There are certain naturalist types of books that I love, treatises on creatures that draw you deeply into the world of the creature being observed and study and leave the reader with an entirely new view of the world in which they are a part. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is one, Crow Planet, another.
The crow and human populations have risen together since such things were recorded, unsurprising since crows like the same sorts of environments that many human’s do open spaces with copses of trees dotted across the countryside for beauty/safekeeping (depending on your point of view!)
Having previously written Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds where she had a chapter on ‘Crow Stories”, Haupt’s publisher approached her about writing a book on crows. She was not interested but eventually became won over. “I began asking people – normal people, not ‘bird people’ – what they thought about crows. And I’ve rarely been so surprised. Whenever I ask someone about chickadees or robins or flickers or other common birds that people see with some regularity, the response is almost always lackluster, noncommittal, or at best blandly cheerful. But not so with crows. People opinions about crows are disproportionately strong. Some love crows …. Others hate them ….. And surrounding the myriad responses, even among the crow haters, there is nearly always an air of respect – a feeling that crows are, behind their shiny dark eyes, knowing things. It is a respect that few songbirds command.” (20, Haupt)
In fact, crows, part of the corvidae family belong to the larger avian order of the Passeriformes – song birds. Their raspy call may not be considered a song, but they are exceedingly talkative conveying vast amounts of information through their constant chatter.
Because of crows close relationship with humans it is interesting to watch the and consider our place in the world:
“We all know dour environmentalists (or perhaps we are one), wringing their hands while myopically bemoaning the disasters to befall the earth in the near future. Why, when we know that they are right, do we want to spill organic cranberry juice all over their hemp sandals? because they are no fun, for one thing. And, more important, because they will suck us dry if we let them.. but we don’t have to let them. There is a way to face the current ecological crisis with our eyes open, with stringent scientific knowledge, with honest sorrow over the state of life on earth, with spiritual insight, and with practical commitment. Finding such a way is more essential now than it has ever been in the history of the human species. But such work does not have to be dour (no matter how difficult) or accomplished only out of moral imperative (however real the obligation) or fear (though the reasons to fear are well founded). Our actions can rise instead from a sense of rootedness, connectedness, creativity and delight. but how are we to attain such intimacy. living at a remove from “nature” as most of us do, in our urban and suburban homes (7-8. Haupt)
You may have heard about the study covered in the Nature documentary “A Murder of Crows” that proves that crows can identify human beings by their facial features. A pretty remarkable feat. To learn this the scientists put on a mask and then went and banded the birds, measured them, etc. They would then walk through campus with the mask on. Initially the crows that had been immediately affected were the only ones to swoop and scorn at the person in the mask, eventually, the entire flock of crows would swoop and scorn the ‘caveman mask’. To further test the theory they had people with all kinds of masks walking through campus but the caveman one was the only one to be harassed. They even took the experiment one step further…would the crows be able to teach their young to recognize the dangerous person, the answer was yes…and crows could remember things for two years.
There are many fascinating things to learn about crows in this book that will cause you not only to reflect on the nature outside your door but how you interact with it.
Have you read Crow Planet? Do you, like many others (see Buried in Print) add it to your list of life altering books?
I’ve taken this book out of the library three times and I *think* that means it is time for me to buy it. It is available through Amazon or if you are lucky at your local bookstore or library.
A review from the NYT can be found here.