By Chris Henderson
A while back, I made mention of crows. Their numbers seem to have increased around this area. I thought it might be fun to take a little look at them, as well as some of their relatives. What we simply call the crow is also known as the common crow and the American crow. In some ways, the birds are a pest, as they do occasionally do dome damage to crops. They do, however, eat a lot of insect pests that prey on crops. They are notorious predators of ants. They will stand on an anthill and allow the ants to climb onto their feathers. The ants bite and sting, releasing their formic acid. This makes them much better for the crows to eat. I don’t know of many people who like ants, so this scores one for the crows. Crows have been taught to mimic the human voice, much like parrots. I have often heard that their tongue must be split to achieve this, but I don’t know if this is true or not. They are also fascinated by anything shiny, such as jewelry and foil. The crow serves at least one useful function, and that is being part of Nature’s cleanup crew. They love to feed on carrion, and this trait helps to get rid of a lot of disgusting carcasses. Crows are, of course, natural enemies of owls and hawks. In fact, the surest way to call in some crows is with an owl or hawk decoy or call. A group of crows is known as a “murder.” I have no idea how this came about, but it is what it is. At Geneva College, my freshman roommate was from Auburn, New York, in the upstate. This town has what can only be described as a crow problem. Each year, thousands of crows descend on the town. The sidewalks become slick with crow droppings, and the birds are everywhere. Scientists are pretty much at a loss for an explanation. Then, we have the raven. Although similar to the crow, the raven is a bit larger, and has a different call. We have some of them around here. In many cultures, these birds are revered as a symbol of wisdom, family and creation. In the Christian tradition, it is considered a bird of bad luck, and a predictor of evil, warfare and death. This bird is, the subject of one of my all time favorite poems, “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe. It is a bit spooky and creepy, but still great. A group of ravens is, for whatever reason, known as a “bazaar.” Last, but by no means least, we have the blue jay, a cousin of crows and ravens. Beautiful birds, they are common visitors to bird feeders, especially those containing sunflower seeds. In some ways, they are “bad guys,” as they sometimes prey on the eggs and nestlings of other birds. They are also noisy and aggressive, but their beauty sort of makes up for it. One of my favorite paintings is “Autumn Jays,” by Donald Blakney. I really enjoy seeing them at the feeders. A group of them is often referred to as a “scold.” Well, it is almost time for the bears to once again start visiting the bird feeders, especially at night. They just love sunflower seeds and suet blocks. It is best to either stop filling the feeders, or take them in at night. Fishing time is edging ever and ever closer. Let’s make sure that we are ready!