Something to Caw About: The American Crow
Intelligent and adaptable, the American Crow holds a special place in human culture and mythology.
Though the crow is often viewed as an annoyance, in myth and folklore, the bird appears as a prophet, a matchmaker, an intellect, a guardian, and a fertility specialist.
Mark Twain described the crow as “a gambler, a low comedian, a dissolute priest, a fussy woman, a liar, a thief, a spy, a professional hypocrite, a conspirator, a rebel, a meddler, an infidel, and a wallower in sin for the mere love of it.” He lists nearly 30 “damnable traits,” explaining “(the crow’s) life is one long thundering ecstasy of happiness, and he will go to his death untroubled, knowing that he will soon turn up again … and be even more intolerably capable and comfortable than ever he was before.”
Twain’s crow is the villain of the cornfield, the horror of Hollywood movies, the coyote of the bird world, a lowly scavenger, and a nuisance. Loud and brash, he’s viewed as an annoyance, yet so common he doesn’t warrant our attention … except when he’s displaying one of his undesirable traits.
But the crow possesses many admirable traits as well. In myth and folklore, the crow appears as a prophet, a matchmaker, an intellect, a guardian, and a fertility specialist. A scavenger and carrion eater, he’s nature’s custodian. We share more basic characteristics with crows than some might care to admit. We’re both social creatures, with strong family ties; we’re long-lived; and our intelligence and adaptability ensures our survival.
Crows and humans have coexisted for thousands of years. Though the relationship has not always been a peaceful one, the subtle influence they’ve had on us is powerful. Crows have affected human culture in every part of the world, appearing in language, literature, folklore, art and music more than any other wild bird or animal. Admire them or loathe them, they’re everywhere, and the most widespread of the bunch is the American Crow.
The Common crow: common in name only
The American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) belongs to the Corvidae or crow family, which also includes ravens, jays and magpies. A large bird measuring 17 to 21 inches, the American or common crow is entirely black from its stout, pointed bill to the tip of its rounded fan-shaped tail. Even its strong legs and feet are black. They walk with a regal strut, displaying an air of nobility as if merely hopping along like other birds are beneath them in status.
Part of the crow’s tarnished reputation stems from his coloring. In ancient times, crows were viewed as dark forces representing evil and death. Not that the crow cares. His glossy, black feathers assist in his survival. They enable him to blend into dark hiding places to escape predators, and black feathers absorb more sun than light-colored ones, allowing him to conserve body heat in cold climates.
Naturally found in forests, shorelines and fields, crows are extremely adaptable. Though some bird and animal populations have diminished due to loss of habitat, crows have thrived in areas populated by humans. Food there is plentiful, cutting their territory to half the size needed for survival in natural areas.
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