What a delicious sound!
It is not merely crow calling to crow,
for it speaks to me too.
-Henry David Thoreau
I like crows. Unlike that guy down the street who refers to them “air rats,” I think crows are cool.
I like ravens better, of course, because they’re bigger, scruffier, wilder, and in Fairbanks they like to pose for my photos at the dump and on top of Mickie D’s golden arches. As E.A. Poe knew, they also lend themselves to being tossed into a poem. And we can’t forget, especially those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, Raven brought light to our world (although some say it was actually Crow), and light is good in a dark and gloomy place where it rains most of the time, although not lately and, dang, it’s green and beautiful here right now! Behold a raven!
Out walking this morning, trying to diminish my hippopotamine bulk before trekking across the Pyrenees in Spain next year, I apparently came across the Cornwall Park Crow Convention. The woods were acackling with caws and squawks, and black missles darted through the flickering sunlight and shadows. Decorated with glistening ebony plumage, the towering cedars looked like corvidologists’ Christmas trees and made me giggle. In keeping with the avian spirit around me, I cawed a bit, thinking how perfectly I mimicked their basic sound. But apparently not, as the crows became so deathly silent that I decided to move on.
As I neared the bridge that crosses Squalicum Creek, I thought of a line from Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s amazing book, The Urban Bestiary. “…observing and learning to understand the crows among us is an ideal way to deepen our sense of place in the urban landscape.” What have I learned from crows, I wondered?
- In my own backyard I’ve been dive-bombed so many times I now know to walk outside under an umbrella during nesting season. Heck, I would dive-bomb anyone who threatened my children or grandchildren, too.
- Crows love to wash their food in our front yard granite basin and drink from our backyard birdbath, which means they’re not as dirty as people assume. I like clean food, too, though not particularly rotting meat out of garbage cans, and I never leave bones lying around. Okay, crows are a bit messy.
- We both like bread, but they prefer theirs with furry blue mold growing on it.
- Whenever we have a party out on the deck, the crows who live in our solitary Douglas-fir go insane and try to freak us out by shrieking so loud that we want to throw stones at them. We don’t have any stones, but sometimes we cave in and toss them some scraps. Crows are food snobs and will refuse to eat a veggie burger if chicken is present. Once fed, they seem to settle down. Note: I have mixed feelings whenever we feed crows from our plates. Are we making them dependent on handouts? Will they ever reach their full corvid potential being “treated” this way?
- Crows know how to save for a rainy day (every day, except not in a long, long time around here) by hiding food scraps in our rain gutters. I have fantasies about hiding chocolate in my writing cottage. But I gave up sugar, so we probably don’t have that in common anymore. Or do we? Shhhh!
On the bridge, I looked down at the small pond fed by the creek and there were two crows looking up at me as if to say, “Freeze, it’s one of those awful humans. Just stand still and pose for it.”
- Crows have unique faces. Some of them look human. I do, too.
They started gazing at their reflections in the water and whispering something like, “Pretend you recognize yourself in the water. Keep the human amused and maybe it’ll toss one of those power bars our way.”
“I do recognize myself, silly! Haven’t you read the research?”
- Crows can recognize their own image in a mirror.
The one on the left started scooping water from the creek, but the one on the right looked perturbed.
“Hey, save some for me!”
“It’s a creek, dude. Start ladeling! Is it still taking photos?”
- Crows scoop water, they don’t suck or sip.
The one on the left was clearly a lush who was slowly turning into a feathered water balloon. The one on the right squawked, “Ciao! Ciao!” or something like that, then flew up into the nearest cedar.
- Crows speak Italian.
I tried to take one more photo, but my battery was dead, so I headed up the hill toward home, my place in the urban landscape, confident that I’d learned enough about crows for one walk. Next time, I’ll bring a couple of power bars.