I was minding my own business until the crows started up, and then I decided to mind theirs. You get a little group of crows all going off at once this time of year, and odds are pretty good that somebody’s cat needs skedaddling. By the time I walked outside, the racket was tremendous. And there, in the sky, was a gyre of at least a hundred opinionated crows. It was something.
“What is that?” my neighbor said.
“I’m not sure. But it’s something.”
“It sure is,” he said.
A dogwalker came down the alley and looked up. “Wow, that is really something,” she said, confirming our guess. The crows went round and round and round. They were circling above Sumner Street, just to the north. My neighbor Gayle poked her head out of her door with a look of abject horror.
“What are they doing, Murr?” Gayle is terrified of birds. Even the tweety variety. It might have been an early Hitchcock exposure. This was more than she could tolerate. She knows I like birds and, like other people who know even less about them than I do, she considers me an expert.
“I don’t know, Gayle. But isn’t it something?” Everyone agreed that that was exactly what it was.
|An August Crow|
Thing is, I have acquired a bit of bird knowledge. I’ve done some readin’, and some writin’, and I’ve also done some simple observin’, resulting in what I consider reliable enough lore, even if I’ve never read it anywhere. And what I know about our crows is they go downtown to roost in the evening most days of the year, and they get together in nice raucous packs to do it, but they don’t do it during nesting season. They stick around and jam stuff in their kids’ front ends to get them to shut up for a second. That’s what’s happening now. A little later, in August, the adults will molt and look like shit for a few weeks. Then when they’re all snappy again they gather the kids and hit the roosting scene downtown. This is too early for that. I briefly considered the possibility that there was a dead cow on Sumner Street, but rejected it. Even though that would have been a Life Cow for my yard list.
I settled on the possibility that one of the crows got into a can of malt liquor and started feeling a lot better about her lot in life, and then someone else showed up. “Go ahead, Harriet,” Millie would say, “one little sip isn’t going to kill you. Let the men feed the kids for a minute.” Millie always thought Harriet had kind of a stick up her ass, to tell you the truth.
Harriet beaks away at the can and starts to feel kind of good too. “I mean, it’s brawwk brawwk brawwk all day long, am I right? And I told the little shit, pick up your own damn walnut. It’s right there in front of you. Put it in your face.” And Millie is all “You know it, girl,” and then the whole block shows up, and everyone’s going on and on about the entitlement kids seem to feel these days, and would the world come to an end if the girls just checked out for a little while? Fine and dandy to get all that help with building the nest but it wouldn’t kill those eggless wonders to take over all the feeding for a lousy half hour.
And so on.
I mentioned my theory later to my friend Margie. “Crow funeral,” she said briefly.
Oh. Well, crumb. Maybe so. Margie’s husband had once plunked a crow with a BB gun and then their dog pulled the stuffing out of it in the street, and, she said, the crows showed up from miles around to circle and complain. And they didn’t forget, either. They harassed him and the dog every time they came outside for years. Windshield wipers fell off their truck, roof shingles began appearing in their yard, their home insurance lapsed when the annual bill failed to appear, and their credit rating mysteriously tanked. Don’t mess with crows.
I looked up “crow funeral” and it’s a thing. Scientists decline to characterize the crows’ behavior as “grieving,” preferring to assume instead that the crows are merely assessing what could possibly have gone wrong with the deceased crow, so as to avoid a similar fate themselves.
Horse poop. Scientists are so afraid of anthropomorphizing that they refuse to entertain the most obvious hypothesis. And these suckers were not investigating an unexplained death. They’re crows. If they were doing that, there’d have been a chalk line around the body, somebody would have a pipette and test tube, someone else would have conducted a test for lead, and the one that looks most like Peter Falk would say, “Excuse me, ma’am, I don’t want to be a bother. Just one more thing…”
That’s just a fact. Could have been any one of them. They all look like Peter Falk, in August.
They have such a cohesive social structure that it is no wonder that they mourn their dead. Scientists can be so obtuse sometimes.
Well, they're being careful, and I suppose grief is difficult to monitor and prove. But yeah.
Crows always sound so sarcastic, with that noise they make.
If crows are smart enough to have funerals, maybe the reason yours are so noisy is that they're arguing about the latest Trump-Russia revelations (Donald Jr and Natalia Veselnitskaya). That would make them roughly equivalent to the whole US political blogosphere right now.
But who knows what gets them so excited. I recall once being downtown walking alongside one of those high-rise parking structures, and every tree around was filled with crows cawing up a storm. My guess at the time was that one of them had just discovered the parking structure and had alerted all his pals from miles around about the vast number of pristine cars just waiting to be crapped on.
Yup, that's our downtown crow roost! Hey, did you ever see one of my favorite photographs–the downtown crow roost in the snow?
