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‘CrowTok’ is trying to rehabilitate the relationship between humans and crows

A small online community has highlighted how sweet a bond between crows and humans can actually be

Olivia Hebert
Los Angeles
Saturday 06 April 2024 12:51 BST
Related: Crow ‘says hello’ to man in Yorkshire

TikTok users have built a niche online community dedicated to normalising humans’ bond with crows.

Nicole Steinke, who posts as @Tangobird on TikTok, has taken her habit of feeding crows and turned it into video content - showing people how to interact with the chronically misunderstood birds. Steinke provides treats for a family of six crows called Waffles, Doc and Dotty, and their baby DocTok - the latter of which was named by Steinke’s 284,000 followers.

She reportedly feeds the family twice a day from her apartment balcony in Alexandria, Virginia, primarily supplying them with peanuts, and occasionally walnuts and cashews, if she feels like treating them to something special that day. If there’s no more food left, the family will flock to Steinke if they see her walking around her neighborhood.

They’ll surround her and squawk to get her attention, which can be alarming to bystanders who aren’t familiar with her penchant for crows. “People think that death is coming,” she told theMIT Technology Review. “They’re a bad omen, all that - kind of the same as a black cat.”

However, online is a different story. Steinke’s crows have become minor TikTok celebrities in the niche corner of the internet dubbed “CrowTok,” which has exploded in popularity in the past two years.

“I have followers that follow for the bird noises, for their cats. I have fellow bird people who do wild bird watching,” Steinke told the outlet. “Once you get past the stigma, it’s hard not to be interested in them.”

The “CrowTok” community isn’t just centered around crows, but also birds within the Corvidae scientific family - which includes magpies and ravens. Her videos also focus on the bond between birds and humans, with birds often leaving tokens or gifts for humans who give them treats.

Each relationship between crow and human can vary from individual to individual, in part due to crow behaviour differing from families and regions. “CrowTok” emphasises how different the bonds can be, indicating that each bird has their own unique personality. In fact, scientists believe the intelligence of crows is compatible with human sensibilities; research indicates that, like humans, crows can recognise individual faces and think about their own thoughts.

Cornell ornithologist Kevin McGowan explained: “Their social system is the most like Western human civilization of any animal that I know of.”

The birds prioritise their families, while also interacting with fellow crows outside of their community - another trait they share with humans. Their ability to engage with others beyond their direct circle indicates a similarity with humans that scientists find noteworthy.

In her book Crow Cosmopolotics, Dr Julie Morley says that since crows are a synanthropic species - defined by the tendency to live close to humans and adapt to human ways of life - they have arguably co-evolved with humans. At times, their evolved behaviour has been a direct reaction to human actions, in particular, the bird species’ ultra cautious nature. Crows have a hard time trusting humans after they were hunted in the previous century for being dubbed vermin.

“Crows have been paying attention to individual people more than perhaps any other bird,” McGowan said, noting that crows can discern human intentions. The uptick in humans approaching and feeding birds is largely a recent development, one that McGowan has been encouraging for decades. However, the ornithologist cautioned that people shouldn’t overdo it, adding: “What happens is that people get too into this. And it makes the crows a nuisance.”

Feeding a crow is a deep responsibility and shouldn’t just be done for video content; it should be done with caution. If establishing a bond goes awry, it could lead to crows mobbing your neighbourhood. Humans should only establish a sense of trust and safety with the birds if they intend to routinely feed them. If not, experts advise against it.

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