Not All Crows Say ‘Caw’

            The American Crow is one of the most widely distributed and recognized birds in North America.

            According to naturalists, there are more crows in this country than when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. That is because they take good care of their young and are very clever in defending them against numerous enemies. Now with spring coming on, the American Crows are returning from their winter gathering in the cities in the flocks so they can roost warm and safely in the municipal heating systems, as well as under the watchful eyes of alert numbers.

            As in my illustration of a Fish Crow left behind all winter in the seaside cold and snow on Little Bay in Fairhaven, the Fish Crow is slightly smaller than the American Crow and hard to identify or tell the difference, except for sounding a different muted crowing like “urk, urk, urk” as opposed to the American Crow’s “caw, caw, caw.”

            The population of Fish Crows is increasing and spreading their habitat range farther up north along inland coastal rivers and has become much more common for bird watchers in recent years.

            All crows can recognize certain people and remember their treatment of crows. They also have a human habit of collecting a treasure trove of shiny objects on the ground near their nests that they enjoy turning over to brag about from time to time. They also can imitate a range of human sounds like a child crying, a hen clucking, or a rooster crowing at the rising sun at dawn. Males are skilled in courtship with females in flight, as they both do acrobatics to demonstrate the relationship together. Harriet Ward Beecher once remarked that if men could wear feathers and fly, they would be as clever as a crow.

            Crows have earned a crafty, bad reputation among humans as a thief and robber by stealing eggs and baby birds from another nest, but when it sees a hawk or an owl about to do the same it calls together more of its kind to dive loudly from above to drive the guilty party out of the area. All crows have developed a reputation of bad behavior at times to be listed in children’s literature of fables and legends by using almost supernatural scheming to find a way to get what they want.

            In modern times, the crow still gets up early in the morning to sound the aboriginal crowing announcement to challenge mankind’s conditions to artfully outwit them with such a storytelling success so that mankind calls their subsequent gathering “a murder of crows.”

By George B. Emmons

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