Oh, Murr! That was beautiful! I don't ordinarily like snow, but with all those crows — Wow!
That looks like the same place, or pretty close. I recognize the building in the background.
Of course you do! Sometimes they end up on the south end of town past PSU and sometimes they're right in the center. They mix it up.
Down here the crows harass the birds of prey, the falcons and the owls.
Last week I watched five crows harass a bald eagle right over my house. The eagle did look annoyed. Also, eagles do barrel rolls. I used to think they were just getting out of the way but now I wonder if they're trying to get their talons in a position to nab a crow.
once observed a blue jay funeral. The ritual involved two dozen jays landing then surrounding the deceased, pleading loudly for him to get up. Or encouraging him to hasten on to his final reward.
Or fighting over the juicy bits. Sorry. I'm a little peeved at my jays ever since they grabbed my nuthatch.
Why not a crow funeral? Elephants mourn their dead, too!!
Well, and then they're probably upset over who has to do the burying. It's a big job, especially when you only have the tubular nose.
It was a celebration for something. Without directly hearing their noise it would be difficult to assess. They are smart even in human terms.
Even in humans-in-high-places terms.
All of the corvid family are intelligent, family minded birds. I think they are beautiful too. I hope the wake was well catered.
Eww. I mean, sure, it could all be from Burger King, but a well-catered crow funeral has the potential to be sort of…untoward.
At the beginning I thought Crow Funeral. I came upon one of those early one morning walking. It was really pretty amazing to behold. Glad I wasn't responsible!
I can't imagine you being responsible! (I mean, for that.)
Demonstration of crow intelligence here.
I loved that! They're such smart birds.
One time I heard a racket like that and when I went to investigate, they were surrounding an eagle and harassing him. Not sure what he did but they sure were angry!
Somebody got a little too close to the nesty-poo.
Great video! Love the crows.
The video was a little disappointing and the local dawg drowned them out but I assure you it was REALLY SOMETHING.
Crows get harassed, too. When crows fly around our swallow houses, the swallows swarm up and escort them off the premises. Do the same with red-tailed hawks. They don't seem to have any defense against English sparrows, though.
Nothing like the non-natives to outsmart everybody! Nobody else evolved to be around them, I guess.
That's a lot of crows to be gathering for any reason besides roosting. I wish we could understand just what they are saying when they get wound up like that! I saw a half-dozen crows gathered around one of their fallen comrades a few months back. They were hollering loudly, and I wished I could have stopped to watch; alas it was a main street and it wouldn't have been safe. Hard to know if they were urging him to get up or arguing over who'd inherit the nest. Man, they were loud.
Frankly, I'd buy either of your hypotheses.
I wish I could have seen that. I've never seen more than two crows at once and maybe they were ravens, I can't tell. Are the ravens the ones with blue eyes?
I think there's lots of animals that do the funeral grieving thing, we just don't see most of it.
Ravens don't have blue eyes, but crows do when they're youngsters. Maybe raven kids too.
Yes, there was that time when scientists overreacted so fiercely to rampant anthropomorphism that they invented behaviorism, which was pretty grim crap. Oh yeah, that's the name of one of my poems soon to be published: "Rampant Anthropomorphism." If I'd written it 150 years ago I would have had to call it "Pathetic Fallacy," so there is progress of a sort. We have a lame crow who comes to our yard when we leave bread out for it. Sometimes a friend of that crow comes too and stands guard, but when the lame one is alone, it spends most of its time looking out for cats between bites. I don't know why they don't flock in our neighborhood.
I was thinking it was the opposite of progress, language-wise. "Pathetic Fallacy" is so much juicier than "Rampant Anthropomorphism." Like the difference between "shell shock" and "PTSD."
We have a magpie who pretends to be lame so you'll throw the food closer and when he's had enough the cheeky bugger hops about normally.
I just purchased a copy of "Life Everlasting" by Berndt Heinrich (famous crow guy) It is about animals and death. I could report back….
Oh yes please, please, please! I don't know him. Will look into it. Martzluff (sp?) is the current crow king scientist…but can't have too many.
Oh, I love his books! He's written quite a few books on ravens, and one on an owl that lived with him for a time.
I was just watching a documentary on YouTube last night about Marzluff and his crow experiments with facial recognition of humans. The more I learn about crows, the more I love them.
Weird thing about his crows–they didn't react worse to the Dick Cheney mask.
nice! It was a celebration for something. Without directly hearing their noise it would be difficult to assess. They are smart even in human terms.
"I briefly considered the possibility that there was a dead cow on Sumner Street, but rejected it. Even though that would have been a Life Cow for my yard list."
M'kay, I'm a couple of glasses of wine into the evening so maybe I'm missing the image, but did you really mean "cow" in both sentences, or "crow"?