Most people hardly ever think about crows, not seriously anyway and not a lot if they do.

Yet crows are everywhere (ubiquitous is the word); if you live in a city or town, in the country, near dykes, around farmland, tidal waters, lakes or woods, crows likely will be somewhere nearby.  Oddly, for such a large bird they’re almost invisible and we’re barely aware of them as they go about their daily foraging; unless, of course, crows suddenly decide to move en masse to roosts where people live; which occurred a few years ago (for reasons still unfathomable) in several Valley residential areas, causing a great public uproar.

Biologists and conservationists often think about crows, sometimes seriously.  A while back, the biologists pondered about crows and decided they were a menace to other wildlife, waterfowl and songbirds especially; then for a long time crows were listed as one of several unprotected species and anyone could kill them year around.   Then the biologists and other government people thought about it some more; they decided we couldn’t have people with guns running around the countryside willy-nilly 12 months of the year shooting at crows, so they arbitrarily set September 1 to March 31 as the only period when wide open warfare on the bird was permissible.  In other words we then had a crow season.

As well as ubiquitous, crows are omnivorous; in other words, they eat everything – vegetables, carrion and unimaginable numbers of destructive insects.  This eat everything appetite of the crow isn’t all negative, as Robie Tufts explains in Birds of Nova Scotia:  “All of the crow’s deeds are by no means ‘bad’ as judged by human standards.  He destroys innumerable meadow voles and great quantities of grasshoppers, crickets, other noxious insect pests – this is what he is doing when seen on the farmer’s fields in summer and fall.  These beneficial activities often pass unnoticed.”

This constant foraging makes the crow as valuable as other birds so why it isn’t more protected is a mystery.  Well, not quite a mystery.  On major North American waterfowl nesting areas crows earned the reputation of being extremely destructive nest robbers – not only of waterfowl nests but the nests of songbirds as well – and were widely condemned continent-wide as a result and left entirely unprotected.

It was estimated that at one time about 30,000 crows were using a single roost along the Minas Basin.  From what I’ve read about winter roosts, this is a small murder (“murder” being the traditional name for groups of crows).   In the Birder’s Handbook, for example, mention is made of winter roosts holding hundreds of thousands of crows. I don’t know how this number was determined but dynamite was used to destroy some of these massive roosts, apparently because they were near waterfowl nesting areas.

Crows have a “language” all their own, greeting calls, anger and alarm calls, for example.  Apparently that simple “caw” we hear is used to express a variety of emotions. Also, various studies giving crows problems to solve involving food determined they’re adept at reasoning.   Much more adept than previously realised since the birds studied in some experiments solved one and two-step problems.

In other words, old Corvus, that black, thought of as a villain bird is a lot more complicated and smarter – and more beneficial – than most of us realise.


To cook a muskrat, reads a wild game book published in Alberta, make sure after skinning and cleaning it to remove fat, scent glands and the white tissue inside each leg. After these cleaning pointers, two recipes are given, one for braised muskrat, the other for muskrat in tomato sauce.

The cookbook also gives recipes for cooking beaver, porcupine, squirrel, woodchuck and black bear.

If you’ve said “thanks, but no thanks” after reading this, you belong to the majority of people turned off by the idea of eating the flesh of wild creatures like muskrat, beaver, squirrels and so on. Normally we don’t think of fur-bearers as food sources and traditionally they aren’t.

On the other hand …. in some quarters those “non-traditional meats” are looked upon as food fit for an epicure. On beaver meat, for example, the Alberta cookbook claims it closely resembles the texture and taste of domestic roast pork and has “one of the most refined and savoury tastes of all wild game.” Muskrat meat is comparable to chicken, according to this cookbook and “squirrel and porcupine seem to produce their own unique, delicious taste.”

Before mentioning a Valley outdoorsman who has sampled the meat of various furbearers, I admit I’ve tried some myself. I’ve eaten black bear steak, roasted porcupine and baked bobcat. Yeah, I said bobcat, only the trapper who prepared it for a wild game supper called it recycled rabbit. Which is a little joke based on the fact the bobcat’s diet consists entirely of rabbits.

I didn’t care for the cat, the porcupine wasn’t much, and the black bear I’ll pass on it next time I’m offered some, thank you. Though I do hear that “pepperoni” made with bear meat is excellent.

Now, I have to tell you about a long-time friend, an outdoor writer and trapper, Reg Baird of Clementsvale, who has much more experience than me in sampling the meat of fur-bearers. Baird is a trapper with decades of experience in the woods and on the water. He has two books to his credit, on trapping and fishing and for many years he was the fishing columnist for Eastern Woods and Waters.

