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A Murder of Crows

A Carrion Crow just after take-off from a fenc...

Image via Wikipedia

Crows scare me.  More specifically, San Diego crows scare me.  They are loud, hungry, aggressive towards humans, wicked smart, and, their scariest quality…they remember you.

I was taking my dog out for a walk one sunny day when we came upon a bunch of crows who’d dug a chicken leg out of the park garbage can for lunch.  They abandoned it as we approached, and, being a good citizen, I picked up the chicken leg using a doggy bag and put it back in the garbage.

The crows were furious.  They started cawing at me from the tree where they’d witnessed my crime against them.  Their caws seemed to take on a vengeful, vicious quality.  Don’t be silly, I thought to myself, this isn’t Hitchcock’s The Birds.  Suddenly, one of the crows attacked by swooping down at me, and I narrowly avoided getting hit in the head.  Another crow, meanwhile, descended on my dog.  I was so freaked out that I ran, dragging my dog behind me, to find refuge in the atrium of an apartment building.

Later that day I saw a friend of mine who also had a run-in with the crows, only they’d actually hit him.  I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t crazy: the crows really were out to get us.

I was so shocked by the experience that I foolishly started looking up information about crows, only to find out that they are incredibly intelligent and have a great deal of ingenuity.  They have memory, and so they can learn by trial and error how to complete rather complicated tasks. Joshua Klein gave a riveting TED talk on the subject.

A more gruesome example is the exploding toads mystery in Hamburg. Turns out, crows had figured out how to make a quick incision into the toad, remove the liver, and only after the liver had been removed did the toads realized they’d been attacked.  They’d puff up their chests, and explode. What’s even more impressive (or frightening) is that the crows teach each other how to do it.

None of this reading helped ease my growing phobia of crows.  Research shows that crows can even remember the faces of those who have wronged them, as I did, robbing them of that chicken leg.  I was so convinced that those crows would get me if I went out that I wore a hood every day for weeks, and altered my path when I heard a crow’s hideous caw from a telephone pole or a tree.

It’s no wonder crows have been an obsession for artists and writers throughout history, from fables and fairytales to Poe’s The Raven to the comic book and film phenomenon The Crow, omens of ill and evil, an intelligent avenger, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to wits.  Here’s an amazing bit of animation involving crows.

Being back in the Northwest where the crows aren’t quite as vicious, I don’t wear hoodies when I go out anymore, but I hear their caws in a different way, and I respect these creatures.  And of course, I will never again attempt to take their lunch away.

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