The Way of the Crow



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About Crows

"It has been aptly stated that if a person knows only
three kinds of birds one of them will be the crow."6

This is surely what P.A. Taverner had in mind when he described the crow as "a large, all black bird," and left it at that. It is a rather short, pointed definition, and one which is somewhat upsetting to a crow lover such as myself. Of course it's true, especially in light of the fact that most people are quite familiar with the general physical characteristics of the crow. Even their finer physical features are familiar to many earnest bird watchers. Yet, for me, the study of the physical characteristics of crows, their behaviours, and how they interact with the environment is a process of constant discovery.

My first discovery was to learn that the term "crow" refers to approximately thirty members of the family Corvidae, of the order Passeriformes. The common crow is corvus brachyrhynchos. The name probably comes directly from the "call," although nowadays "crowing" suggests the sound of a rooster rather than a crow. According to Leahy, the term is used collectively by scientists to refer to jackdaws, jays, magpies, rooks, ravens, crows, and other members of the family.7

I next discovered (Hold tight to your seats and firmly grip your chair!) that crows and other Corvus members are classified as songbirds! Why, you might ask, would a crow ever be classified as a songbird? The answer is simple. The crow has a brilliant bird brain, with very developed vocal muscles, giving it the ability and distinction of a songbird. Also, excepting species with inordinately long tail feathers, they are among the largest songbirds in the world. In fact, the Common Raven, with its large wing span, can lay claim to the title.8

The calls of crows and ravens are rather harsh and guttural for songbirds, and because of this are often dismissed by admirers of more exotic winged beings. But, you know, nobody's perfect, not even crows, and I refuse to apologise for their often raspy nature. However, they are amazing in another way, and that is because of the large vocabulary of sounds in their repertoire. They have warning calls, sounds signifying readiness for flight and, among others, an "inviting" call to other members of the group requesting their company when food is present.

Regarding crows and food, Muriel Tucker from Truro, Nova Scotia, writes in a letter to me,

I started putting out scraps and no sooner was I back in the housethan they came to investigate. They are timid birds and waited in a nearby tree until they were sure there were no cats or strangers around. They would not come while I was still outside. Once they were sure there was no danger they came on the fence and began calling all their relatives and pals.

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