Thinking Reg Baird must have been tempted to cook and eat the flesh of the various fur-bearers he trapped, I asked him how they tasted. Contrary to what is written in the Alberta cookbook, Reg said that “muskrat is strong smelling and swampy tasting (and) not very palatable.” Bobcat, he said, is “bland and not strong tasting at all.” Reg apparently sampled coyotes (“it tastes miserable”) as well beaver (“good as long as all the fat is removed from the meat”) and raccoon (“I don’t think it was very tasty”). Black bear, he says, is “bland but makes good mincemeat.”

Based on what Reg Baird said and at least what one cookbook author writes, I have no doubt that muskrat, beaver et al, are sort of edible. Perhaps so, but I doubt you’ll ever see them offered in restaurants. Don’t look for bobcat or beaver burgers, or muskrat and fries, at fast food places in the near future, either.

However, if you have the desire to try these different meats, just ask any trapper you know and request a carcass. Trappers are obliging sorts anyway, and since many fur-bearer carcasses usually are discarded after skinning, one or two are probably yours for the asking.

On that note, in the 2014-15 season trappers caught 17,000 muskrat, around 3,500 beaver, 700 bobcat and 1,700 raccoon – and this was just an average season. None of the meat from these furbearers makes it into our food chain, as far as I know. Maybe we’re wasting a potential food source, so epicures take note.

JOHN DALY’S DEER (January 11/16)

As hunters sit in their blinds and tree stands every fall hoping to bag a deer, does a minor controversy involving this game animal ever come to mind? Put another way, do hunters think white-tailed deer are native to the province or do they believe they were introduced. The question is moot, I suppose. The deer are here, so introduced or not, thousands of hunters enjoy hunting them year after year and that’s all that really matters.

However, once there were opposing sides to this question. And as far as any controversy existing over deer being native or an introduced species, this isn’t correct either. Controversy is the wrong word. It’s just that if you go back a generation or two you’ll find people either believed deer were native or were introduced by some far-seeing visionary who did future hunters a huge favour.

So, are deer native to the province or not? What do you think?

If you think “introduced,” you probably heard of John Daly and what once was known far and wide as “Daly’s deer.” Sometime in the 1890s John Daley conceived the idea of capturing deer in New Brunswick and releasing them in various areas around the province. In 1893 he was given the authority by the Surveyor General “to take alive within the province of New Brunswick twenty-five Red Deer and export same to the province.”

Daly was to meet certain conditions before proceeding. As Daly told it, he eventually ran an advertisement in a New Brunswick newspaper asking for live deer. As a result, Daly writes that he “got over in February, 1894, 7 does and 4 bucks, eleven in all.” These deer were released in Digby County, “about twenty miles from Digby town.” This was his first release and apparently Daly continued with the stocking the following year.

Unfortunately I don’t have the complete Daly story. The above quotes are taken from letters I was privileged to read (in the files of the late L. St. Clair Baird of Kentville) in which Daly spoke of his efforts to stock deer. In the letters Daly boasted that “unaided and of his own accord (he) secured and imported what is known all over western Nova Scotia as Daly’s Deer.”

Now, jump forward to the research on deer made by the late biologist and teacher, John Erskine (1900-1981). In the late 1950 s and early 1960s Erskine excavated Mi’kmaq winter camp sites dating from around the year 1060. Erskine unearthed deer bones from this and an earlier site. “Deer antlers, often on skulls were frequent” at the sites Erskine wrote. Further proof that white-tailed deer were in Nova Scotia well before Europeans arrived is examined by former Wildlife Director Dr. Donald Dodds and Dennis A. Benson in their 1977 book, The Deer of Nova Scotia. The authors concluded that Daly’s release in 1894 was a stocking, in other words a reintroduction in the province, since evidence indicates deer were always here. In a later work co-authored by Dodds and Frederick F. Gilbert (The Philosophy and Practice of Wildlife Management) the authors refer to 1894 as the year Daly stocked deer in the province, noting this was a stocking and not an introduction.

So there you have it. Wildlife experts the likes of Dodds, Benson and Gilbert, and biologists the likes of John Erskine conclude that deer are a native species. The evidence supports their conclusions. In historical footnotes, John Daly must be remembered as the man who re-introduced deer, perhaps at a time when their numbers were low. His stocking possibly may have spurred a population explosion in the areas where he made his releases. John Daly must not be forgotten, however. Daly’s Deer are forever part of the white-tail lore and legends that all hunters should and do cherish.