commute?"

For the answers, we'll ask the Cincinnati Zoo's Rickey Kinley. He's the head keeper in the bird department.

"A crow is under the umbrella of a corvid. A corvid is a family of birds — ravens, crows, magpies, jays, such as blue jays. They are also considered some of the smartest of bird species."

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Kinley says corvids are omnivorous, typically bigger than songbirds, and usually pretty social.

So what is Ingerson seeing? Crows or ravens?

"Crows live almost everywhere in the United States. Ravens live mostly in the northern-most areas," he says. "I read awhile back, they sighted a raven in northern Ohio last year, for, like, the first time in 119 years or something."

Kinley says there's a pretty good chance Ingerson is seeing crows and not ravens.

As he said a moment ago, crows are smart. They've been seen using tools. And they're social.

"There's even studies that have proven that crows teach their children specific knowledge, like to be afraid of certain predators, or places that are safe."

He says crows have a definite family structure and will help raise their younger siblings. If you see a murder, there's a good chance it's all one big happy family. Except when they're not happy. When a family member dies, crows will mourn.

"Any social animal like that, they create bonds. When an animal that's part of their family group passes away, that is a normal thing that some higher intelligence animals will experience. That was a social interaction that stopped happening."

Kinley shares another interesting thing about corvids: They can speak. Kind of. Kinley says the Cincinnati Zoo used to have a crow named "Doc" who could mimic human speech.

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"He was in our bird program here. He was taught to do a trick, where basically they would pretend he does math, and they'd say 'What's two plus two?' and he'd say 'Four!'" Kinley says. "When he came over to the bird house, he'd fluff up his neck, and he'd say 'four.' He'd sound like a man. He'd say 'four!' "

But back to Ingerson's question: do crows commute? Do they have jobs? What do they do all day?

"Those crows are probably going to the garbage dump, to be honest," Kinley says. "They're probably going 'Hey there's a bunch of leftover food here. Let's go here and eat!' "

Crows are omnivorous, so a landfill is basically a buffet table.

"They eat all kinds of things. They eat everything from fruits to nuts to seeds, to roadkill. You name it. They can eat pretty much anything."

So, their job is to find food and eat it. Kinley says yes, that does mean they commute, sometimes, from a place like Spring Grove Cemetery.

Crows in trees
Spence Ingerson
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Provided
Spence Ingerson taped these crows in Spring Grove Cemetery.

"And that's a wonderful place to nest, right? There's lots of trees, lots of old trees, lots of very tall trees. Crows prefer the taller trees, as one would assume, because they're safer," Kinley says. "Eden Park was very popular. Places in Hyde Park. Old neighborhoods in Cincinnati have lots of large, tall oak trees. That's great habitat for a crow that's roosting at night."

The route they take to work can change, because where they live changes.

"Sometimes they'll roost in a certain place every year for years, and sometimes they'll rotate around. Typically if it's safe and convenient and comfortable, they'll pick that place."

Are crows the smartest of the birds? Kinley says there's some debate around that.

"Actually here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we have the other most intelligent bird. It's a rivalry between Kea, which are from New Zealand, which are an alpine parrot, and crows," Kinley says. "There's not a definitive which one is smarter than the other. They both have been known to use tools, They're both very good at problem-solving. They both have a lot of curiosity."

If you're curious about something in your environment, ask OKI Wanna Know by filling out the form below.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.