Crows

Crow1Four times in the last two weeks, in three separate locations, I have been followed down the street by a scolding crow. He (or she) flew from tree branch to telephone wire, keeping up a steady barrage of raucous cries and periodically swooping down to circle above my head. It wasn’t scary in the way that watching Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley being hunted by acid-secreting bioforms in the “Alien” movies was scary, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience, either. I had to remind myself that it is that time of year: they’re just defending their nests, it’s nothing personal.

Picture on the side of a box I got for moving (yes, we're moving again).

Picture on the side of a box I got for moving (yes, we’re moving again).

During the same time period, I spent an evening babysitting my small grandson. This took place at his house and, after I had put him to bed, I stood at the kitchen window looking out at the garden, aglow in the seemingly endless light of a June evening. As I looked on, a crow touched down at the bird bath. I could see him clearly, in profile, with a round red object held in his beak. Berry, bead or bud: I don’t know what it was, but the crow began to dip it in and out of the water, sending sparkling drops of water flying up through the air. It was a lovely thing to watch. I don’t know whether this particular crow left anything behind as a gift, but you can read about a crow who did leave offerings in a bird bath in the charming blog post, Outwitting Henry. Crows have been known to give gifts to each other (usually during courtship) and to humans: such things as a candy heart, a small metal butterfly, a fir cone, flowers or keys. These gifts are usually given to people who regularly feed crows.

I don’t know quite how I feel about crows. They can be annoying. They eat corn out of farmers’ fields: hence, the need for scarecrows (and who doesn’t love a scarecrow?). But crows can be fascinating, too. Apparently, most people have this kind of ambivalent feeling towards crows. Some say this is because humans and crows are alike in many ways: crows are intelligent, cunning and have close family ties. They have language. They fashion and use tools. They play, plan, remember and dream.

On the other hand, the on again/off again feeling we have about crows may result from the fact that there are just so many of them (and of us).

There are more crows now than there have ever been in the history of the earth. There are more people, too, and in fact, the crow-human ratio has remained fairly constant for the last several thousand years. But what has changed, for both species, is density and proximity. The spread of human-made habitations, urban and suburban, has pressed humans and crows into unprecedented nearness, and into an uneasy relationship.

–Lyanda Lynn Laupt, Crow Planet

The intelligence of the crow is well documented. Their brains are unexpectedly large for their body size: roughly equivalent to the brain size of a small  monkey. “They may share the ‘cognitive capabilities’ of many primates. . .to date, all the experimental results point in the same direction–in various trials, corvids [the crow family] have scored better than chickens, quail, pigeons, rabbits, cats, elephants, gibbons and rhesus monkeys.” (Candace Savage, Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, and Jays)

Many researchers believe that crows are smart for the same reason that humans are smart: they are social creatures.

Nothing is more intellectually challenging than living in a social group, surrounded by a bunch of other animals that are sharpening their wits on you. To live long and prosper, a social animal needs a full array of mental defenses, including the capacity to recognize, remember, anticipate, analyze, and think strategically. Accordingly, most scientists now believe that higher intelligence likely arose in intensely sociable species where individuals could gain an evolutionary upper hand through their interactions with one another.

–Candace  Savage, Crows

Crows and ravens have personality; they have attitude. They have captured the imagination of storytellers and poets throughout the centuries and across many cultures. Think about the story of Noah’s Ark and those wonderful words from Genesis, 8:6–“And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.” Or, consider the words from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Crows” (reproduced at the top of my painting below): “…die and be born again—/wherever you arrive/they’ll be there first,/glossy and rowdy/and indistinguishable./The deep muscle of the world.”

CrowPainting2

“The Crow Family”, watercolour, gouache & ink, 10-3/4″ x 14-1/4″

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25 thoughts on “Crows

  1. Great post. A reported incident of crow intelligence describe how a farmer tried to trick a flock of crows into leaving some of his fields alone. He placed a large circular reflective surface/mirror on the ground. Initially it confused the flock and they stayed away. After a few days he saw the crows circling the field. They kept pooping on the reflecting surface till it was covered. 🙂

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  2. Crows and ravens are particularly intelligent birds, and maybe that is why we don’t like them… When I was in the Grand Canyon I observed ravens who not only could steal your lunch while your back was turned, but had learned that people keep their lunches inside their backpacks and could actually open zippers to get to the goodies inside… The only thing that would deter the determined thieves was to tie the cords securely and then buckle down the “lid” of your pack. Truly amazing birds.

    and your painting is delightful.

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  3. Hate to dash your hopes of it not being personal, but I’ve been told that crows can remember faces, and will attack you if they see you again and they’ve attacked you before. Scary stuff! That said, Z recognizes crows and often refers to them as “CAW!”, after which he mimics their sound. So cute.

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  4. I have a love/hate relationship with the corvid family. Your blog post eloquently describes the undoubted qualities of these fascinating, intelligent birds and I think your painting captures their character perfectly. However, when the rooks wake me at four in the morning they are like otherwise pleasant neighbours who play their guitars late into the night, talented but you wish they lived somewhere else. In our area the corvids have spectacular aerial battles with the much larger red kites.

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    • Thanks so much for your very enjoyable comment. We had the problem you describe with loud crows in the early morning. It was solved by a few well placed small stones from a slingshot–not aimed to hit the crows, but only to disturb them. The interesting thing is that they never came back in subsequent years. They have long memories, apparently. Come to think of it, maybe they are still chasing me because of that!

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      • I was just going to say that. Crows are known for remembering people, and they apparently have been shown to communicate that knowledge amongst themselves. They are truly amazing birds.

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  5. A Raven at the Tower of London! I know they are legendary and I’m sure it was an impressive sight. Did you take any photos?

    What a lovely wish: that all my belongings may become lighter. Thank you for that. I think this may be my last move. It will almost certainly be my last garden. I’m happy about this move.

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  6. Fascinating, Mrs Daffodil. I had no idea they were so intelligent.
    I saw a Raven at the Tower of London many years ago; it was such an impressive creature and SO big. Huge beak and glossy feathers.

    And you’re moving again?! I hope that goes easily and well. May all your. Belongings become lighter than usual. 🙂

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    • The legend, I believe, is that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, the monarchy will fall. Hence the flight feathers are kept clipped.

      So will the ravens leave? …….. Nevermore!

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  7. I like the attitude of the large crow to the right. He’s getting scolded and he couldn’t care less. My dogs and the local crows have had an ongoing war for several years. The crows swoop down and tease the dogs, the dogs go crazy with fury. Then the crows flap away slowly with the angry dogs following below. It kind of reminds me of the way my sister and I used to tease our little brother.

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