Murder Most Foul: Why Crows Are Underrated

Murder Most Foul: Why Crows Are Underrated

Black bodies swarm the sky, blocking the sun from view.
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Black bodies swarm the sky, blocking the sun from view. Shrieks of birds fill the air, drowning out all other noise. A murder of crows is passing through en masse. People curse as they fly overhead; not many people feel kindly toward corvids. Some people believe crows are pests or omens of death, others don’t have an opinion at all. Largely, however, these dark-feathered avians are not well beloved. Regardless of whether or not crows truly are the big, bad wolves of the sky, one fact remains certain: crows are astonishingly intelligent animals. Moreover, they’ve been given a far worse reputation than they deserve.

A major issue people have with crows is their reputation for being disease carriers. As Russell Link, an urban wildlife biologist, states on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website, “Although health risks from birds are often exaggerated, large populations of roosting crows may present risks of disease to people nearby. The most serious health risks are from disease organisms growing in accumulations of droppings, feathers and debris under a roost. This is most likely to occur if roosts have been active for years." In other words, the only disease crows are likely to be harboring comes from their waste and droppings, much like any other animal. Allegations were also raised as to crows’ role in the spread of West Nile virus, but crows are in actuality the victims rather than the vehicle of infection. The West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes and most commonly affects crows, which can be used as an early indicator for health risks in human populations. Corvids are no more likely to give you an obscure disease than deer are to give you Lyme disease; so long as you exercise common sense and caution, there is no danger.

Many people unfairly consider crows to be pests. Farmers have a longstanding animosity for crows, because of the birds’ fondness for getting into crops. Although crows can be bothersome, it’s two faced of humans to label crows a nuisance when dozens of other beloved animals exhibit the same behaviors. For example, rabbits also eat the crops of farmers, but no one cringes at the thought of the cute little puff ball. Hal Herzog touches on the importance of adorability in his novel, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. He talks about how, ethically speaking, how cute something is doesn’t count (Herzog 37). Just because we aesthetically appreciate the rabbit more than the crow, doesn’t make the rabbit any better or the crow any worse. Moreover, crows’ more destructive behaviors can be prevented. Russell Link, the aforementioned biologist, suggests, “Protect fruit crops with flexible bird netting, which can be purchased in a variety of lengths and widths at garden and hardware stores or over the Internet from bird-control businesses” (Link). As a rule of thumb, humans should not expect species, who have spent millions of years evolving, to bend over backward to accommodate our fairly recent advancements.

Crows are also viewed as omens of death. Perhaps it’s because of their rattling caw, perhaps it’s because of their coloration. It’s more accurate to say corvids are followers of death, rather than omens or harbingers. Crows are scavengers. This means they eat carrion and other dead animals. Because of their eating habits, crows play an important role in the ecology of their habitats. According to National Geographic’s web article entitled “Scavenger,” “Scavengers play an important role in the food web. They keep an ecosystem free of the bodies of dead animals, or carrion. Scavengers break down this organic material and recycle it into the ecosystem as nutrients” (National Geographic.) Crows and other scavengers, such as hyenas or vultures, help put nutrients back into the environment. Rather than waiting for bodies to decompose and allowing disease to take over in the rotting flesh, these animals are able to break down the decaying biomass faster.

Crows are extraordinarily intelligent. Their brains, in fact, are massive for their size. The novel Gifts of the Crow illustrates this perfectly by comparing crows’ brains to humans’ brains. “A human brain weighs about 1.3 kilograms (three pounds), or 1.9 percent of our total body weight. ... So, why do we get excited about a puny 14-gram (half an ounce) raven brain or the 7.6-gram (quarter ounce) brain of a New Caledonian crow? Because, when standardized for their body size, the crow and raven brains are much larger than expected. In fact, as a percentage of average body mass, they approach or even exceed our brains; raven brains account for 1.4 percent of their body mass, while the New Caledonian Crow’s is a whopping 2.7 percent” (Marzluff & Angell 32). If crows were greater in total body mass and had space for their large brains to grow comparable to a human’s, they might be the most intelligent species.

