In Praise of the Incredible Raven | Notice


When I was a young man in my twenties, I loved hunting small game. Sometimes I would kill squirrels and doves, but mostly I would hunt rabbits and quail. In the absence of dogs, we usually hunted rabbits in groups. Scattered across a field, or down the tracks, a group has found more game than a lone hunter.

Sometimes we would see a crow, and unfortunately someone in the group was shooting at it. They didn’t get it back; they shot it just for fun. It may or may not have been raven hunting season.

I have always scolded the raven slayer and urged them, “Please don’t shoot the crows.” The hunter I scolded always thought I was crazy. But then and now I really like crows.

According to Patti Wigington’s “The Magic of Crows and Ravens”: “Crows and ravens have appeared in a number of different mythologies throughout the ages. In some cases, these black feathered birds are seen as an omen of bad news, but in others, they can represent a message from the Divine.

“In Native American folklore, the intelligence of crows is generally presented as their most important characteristic. In some tribes, the crow is confused with the raven, a large cousin of the crow who shares many of the same characteristics. In other tribes, Raven and Raven are distinct mythological characters. Crows are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures.

“In parts of the Appalachians, a group of low-flying crows means disease is coming, but if a crow flies over a house and calls three times, it means imminent death in the family. If the crows call in the morning before the other birds have a chance to sing, it’s going to rain.

“Even within the Christian religion, crows have a special meaning. Although they are referred to as “unclean” in the Bible, Genesis tells us that after the waters of the Flood receded, the crow was the first bird Noah sent from the ark to find the earth. Additionally, in the Hebrew Talmud, ravens are credited with teaching mankind how to deal with death; when Cain killed Abel, a crow showed Adam and Eve how to bury the body, because they had never done so before.

the Chicago Tribune‘s William Hageman reports the strange intelligence of crows in his story, “Wicked smart: Crows are so smart it’s scary.”

“Crows have been linked to humanity for thousands of years. They have human characteristics: they play, communicate and have the capacity to deceive. They are smarter than any cat and most children. Despite their charms, crows have been slandered for centuries.

“There are several reasons for this [malignment]”says Kevin J. McGowan, an ornithologist working at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY, who has studied crows for 25 years.” One is that they are black, and in our Western European philosophy, c ‘is bad. They have also been associated with carrion and death because in Europe there are no vultures. So someone died, lying on the side of the road or after a battle, and the crows and crows came in and picked up stuff because there was free food.

Crows also have a bad reputation with gardeners and farmers. But it’s not deserved, says John Marzluff, professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of “In the Company of Crows and Ravens.” He says crows do more good than harm in a garden. “They eat a wide variety of insects that are harmful to crops. They seem to have a penchant for pulling out certain germinating plants, especially corn. They also eat fruits and nuts, which can be a problem in orchards. But in the home garden, these are good natural insecticides.

Hageman’s report continues: “Most male crows live up to 10 years, females up to 8 years, which is not a bad life expectancy in the bird world, where a year or two is. Standard. Three male crows banded by McGowan in 1993 are doing well at age 17 and could live to be 20, he says. The oldest known captive raven was 57 years old when he died.

“They have strong family values. McGowan equates it to our society, claiming that crows are closer to humans than any other species studied, including primates. The society of crows is family-run. There is only one breeding pair that has offspring that don’t leave right away and help raise the next batch of offspring just like people. Relationships are maintained and individuals can join with each other years later. Like us, crows have territories and congregate in common places. When you see a number of crows congregating, he said, “these are not crow gangs, they are usually family groups that help each other make a living.”

“The vocabulary of a crow is vast, with about thirty unique calls, each with a distinct meaning. Each call is also shaded to indicate the intensity of a situation, and each has an individual signature unique to that bird. In this way, crows can distinguish between family members, friends, neighbors and strangers.

“There are several scientific studies that document the use of tools by crows. The best tool user is the New Caledonian Raven, which makes tools from plant material to probe crevices for insects. In captivity, these crows will bend a piece of wire into a hook, then use it to pull a bucket of food together.

“Crows seem to express emotions, something Marzluff and co-author Tony Angell examine in their upcoming book, ‘Gift of the Crow’.

“Crows are very intelligent, among the smartest of all animals,” Marzluff wrote. “They live long lives and they live in social settings where the expression of emotions is an important part of life. They make it clear to others when they are gentle, aggressive, fearful, playful, and deceptive. The fact that they look you in the eye, squat, raise their feathers and the like, using postures and positions much like a dog, makes reading their emotions manageable.

“Some of the crows’ emotions and behaviors are amazing, like leaving treats – candy, pieces of bracelets, keys or shiny glass – with people who feed them, or pooing on the cars of people who harass them. “

For at least a few years now, I have fed a family of crows on an old wooden fence post in our backyard. (We keep the old fat and leftover fat in a “crow cup” in the freezer.) Sometimes a crow or two will watch me and wait for me and the food. Otherwise, I sing “caw-haw” and they start to arrive within minutes.

They congregate in a nearby tree and make no movement for food until the whole family is gathered. Then they land on the fence post, one bird at a time, and each claims only one piece of fat or frozen fat. (I’ve seen a lot less courtesy and decorum in the buffet line at Golden Corral.)

Every now and then I find a small gift from a crow on the fence post, usually a small piece of plastic or a contraption. It’s amazing to think that the crow has a sense of gratitude, reciprocity, and maybe generosity. This is more than what I can say about some people.

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