A Murder of Crows

[image from Google]

I promised last Saturday to discuss crows and I realized I had just about gotten through the week without doing so.  That will never do.

Crows are a part of the corvid family, a family that includes crows, ravens, magpies (on the west coast) and jays.  All are highly intelligent birds, capable of many distinct types of vocalizations and of a high degree of socialization as well.

As anyone unfortunate enough to live near a winter group of these birds knows, crows are highly social birds, and they form large groups in the winter, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands much to the consternation of those living or working nearby.

They are capable of human recognition–which is probably more than we can say about them.  As hard as I try, I cannot pick out individual crows from the family grouping that spends the summer near me.  But they supposedly know us, especially if we have harmed or injured them in some way.

From personal experience I can tell you they took a dislike to Buffi, the sweet dog I’ve posted about before on this blog.  She once wandered too close to one of their kills–or perhaps it was just something they were eating.  Nevertheless,  she inadvertently came too close to some baby squirrel entrails that they were making a meal of and from that moment on, every time Buffi was in the yard–as opposed to other dogs we have had and still do have–they would set up alarm calls and swoop down near her.  They’ve never done that for the other two miniature schnauzers we’ve had in the yard.

Crows, and more especially ravens, have been known to use tools to work at getting prey or food from tight spaces. Their intelligence is legendary–they have been taught human vocalizations and in captivity they have been known to live as long as 18 years (but of course that is the rare exception).

As the baby squirrel entrail example shows, crows are fairly omnivorous–they will eat just about anything.  In fact, that is partly how they got their group name “murder  of crows” from the grisly process they have of killing off one of their own injured members.

There are rumors that they will kill small livestock–rumors only!  But anyone who has seen two or more crows mobbing a hawk must wonder!

As for more pleasant associations, crows and ravens are quite powerful figures in Native American legends.  In the Tlingit tradition, the Raven gave the world the sun.  Other Pacific Northwest tribal myths portray the raven as more of a trickster, and as one who created the earth.

Celtic mythology, Norse mythology and others also see this bird as a powerful symbol.  So the next time you hear the characteristic call of the crow or raven overhead, be careful what you do.  They may certainly be watching!

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