Corvids use their big brains to meet the challenges of day to day life. For example, crows have learned to use tools and solve puzzles in order to make life easier or earn rewards -- such as cracking nuts open on cars and using twigs to reach places their beaks cannot. Building off this, a man named Joshua Klein has proposed we train crows to mutually benefit they and us. He suggested, on a TED talk, that we create a vending machine for crows. Because of their critical thinking skills, we’re able to teach them how to operate the machine; coins in exchange for peanuts. Klein believes we can use crows to collect change and, in the future, pick up litter and other waste. In exchange, they get an easy meal of peanuts (Klein.)

Crows are social animals who display almost human-esque reactions to the world around them. They display what we perceive to be emotional bonds. Crows, for instance, mate for life. Additionally, when a chick becomes orphaned, a neighboring crow will step in and care for it. Crows display a level of kindness unheard of in most animals. Candace Savage, in her novel Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World, states, “According to classical evolutionary theory, XT’s act of apparent kindness should never have happened. If the purpose of life, crudely stated, is to ensure the survival of one’s own genes, then it is a mistake to help raise anyone except your brothers and sisters or, better yet, your own progeny. The neighbor’s chicks, so far as anyone knows, were not related to XT” (Savage 51). What this quote observes is a crow taking care of a nest of unrelated chicks it gained nothing from helping. This shows that crow behavior extends beyond the survival-of-the-fittest mentality of most other species, proving that they are intelligent enough to form more complex views on life.

Whether or not you love or hate crows, it’s undeniable that they are intelligent, fascinating and truly exceptions in the natural order. Largely, these avians have been given a reputation far worse than they deserve, based on superficial characteristics. However, these birds are just like people; they experience a complex existence burdened by unusual intelligence. Additionally, they are more than they appear to be at a glance, just like any human on Earth. Crow and humankind share a kinship in the conundrum of living -- we are able, albeit on different levels, to comprehend the complexities of being alive. Ergo, crows should be celebrated rather than dehumanized. Maybe then humans wouldn’t be as alone in the world as we think.



Further Reading

"Crow Facts." PBS. PBS, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Herzog, Hal. "The Importance of Being Cute: Why We Think What We Think About Creatures That Don't Think Like Us." Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat - Why It's so Hard to Think Straight about Animals. New York, NY: Harper, 2010. Print.

Link, Russell. "Crows - Living with Wildlife." Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Marzluff, John M., and Tony Angell. In the Company of Crows and Ravens. New Haven: Yale UP, 2005. Print.

Marzluff, John M., and Tony Angell. Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave like Humans. New York: Free, 2012. Print.

Savage, Candace Sherk. Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World. Vancouver: Greystone, 2005. Print.

"Scavenger." National Geographic Education. National Geographic, 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.

Cover Image Credit: DeviantART

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College As Told By Junie B. Jones

A tribute to the beloved author Barbara Parks.
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The Junie B. Jones series was a big part of my childhood. They were the first chapter books I ever read. On car trips, my mother would entertain my sister and me by purchasing a new Junie B. Jones book and reading it to us. My favorite part about the books then, and still, are how funny they are. Junie B. takes things very literally, and her (mis)adventures are hilarious. A lot of children's authors tend to write for children and parents in their books to keep the attention of both parties. Barbara Park, the author of the Junie B. Jones series, did just that. This is why many things Junie B. said in Kindergarten could be applied to her experiences in college, as shown here.

When Junie B. introduces herself hundreds of times during orientation week:

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 1)

When she goes to her first college career fair:

"Yeah, only guess what? I never even heard of that dumb word careers before. And so I won't know what the heck we're talking about." (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 2)

When she thinks people in class are gossiping about her:

“They whispered to each other for a real long time. Also, they kept looking at me. And they wouldn't even stop." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When someone asks her about the library:

“It's where the books are. And guess what? Books are my very favorite things in the whole world!" (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 27)

When she doesn't know what she's eating at the caf:

“I peeked inside the bread. I stared and stared for a real long time. 'Cause I didn't actually recognize the meat, that's why. Finally, I ate it anyway. It was tasty...whatever it was." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 66)

When she gets bored during class:

“I drew a sausage patty on my arm. Only that wasn't even an assignment." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 18)

When she considers dropping out:

“Maybe someday I will just be the Boss of Cookies instead!" (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 76)

When her friends invite her to the lake for Labor Day:

“GOOD NEWS! I CAN COME TO THE LAKE WITH YOU, I BELIEVE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 17)

