The chapter titles of this work reveal that it’s not some kind of textbook resource on crows: Getting Up, Preparing, Reading, Walking, Dwelling, Helping, Seeing, Coexisting, Dying and Flying.
This is fine with me, and it was from the first page, when Lyanda Lynn Haupt explains that she named a young crow, that she had been watching near her house for months, Charlotte, for the author of Jane Eyre.
As someone who has reluctantly but regularly named the around-enough-to-be-recognized furred and feathered creatures in my own neighbourhood, I immediately felt a sense of kinship.
(Though maybe a little embarrassment, too, for none of the names that the critters receive in this household are so sophisticated and literary.)
Crow Planet is a personal story in that it chronicles the author’s recovery from a near-nervous-breakdown, her experiences parenting a young girl, her ambivalence about living in an urban environment, and snatches of the work she’s done with Audubon.
The style is accessible, with only a bibliography at the back, and the occasional footnote (not numbered, even), and many anecdotes alongside the deliberately scientific material.
But there is also a good deal of the kind of ornithological material you would expect to find about crows, but with the additional background information that you’d find helpful if (like me) you’re not very experienced in reading science books.
So, for instance, in discussing the intelligence of this birds, it’s also explained that the criteria used to evaluate this includes: causal reasoning, flexibility, imagination and prospection.
Then there is specific crow-related material that illustrates these cognitive traits.
For instance, crows might: soak breadcrumbs in a bird bath to soften them before eating, leave hard-shelled nuts in the path of a car to have assistance cracking them, or poke holes in a plastic grocery bag to see if there is food inside.
And yet the author is obviously also aware that more experienced readers could pick up the book as well, so she is careful to make distinctions that really don’t concern me, though I do find the issues raised of interest.
For instance, when she discusses crow language, I am immediately intrigued. I don’t require the explanation that appears at the bottom of the page, which outlines the objections that some scientists have to the use of the term ‘language’ in this context. And, yet, the explanation is short and I now realize that such a distinction would be important to some and have a vague understanding of why.
Who doesn’t like feeling a little smarter at the end of the day than you did at the beginning? Crow Planet contributes to that.
I’m not going to spoil it and tell you all the amazing things about crows (they really are amazing, and I only suspected that before and had very little experience to back it up, so nearly everything I know about it, I learned from this book).
But I will share three random facts that stuck out (you would probably pick three different ones, there are lots):
* a group of crows by the side of the road, who are not foraging, could be taking care of a family member who has been injured, circling it and offering what assistance they can
* the names of the bones in a crow’s legs and feet are the same as in our own, and they walk, rather than hop, on their toes
* the phenomenon colloquially referred to as a “crow funeral” has yet to be fully understood, but it’s clear that, like the “higher mammals”, crows recognize death.
This volume is getting shelved on my World Changing shelf, because it reminded me of the habits that I developed after reading Rachel Carson’s A Sense of Wonder, reminded me that I don’t need to step outside my urban existence to experience that wonder.
“We cherish the few, sweet days we manage to escape to places we consider true wilderness, but the most essential things we can do for the deeply wild earth have to do with how we eat, how we drive, where we walk, and how we choose every moment of our quotidian urban lives.”
I would swear that there are more birds in my neighbourhood (crows included) now than there were before I started reading Crow Planet last month, but I know that’s not true; it’s only that I’m seeing them now.
Have you read Lyanda Lynn Haupta’s book? Or something else that has reminded you of the wonders in this world?