I was walking through a small park when two crows started cawing at me, and followed me, flying from tree-to-tree as I walked. I speculate that this is a territorial or protective behaviour, but what I found different was the crows were violently pecking the branches nearby them. I have no memories coming to mind of seeing this behaviour beforehand. I speculate that this behaviour could be threat displays, but a quick search on Google did not reveal to me any authoritative studies on this phenomenon. I'd appreciate more information and sources.

This question has been added as a casual observation on iNaturalist.


1 Answer 1


This is a good question. This type of behavior -- pecking at a branch, wiping the side of the beak on a branch, pulling off twigs and dropping them, or knocking off pieces of bark -- is quite common among many corvid species, particularly when they are interrupted by something or someone that they might consider a threat. This includes not only potential predators but also potentially hostile conspecifics.

It is typically considered to be a form of displacement behavior. The concept of displacement behavior, from classical ethology, posits that when an animal experiences two conflicting drives to do two different things, it doesn't know which to do and does a third thing instead to dissipate the drive or anxiety. For branch-pecking in crows, see E.g Kilham and Waltermire 1990 Ch. 12.

Referece: Kilham, L., & Waltermire, J. (1990). The American crow and the common raven. Texas A&M University Press.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Sorry but I couldn't resist. It is certainly amusing that the answer comes from you (with the name corvus and a crow for DP) $\endgroup$
    Jun 28, 2015 at 20:37
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Indeed - as the resident corvid I felt somewhat obliged to answer this question. $\endgroup$
    – Corvus
    Jun 28, 2015 at 20:52

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