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Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2011

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and even better because it’s right smack in the middle of my favorite season. I also happen to be a big fan of most of the animals associated with Halloween. Think bats, crows, wolves, and other creepy crawlies. So today I thought I’d write a quick post about crows, one of my favorite urban inhabitant.

American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), (c) Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/)

Sights like this video I took of a “murder” of crows (yep! The correct word for a group of crows is really a murder) in Arlington, Virginia, have become rather rare occurrences around here, due to West Nile Virus. When West Nile hit the area, it obviously made many people sick (and some seriously so), but it really did a number on some of our local bird populations, with crows topping that list. So it’s always great to see this, as our crow population slowly rebounds.

Crows and other corvids (jays, ravens, and the like) are  incredibly smart. I’ll highlight some of those studies in a later post (because they really deserve a longer write-up), but corvids have been found to use tools to get food, have amazing facial recognition of people, and can solve puzzles.

Personally, I don’t think that being associated with the holiday is a bad rap, but clearly many people do assign negative traits to “creepy” animals. So why do we link crows to Halloween time? Well, first of all there is their color (black being one-half of the traditional Halloween color scheme), and then there is their song (caw caw!), which does fit into the Halloween soundtrack rather well. Their intelligence probably plays a role, too. They are great observers, and some find their staring to be unnerving. And then, there is just tradition.

Probably the best example is the classic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven” (crows and ravens being closely related and similar in appearance, I think there is spill-over in attitudes). Here’s a short sample:

“But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,/Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;/Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking/Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore — /What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore/Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

Eesh.

One of my favorite crow experiences was back when I was interning at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Maryland. We’d get baby crows in, orphans or crows that fell out of nests or whose nests were destroyed. Feeding these blue-eyed babies (yes – blue eyes! What could be cuter than baby crows with blue eyes! The pigment in their eyes darkens as they get older) was always a treat. Here’s a short video clip of someone feeding a baby crow – but nothing is better than seeing this in person.

Happy Halloween everyone!

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tricia Knoll permalink
    November 1, 2011 6:02 pm

    We have plenty of crows out here in the Pacific Northwest!

  2. November 1, 2011 9:10 pm

    Glad to hear it, Tricia! I believe West Nile hasn’t gotten that far West? Or am I wrong about that? I hope they all stay healthy 🙂

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