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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another young crow

By Jamie Lutton:

I was on my way to work today, and I saw I had a crow shadowing me; landing on the ground in front of me, flying up ahead of me, then landing in front of me. I looked up, and there were three or four crows in the trees, watching me.

I ducked down an alley, put my empty cup in a waste bin, and tossed a treat out onto the parking lot behind the pet store. Instantly, about fifteen crows showed up, and arrayed themselves like the outfield in baseball, waiting for my pitch. I was pitching dog biscuits out to them, and they played the game with me, scuffling with each other to grab one.  As I did this, I noticed that these 'identical' birds all looked different from each other. Some were fatter, some thinner, some had missing feathers, some were streaked with white from cleaning a nest, some were very ruffled, sickly, as they were elderly. Some were shyer, would not get very close to me, and a few brave ones came up within a few feet of me.

I saw another baby. It was a thin, smallish crow. It had flown over into the outfield, but it was on the ground, hopping about, facing another crow, and opening its beak, begging for food. It originally did not pay any attention to me, just the crow it seemed to be with. I saw the red interior of its mouth as it begged, a sure sign it was very young. It honked at the adult, who was too busy watching me. I threw a treat in that crows direction. It missed getting it, as it was not quick enough. I had to throw several treats before it got one, it then flew away, across the street, treat in its beak.

As I left turned away, I heard  (another?) honking, very loud, of a baby bird. It seemed to come from everywhere. I saw an acquaintance, and I bade her listen, and told her she was hearing a baby crow.  We both stopped and enjoyed the honking, which to my ears sounded annoyed and frantic, like the cries of a hungry human baby. I finally looked up and behind me, and there it was - I caught the flash of the inside of it's mouth; all red; as it walked back and fourth on the top of the building, honking its heart out.

I think it missed the nest, when it could be assured that an adult would feed it. As  I left that block, I could hear that baby for a good block away. I am sure that cry is effective in getting some adult to shove food in its mouth. A behavior book I read about crows said that adults will feed flying fledglings who are as old as a year; perhaps to shut up that honking cry (and pitiful look) the baby crows give.

I am back to work on my book on books.  I started this project ten years ago, in a hazy way, when I set out to read everything Shakespeare read that was extant, so I could better understand his mind.  This morphed into a book on books project. I have been rattling off ten, twenty nonfiction titles that I thought were essential to my regular customers, and got a blank look from most of them; so I thought there was a need. Plus, the books on books are mostly pretty pitiful, and focus on fiction, rather than nonfiction; modern writers rather than, say, books Shakespeare might have read, or Dickens.  I will be posting some of the chapters soon on this site, and will (hope) to get feedback.

I would be further along if my laptop had not blown up, and I have no other computer besides my work computer. Plus, watching and writing about crows has distracted me. I was a science fiction fan first, in my youth. That kind of addiction makes me frame my experience with crows a bit differently; rather than shrugging them off as nuisances, I enjoy watching this (nearly) sentient species.

An SF writer called David Brin  created a world with 'Uplifted' dolphins and chimpanzees 25 years ago,  who could converse with humans after being genetically modified.  He wrote several clever, believable books in this world, slightly in our future. He strove for realism, tried to make his newly sentient species act as they would, true to their natures as we know them. He did  miss what was under his nose; the intelligence of birds, surpassing both of these species.  At the time I read these books, I thought he had plotted a plausible future, having studied these species a bit in college and on my own.

When we modern readers  examine SF from the 19th century, or of 75 years ago,  we crow over what obvious advances, changes in human culture,  they did not see coming.   Yet this important writer, and nearly all the modern SF writers missed these birds, the corvids, ravens and crows, who quietly (or not so quietly) share our cities with us, and do not see their start on the rise to intelligence.

Only .Robert Sawyer has written a science fiction book (the title of which escapes me right now) where the crows inherit the earth; and they are humorless creatures, hardly recognizable, with alien, unknown motives.  And they no longer had working wings; very sad. 

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