Birds in the News

The Misadventures of Canuck, the World's Most Infamous Crow

The Canadian corvid is a social media star, entertaining and educating people through his various mischievous deeds.

You may have heard of the exploits of Canuck, a hand-raised crow from Vancouver, Canada, that was caught making off with a knife from a crime scene in a McDonalds parking lot earlier this year. The incident was a violent one: A man set fire to his own car and threated the police with a knife. Shots were fired. Afterward, in swept Canuck, plucking the knife from the crime scene and even causing an officer to give chase. Eventually the bird dropped the weapon and avoided any criminal charges.  

But even before he started tampering with evidence, Canuck was a legend. It all began when he was a hatchling that got pushed out of his nest and rescued by a young Vancouver resident. The boy raised the crow until he was old enough to fly and take care of himself, and then, mid-last year, attached a little red band to his left foot and set him free to be wild.

And oh has he run wild. Since his first days of freedom, Canuck has been racking up the adventures, as evidenced by his Facebook fan page. First created by Shawn Bergman, the rescuer's neighbor and bird's best human friend, the “Canuck and I” site has become a bird blotter of sorts. From anecdotes to candid pics and crowd-sourced art, the 30,000-plus followers supply a stream of comical updates on the crow. Last week, for example, he was photographed hanging out in a garbage truck; earlier in October he was seen fighting off a hawk with four of his fellow crows; back in January he was caught riding the SkyTrain.

The run-ins with the cops have continued as well. At the beginning of this month, Canuck crashed the scene of a car accident that police had cordoned off. As the officers were busy working, the bird checked out one of their motorcycles and then pooped in one of their vans. Again, no criminal charges were filed. 

Of course, there’s a rational reason to why the crow keeps getting into mischievous acts. He’s simply attracted to people and their objects, says Bergman, whose close relationship with Canuck began after the bird's release. Ever since, Canuck has been visiting the home-decor consultant’s backyard every day. “He’s not shy around humans,” Bergman says, “but he’s not reliant on them either.” The bird will take gifts and food from the locals, though he’s plenty keen on finding his own. (Not worms though—he’ll turn his head at those.) Bergman also noticed that he gravitates toward crowds: soccer games, the horse track, a neighborhood gym (yes, this bird goes to the gym). He's still preserved his bond with humans, despite living in the free world. 

Credit and forget it. Photo: Shawn Bergman

Interestingly, Canuck’s confusing background as a semi-wild, human-reared crow is why he ended up being attracted to shiny things, like knives. As Jennifer Campbell-Smith, a behavioral ecologist from ‎Binghamton University in New York, writes, the idea of wild crows preferring shiny objects over others is actually a myth:

“The thing is, stories about crows collecting shiny things are anecdotal, and not observed by people who watch crows constantly and study them . . . Are they particularly attracted to shiny objects, or obsessed with them? Highly unlikely. They may just be more likely to find them because they are easier to see/attract attention easier.”

Campbell-Smith adds that wild adult crows are more likely to be scared of brightly colored or shiny objects. It’s the hand-raised ones that seem to develop the habit—and not necessarily because they’re dazzling.

“A hand-raised crow is going to have a lot of exposure to human objects, and will therefore play with those objects. They may be attracted to what their ‘parents’ (the humans) are attracted to, and therefore be more interested in rings, watches, silverware, etc. for the reason that they are of high value to their ‘family,’ not because they are shiny objects.”

Bergman backs this theory up through his own observations. Canuck doesn’t only go for shiny pieces, he says; the crow will take anything that seems desirable to the people around him. If someone hands him an object and allows him to keep it, he quickly loses interest. He’d rather poach cigarettes, change, and even keys from unsuspecting passersby. Beyond that, the bird is just inquisitive. When he visits the gym he scopes out the machines, making his rounds like a trainer on staff. Then he usually takes a nap.

It’s this personable side of Canuck that plays so well with the fans, Bergman says. When he first created the Facebook page, it was simply to dispel the false ideas surrounding crows: that they’re scary, murderous birds. (A little run-in with a cyclist earned Canuck some bad press.) But the page has grown to encompass a form of social-media worship around the bird. People have offered to do free DNA analyses to sex the crow—he is indeed a male—and have tried to nail down exactly which species of crow he is. The firmest guess is Northwestern, though it’s extremely difficult to tell from photos alone. Famed corvid scientists, like John Marzluff, have also signed on as fans.

It’s the kind of outpouring that Bergman never even dreamed about. He's also become a celebrity around town, with families at the ice cream store inquiring about his friend and group homes messaging him about appearances. Ultimately, it’s all part of the good-will campaign for Canuck and other clever, loyal members of his kind. “Even if I can change a single person’s mind on how they look at crows, I’m happy,” Bergman says. And it’s happening . . . one skateboard video and cheezburger meme at a time.

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