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
Flying
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.

 

 

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Comment by Rodney Roe on October 1, 2016 at 5:31am

I don't mean to go all political, but I can't help commenting on the fact that Californians will build a wildlife overpass, and New Jersey won't spend the money to install positive breaking systems on their human carrying trains.

Comment by Myriad on October 1, 2016 at 12:47pm

There's a Facebook group for crow and raven lovers - lots of neat photos.  I have 7 or 8 crow paintings by a friend who was very into crows for a while (then other birds...and I have half a dozen or more of her fish in my bathroom.  Seems no matter where you go, you can hear crows ...

My fave crow thing was a place in Hamilton Ontario - an old brick Victorian style house (deserted? in a yard surrounded by iron fence, and with (this was fall) a couple of big old bare trees.  At sunset a very large murder o' crows would head in and settle down in the trees.  Halloween come to life.

Comment by Anna Herrington on October 7, 2016 at 4:28pm

Enjoyed reading this!

I really like crows, too, there's a murder of them that hangs out out front. I say hello each morning when I come out for the soon-after-dawn garden patrol. Ravens love the redwoods, out here, they grow huge living in those forests on the coast (I live inland a few miles, as the crow flies  : )) ... I'll take day trips to the redwoods just because I've missed seeing those wonderful birds flying through massive old growth trunks.... life is good.

Hope your winter is mild this year, but not too mild. Good when a season is recognizable.

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