How to make friends and influence smart birds
January 6, 2013 2:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I make friends with corvids?

I have a mated pair of Eurasian Magpies (pica pica or in Dutch, Eksters) that live around my back yard.

Inspired by this story about a person who made friends with the local crows and jays, I've begun leaving bits of bread out on the table in the back yard for them. They seem to like that, but I have no idea what I should be leaving out for them since all the Dutch websites about them are instructions for getting them to leave (the Dutch generally consider them to be a pest).

So, how do I get these birds to like me and hang out with me when I'm in the garden? I'm looking specifically for tips about pica pica because the only tips I can find are for other corvids.
posted by digitalprimate to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I have a friend who made good friends with a jay by sitting quietly in his garden every day. When the jay would land near him, he would put some peanuts close by. Eventually, the jay started to come by daily to get a snack and hang out.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:20 AM on January 6, 2013

Best answer: Eurasian magpies will eat pretty much anything. If you really want them to be happy: mealworms, waste fat, dried fruit, dead pinky mice. Be careful how you socialise though - training them to beg food from right up close to a human is likely to get them into trouble. Feed them on the table, and sit close enough to see everything.
posted by cromagnon at 4:21 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One thing to consider is that most mammals spend a majority of their life searching for food. So if you can eliminate that need, they would have more time available for socializing.

Bread might not be the best feed. I'm not sure what the nutritional needs are for a magpie/crow/etc, but I'm guessing it's higher in protein and lower in carbs. Nuts may be a good idea. Meats might be best. I'd suggest cheeses, but I don't know if they can digest those proteins.

Keep in mind - those birds are evil smart. While that can sometimes be amusing, it can also lead to you being lower on the food chain.
posted by BenevolentActor at 4:27 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Two things.

1. To slowly attract birds at all, keep leaving little treats. Put them out at a certain time of day so they know when to expect you, their new friend. Then one day, just sit outside in a chair and set the food a ways a way from you (on a low wall or table or some such so the bugs don't immediately get to it of course). Read a book or something and don't really pay attention to them. Keep doing this for a while, a week or so. Then one day put only a little food out there, and put more near you...
Basically, you want them to gain trust in you. It'll be slow, but take your time. Don't get impatient, and you might eventually get some shoulder landing friends.

2. Do you have any close neighbors? Do take a moment to consider whether they'll appreciate having corvids (who are extremely tricksy, precious) living in the area and possibly attracting more corvids because you give them food. Not saying don't make friends with your birds, but just giving you a head's up so I don't see a "my neighbors are threatening to put out traps!" AskMe a few months down the road, eh?
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:58 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing to consider is that most mammals spend a majority of their life searching for food.

Corvids are birds. You can look up what they eat very easily, you don't need to make random guesses. The western scrub jay, for instance, "feeds on variety of seeds, fruit, and insects, but mainly acorns." (From The Sibley Field Guide to Birds)

Pet stores sell bird seed for wild birds to put in backyard feeders, and the bags helpfully list the types of birds that it will attract (although they probably won't list crows, as people don't generally want to attract them).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:42 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll be your friend.

I understand food and shiny things are popular with magpies.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 10:08 AM on January 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Hello. I am a friend to corvids. My backyard jays take peanuts from my hands, and I also feed the neighborhood crows. In 10 years of doing so, I've come to believe that jays are pretty tameable, crows will get used to you but will always be wary, and magpies will coolly observe you from a safe distance -- on a good day. My backyard magpies (yellow-billed, not the kind you have) want nothing to do with me. That said, I wish you the best of luck, because bird friends are awesome.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:34 AM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Around these parts, we like leftover pepperoni pizza just fine.
posted by Corvid at 10:59 AM on January 6, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: don't need to make random guesses.

Well, in Holland you kind of do, as the sites that discuss them talk about them either as pests or in very broad biological terms.

So knowing they eat nuts and insects, mainly, doesn't help much to know what specifically I can put out for them to eat that will be good for them and also not attract less desirable birds, such as seagulls.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:52 AM on January 6, 2013

My neighbor put out unsalted peanuts for the crows in the manner that mudpuppie describes for a ~10 month period about three years ago. A small group of crows continue to make their presence known to us (occasionally diving close enough to ruffle our shoulders with their wings in a playful not aggressive way; massing in a little group on the tree in front of our house and taking turns strutting nonchalantly around the sidewalk when we are on the porch; 'escorting' us in and out of the end of our street by flying in pairs ahead of us and landing to wait for us to pass, one at a time). They are definitely not 'tame' but they absolutely recognize us and we can sort of recognize specific birds out of their little group. Bird friends are great! But crows in particular will remember everything you do, so make sure none of your friends are jerks to them; they'll remember faces and respond accordingly.
posted by par court at 1:28 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seagulls are awesome! [/only person who thinks so]

One thing I warn you about is that nesting magpies are dicks. So if they do nest in your yard next spring, even if they don't attack you, they will attack everyone else. The mailman will not bring you packages, dogs will refuse to go outside, cats will move one street over and your kids will cry.

Other than that, food is pretty much the key to any animals heart and if they get close enough and relaxed enough to touch - ear scritchies. In all my years of varied animal ownership that combination has never failed me.
posted by fshgrl at 8:25 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, in Holland you kind of do, as the sites that discuss them talk about them either as pests or in very broad biological terms.

Call your local birdfeeder's store and ask, or a dutch birders forum. They live for this stuff and would be so excited if you asked.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:20 AM on January 31, 2013

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