Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Stone The Bloody Crows, or, Rather, Don't

Call me an odd bod but I've always been fascinated by crows of the genus corvus and in particular ravens, who are the most sinister but also the cleverest of the wild birds we get in the British Isles (their brains are even bigger than those of parrots). Crows can recognise human faces, perhaps even letters of the alphabet and young crows have been known to indulge in play activities such sliding down snowbanks and jumping in and out of sprinklers. Crows are clever, curious and downright weird. When I used to cycle to school the same crow would follow me along the same bit of road every day for a year. It knew me and I knew it and we seemed to get along. This may be an Irish thing.
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But maybe not. Crows crop up everywhere in sociology, literature, music and folkways. In the GPO on O'Connell Street in Dublin you'll find the famous statue of the dying Cuchulain, but many people miss the fact that he's not alone. He's got a crow perched on his shoulder. This is supposedly Badb, the goddess of war, who takes the form of a crow, but I think it could be any old crow who just likes hanging out with humans.
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These reflections have been stirred up by a wonderful book I've just read called Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt which looks at the biology, behaviour and intelligence of crows. There's a nice review of the book in the NY Times here and if you click the above link it will take you to the Amazon listing. I enjoyed it thoroughly and although I'm not expert enough to comment on the science of her observations Ms Haupt makes a pretty convincing case for the smartness and ingenuity of our corvus pals.