Winter is Coming, the Tourists Will Go Back to Florida, and It Will Just be Us and the Crows

American Crow

It was cool here today, and it is supposed to be 45F tonight. It got me thinking about getting the bird feeders ready.

Throughout the year, during the times that we don’t have hummingbird or seed feeders out we still hear birds.  During the nesting season their calls are nearly incessant, but there are less as the season progresses.  What do they do the rest of the year when they aren’t concentrating on raising a family?  Some hang out all year because we get them at the seed and suet feeders, but others leave for warmer climes.  And some that come to our winter feeders came from somewhere more arboreal and think this is balmy.

There is one group that stays here all year, noisily talking over whatever they talk about, the crows. 

Some people hate crows.  They are crop raiders, no doubt. My mother used to sing a bedtime song about making a scarecrow.  The only lyrics I remember are, “Ah shaw”, said the crow, “I’ll just let your old corn grow.”

Crows are sometimes portrayed as symbols of ugliness.  The literary collective word for crows is a murder of crows.  Ravens, on the other hand, cousins of crows, are referred to as a congress of ravens.  They aren’t that different.

The cartoon characters, Heckle and Jeckle were deemed to be racist symbols.  I guess they were, and I was just too young to get it.  They mean different things to different people, and in different cultures.

Joni Mitchell “Black Crow”

“There's a crow flying
Black and ragged
Tree to tree
He's black as the highway that's leading me
Now he's diving down
To pick up on something shiny
I feel like that black crow
In a blue sky.”

Townes Van Zandt “Black Crow Blues”

“Well, the black crow's a-screaming, the yellow sun's warm
And the grass tumbles tall down the hill
There's a cold wind building, it's bringin' a storm
When the call of the black crow goes still
When the call of the black crow goes still”


The Apsáalooke who were called Crow by English speakers, call themselves Crow today, for the most part.  Their name, pronounced something like, Ahp sah loo key, actually translated “children of the large beaked bird.”  English speakers somehow took that bird to be a crow.  Could have been a heron.

I sort of want it to have been a crow, because I like crows.  They aren’t just smart, they communicate in ways that aren’t fully understood, and some make tools. They are also capable of misrepresentation and theft from each other. We seem to vilify creatures that are most like us. 

I wonder, “How much like humans are crows?”  Are there some who just seem to have “black souls”?  Are there outcasts?  Do they sometimes act heroically? Do they have a hierarchy? They do seem to mourn their dead.  Silent vigils have been observed where crows congregate in the trees above a dead comrade, sit for some time in silence, and then silently fly away, en masse.

There seems to be some message encoded in the pitch, number, spacing, and duration of their common “caw”.  They have another call which I have heard pairs use during their mating ritual that I have heard at other times, unrelated to mating.  They know what it means.  I don’t.

We have all heard a crow call near us, heard others answer from far away, and then heard a conversation as others joined in and they congregated somewhere.  What are they saying?  “Soups on?” 

We throw old bread and corn in the yard.  A crow (the same crow?) is often seated in a pine near the back drive.  It will spy the treats, call others and after a bit we will see them feeding in the yard.  Lynn read that they recognize faces and associate good and bad behavior with individuals.  She always looks up to let them know who she is.  The crows are much less wary than they once were.  But, I think, they understand treachery.



Views: 234

Comment by nerd cred on September 30, 2016 at 5:07pm

I love crows.

They choose neighborhoods in the city in which to live. A few years ago they abandoned mine. There were always masses of them around a nearby intersection. They kept the streets cleared of dead squirrels. They've been gone a few years. I would like them back. I don't like dead squirrels. Maybe they left when those two hawks and the eagle moved here.

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 30, 2016 at 6:45pm

I'm sure you've seen crows deviling a hawk.  They generally are able to drive them away.  Smaller birds do the same with crows.  They like our woods, and did before we started feeding them.  There is a U.S highway a couple hundred yards from our house and there is always roadkill there, and there is a creek at the bottom of the ridge between here and there.  So, they have roosting areas, water, and food.  They leave for periods of the day, and I always wonder whose neighborhood they've gone to.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on September 30, 2016 at 6:54pm

Believe it or not, about 20 years ago while walking back to my loft from the store around the corner, I saw a murder of crows and a flock of smaller birds, sparrows or starlings, deviling a hawk north on Long Beach Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles.  Easily the strangest thing I ever saw in twenty years at that address.  An epiphany for sure.

Comment by Rodney Roe on September 30, 2016 at 7:31pm

I guess the fact that you saw it is strange. I've seen video of coyotes there, and even cougar have been seen. We have visits from 'possum and bears, but no deer, turkey or coyotes, although they are plentiful in other areas of the county. To give some idea of the terrain here, Deliverance was filmed here. I'm amazed that we don't get visited by raccoon. They are plentiful along the creek.

Comment by Phyllis on September 30, 2016 at 7:46pm

I read a story a couple o years ago about a girl that made friends with crows, she would leave shiny things on an outside table for them to collect. Then one day she lost her lens cover for her camera, had no idea where it was. And the crows brought it back to her. They are very smart birds.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on September 30, 2016 at 8:26pm

Coyotes and deer are common in LA, skunks and raccoons as well.  Rats live everywhere.  Bears come down from the mountains and enjoy suburban swimming pools.  Mountain lions as well, and they're often tagged and tracked. This is the latest thing to accommodate wildlife in Los Angeles:

$40 million to preserve gentic diversity for the Santa Monica Mountain Lion population.

Comment by nerd cred on September 30, 2016 at 11:12pm

It would probably cost more to move all the humans out and give the land back to the animals. "Progress" is expensive?

In my neighborhood everyone's complaining about the fat, voracious little squirrels eating their jack-o-lanterns.

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 1, 2016 at 12:51am

Jack-o-lanterns, already?  I had no idea squirrels liked pumpkin.

Some time back I read about the problems with the freeway separating mountain lion populations.  The Santa Monica lions must be the most studied anywhere.  I think they''re all on transmitters.  Actually, I'm not sure about that.  I did read that they are very territorial and a lion has to die for another to move into its territory.

Comment by Rodney Roe on October 1, 2016 at 12:53am

My mother would be mystified by the cougar overpass.  When I told her that they were moving wolves back into Yellowstone her reaction was, "But we worked so hard to get rid of them!"

Comment by Julie Johnson on October 1, 2016 at 5:04am

Rodney, same thing with my grandmothers. Times are changing, aren't they?  Love that overpass, great comment thread. 

Years ago, I had an early morning paper route sort of out in the country (East TN).  At 4 or 5 in the morning, the wild animals are out!  I've seen skunks and raccoons, foxes, owls and coyotes, just about everything but a bear. 


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