Here it is, almost Halloween – one of the best nights of the year for storytelling and yarns. Usually, I have more Halloween content on my blog Saturdays, but this year, Halloween kind of snuck up on me.
The weather has been unseasonably warm, and we’ve gotten a lot of rain. We did get a frost, and the leaves have turned those gorgeous reds and yellows that signal the end of a season of productivity, so I can’t say I didn’t have any warning. But here we are, five days from Halloween, and you haven’t heard boo from me about it.
So, here’s a short meditation on crows. Maybe crows do it all year around, but I notice it more in October: they gather at dusk on power lines (sometimes hundreds of them), and then all of a sudden whirl off through the sky on whatever errand crows have on a Friday evening. What are they doing?
I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic The Birds many years ago, and it instilled a certain wariness – a frustrating suspicion that the birds were out to get me. It doesn’t help that crows are territorial. They have good memories (especially for such small brains) and they remember people who have been unkind to them, or so I’m told. The crows around City Hall this year started swooping down on people heading into the government building. I was lucky and was never attacked (although a few crows were definitely giving me the side eye – to be fair, they can ONLY give the side eye), but signs were up.
They are protecting their children, I guess. That makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to build a nest next to City Hall, though. I suppose they thought the big pine trees looked just right for a home, but then the kids came along, and they started getting edgy.
Crows are smart. It’s easy to ascribe reasoning to them. They’ll drop walnuts in front of cars to get the tires to do the crushing . . . that’s some pretty sophisticated tool use, if you ask me. They defend their territory. They talk . . . oh, how they caw and crackle!
We can understand how ancients associated their cousins, the ravens, with Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology. The birds would fly out each day, gather information, then tell Odin. Odin seemed very fond of his birds, and worried they wouldn’t come back. It was a mutual relationship, and they were fantastic helpers.
Ravens and crows are naturals for the Halloween season, and I think I hear a story idea on the roof, scritching with its sharp talons . . . . .
I read a lot of science articles, particularly considering that my degree is in English.
Anyway – recently I read that bird brain cells are something like twice as efficient as mammal brain cells, which is why they can have such effective, but tiny brains.
Oh, and for the trivia buffs – Australian crows are, actually, ravens. We just call them crows. Just don’t ask me what the difference is!
There’s a lady on Twitter who will tell the difference for people if it’s a crow or raven; she came across my timeline once or twice. The crows in Hokkaido are a LOT bigger than the ones in Nebraska, and for a time I thought they must be ravens, which makes them a little more cool — Poe never wrote a poem about “The Crow” after all. (AFAIK.)
But all the scientists seem to agree that Hokkaido has crows, so I won’t argue (-:.
It’s fascinating that bird brains are twice as efficient. I guess they can’t waste weight when they need to fly. I wonder if anyone has done any studies on cat brains? I figure they must be the size of a walnut, yet they can be so clever and manipulative . . . I often wonder what the heck I’m doing with my normal human-size brain. The cats seem more effective, and now the crows, too, now that I think about it.
Long ago in my misspent youth, I used to go for long (50 miles or so) bike rides through the countryside very early in the morning before work. It was always quite peaceful: small roads, cows out there, birds twittering away, the sun just coming up. Until we got to that one farm. Where the crows lived. And evidently, those crows didn’t like cyclists. They’d come out and attack us, and it was just like “The Birds”–they’d swoop down, grab our hair in their talons, hang on, and peck at our heads. It truly was terrifying, because we all thought they were going for the eyes. Crows are big, too! We assumed they thought they were protecting their young, but they’d have done better to stay on their nests and fight off the raptors and whatever else eats crow eggs. In any event, we changed routes and after a month or so, some brave person tried that road again, and the danger was past. The crows had evidently retired to bask in their victories, the invading two-wheeled monsters vanquished. Bird brains. 🙂
I mean, we’ve had a sparrow come in the house a couple of times, and those things can be terrifying when they are angry and panicked! I can only imagine what crows would be like . . . on a bicycle. I used to take short bike rides, and 4 km down the road was The Dog . . . hard to steer and yell and wobble on the bike at the same time (with a baby in the back, to boot). I had to start taking shorter rides. OK, but that’s a two-dimensional attack — swooping down from the skies? Oh, goodness!
I’m glad they backed down. Maybe the babies were grown.
I’m a little bit phobic about birds due to a childhood trauma induced by a parakeet named Tommy. The idea of being attacked by a murder of crows makes me break out in a cold sweat.
Birds have their own agendas, don’t they? A little parakeet named Tommy should be a Tweety-pie, right? But I can imagine . . . .
I was just talking with someone the other day about the fact that crows not only remember faces, but also pass that information along. Who knew? Hopefully I haven’t done anything to the local crowd here to get on their bad list. I can’t vouch for the cat though.
I wonder how much they can discriminate? That’s just amazing that they can remember faces and communicate the info. I have heard stories of them being very kind to people who give them food. And then there are the swoop-swoop stories . . . .
The crows here are big enough to take the cat. I’m surprised we have any outdoor kitties left around here, what with the crows and the foxes and the mink. It’s not really a Disney feature out here.
We have (I think) eight kinds of corvid in the UK. Around our house we have crows, and magpies, and jays. The magpies are sneaky and all the other birds hate them. I like the jays for their jaunty flash of blue and their smarts. I saw one a while ago, sitting in our willow tree watching a squirrel diligently storing caches of food for the winter. When he’d finished, the jay promptly removed and relocated all his goodies. Last week I saw a very bemused squirrel quartering the garden. I could almost hear him saying “I’m sure I left them around here somewhere…”
My aunt used to love bluejays. They really are smart and sneaky! Your poor squirrel!