When her professor never enters grades on time:

“I rolled my eyes way up to the sky." (Junie B., First Grader Boss of Lunch, p. 38)

When her friends won't stop poking her on Facebook:


“Do not poke me one more time, and I mean it." (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 7)

When she finds out she got a bad test grade:

“Then my eyes got a little bit wet. I wasn't crying, though." (Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, p. 17)

When she isn't allowed to have a pet on campus but really wants one:

“FISH STICK! I NAMED HIM FISH STICK BECAUSE HE'S A FISH STICK, OF COURSE!" (Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, p. 59)

When she has to walk across campus in the dark:

“There's no such thing as monsters. There's no such thing as monsters." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 12)

When her boyfriend breaks her heart:

“I am a bachelorette. A bachelorette is when your boyfriend named Ricardo dumps you at recess. Only I wasn't actually expecting that terrible trouble." (Junie B. Jones Is (almost) a Flower Girl, p. 1)

When she paints her first canvas:


"And painting is the funnest thing I love!" (Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, p. 61)

When her sorority takes stacked pictures:

“The biggie kids stand in the back. And the shortie kids stand in the front. I am a shortie kid. Only that is nothing to be ashamed of." (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed, p. 7)

When she's had enough of the caf's food:

“Want to bake a lemon pie? A lemon pie would be fun, don't you think?" (Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed p. 34)

When she forgets about an exam:

“Speechless is when your mouth can't speech." (Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren, p. 54)

When she finds out she has enough credits to graduate:

“A DIPLOMA! A DIPLOMA! I WILL LOVE A DIPLOMA!" (Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl p. 6)

When she gets home from college:

"IT'S ME! IT'S JUNIE B. JONES! I'M HOME FROM MY SCHOOL!" (Junie B. Jones and some Sneaky Peaky Spying p. 20)

Cover Image Credit: OrderOfBooks

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The Reality Of Cat Shows

Go in with an open mind, because cat shows may seem totally bizarre, but are incredibly fun and special.

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As a self-declared cat lady, when I decided to attend my first cat show I was hyped to pet all the kitties, and watch them do tricks, or show off their beauty. After attending a few, I know they're totally unique and amazing events that everyone should be attending.

Upon arriving, you will probably need to pay an entry fee, and maybe there's an area for donations for local animal shelters (yes, animal breeders support animal shelters!). You might be overwhelmed with the sheer amount of cats, as far as the eye can see. Having a game plan of cats to visit might seem fun, but just roaming and visiting is a lot more fulfilling, and you may discover breeds of cats you never knew you would love. Usually, cat shows will feature visiting areas for guests attending the show to view, and sometimes pet, the cats. As well as areas where cats are judged and given awards, sort of like miniature stages.

Visitor areas are pretty self-explanatory as you can roam around and look at the dozens of different breeds, of kittens and cats alike. The diversity will amaze you and the cats are all special and loved by their owner. Because cats can catch sicknesses while surrounded by so many other cats, it's important to sanitize your hands before petting, as well as asking the owner if you can pet their cat or kitten. Some may even let you hold their cat, but this would be rare and you shouldn't get your hopes up! While viewing cats, you may find some that are up for adoption and could find a new family member. Some cats are actually people's household pets, and are scored differently from a cat who was bred for its looks!

The competition side is where the cat shows get interesting. You can view any and all competitions, although there will be many occurring at a time. That's because cats will initially be ranked against the cats of the same breed as them, and within those breeds, by gender and color style. Winning best in the breed is the first step to becoming the champion of a cat show. Watch as owners get nervous and excited as the tiny plastic awards go up, showing which cat was victorious. Although all judges can be different, it's fun to see beautiful and friendly cats win awards and look pleased with themselves as their owner smiles with pride.

Later in the day or weekend, one cat will be chosen as the grand champion out of the best in breeds. Usually, fans can vote on their favorite as well, and award a special cat a top prize, although unofficial, for its cuteness and spirit. A hairless cat has won fan favorite at every show I attended!

Go in with an open mind, because cat shows may seem totally bizarre, but are incredibly fun and special. The group of people who participate will love to tell you about their amazing cat and let you in on cat show secrets. A place where cat lovers unite, what could be better?

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