Tag Archive 'crows'

Jan 18 2010

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A Murder of Crows

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I went out at dusk yesterday to throw the ball for my dog, Matika, in the back yard.  While I was out there, a bunch of crows flew overhead, then a bunch more.  Then a great, dark stream of them flew past – hundreds of them, then hundreds more.  Their passing took five minutes.  I stood there awestruck by the avian display.  I’ve seen crows countless times, but never so many.

Where are they going?  Why are there so many of them?  What keeps so many birds alive in the middle of winter?  I like to think of myself as something of a naturalist, but even in my own back yard I am often stumped by the wild.

Black birds against a mottled gray sky.  A murder of crows in the dead of winter.  In Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, crows play a particularly menacing roll, attacking school children. If all those crows landed in my yard, I’d step inside, certainly.  Yesterday over a thousand crows flew overhead in the fading twilight.  Occasionally one would let out a halfhearted caw, but for the most part they were silent.  As silent as the grave.

A flock of crows is called a murder because some farmers say they’ll gang up and kill a dying cow.  I find this hard to believe, but I’ve often seen them feeding on roadkill so I know they’re big carrion eaters.  Hence their association with death, especially in European culture.  I’ve also seen a crow being mobbed by a songbird after attacking its nest.  Yeah, they’re opportunistic as well – proof positive that Nature can be very cruel.

When I was sojourned in Alaska, I learned to appreciate the ways of ravens, those close cousins to crows.  Crows, ravens, jays and other corvids are intelligent creatures.  They know how to survive, that’s for sure.  In the Alaskan bush, I watched ravens carefully and took their lessons to heart.  Consequently, I developed a certain affinity with them.  But crows are still just crows to me.  Nature’s clean up crew at best.

My bird book tells me that crows gather by the thousands when they roost in trees at night.  That explains what I saw.  No doubt they have a roosting site nearby.  But in the depths of winter, I can’t help but sense something ominous about the presence of so many crows.  Black undertakers in a white landscape, they make me long for spring, anyhow.  I miss my green world.

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