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OPINION: Mayhem and a murder of crows

BY TERESA MALLAM

Mallam Unmuzzled

Most journalists would kill (figuratively speaking) to be able to use the expression a “murder (flock) of crows.” But apart from a book and movie title, not many of us get the chance.

A close second on my word wish list is the term for a group of owls. It’s called a “parliament” of owls because, according to Wikipedia, owls are known to be wise, so a group of them must be very, very, very wise.

Uncharacteristically, I am not going to touch that one because it’s just too easy. And I’m in a good mood today, no desire to dump on unsuspecting  parliamentarians. But what a hoot. Really, it does not get any better. 

Because I’ve been home so much lately, I have been able to pursue my joy of watching a family of crows in my backyard. Crows are known to be territorial and their instincts make them wary.

I’ve noticed they are skilled aviators who engage in feats like dive-bombing, mid-air collisions and commotion over food or protecting their young. I’m not a bird biologist or ornithologist, simply an observer of nature, but crows do appear respect one another’s air space.

Each crow has its own role and place in a pecking order. The one I call Caw is the scout. He sits high on his perch, a branch in my cedar tree, or on top of the BC Hydro pole. From this vantage point, he can zero in on anything that moves and all things that look like lunch.

When Caw spots something good, he cries out sharply, three times, to alert the others. He then  does a fly by, wings tipped, but he does not land unless the coast is clear; no cats, no big ravens.

Next, he swoops down and, keeping his physical distance, glances over to confirm his prize. Then he cries out to his wing man perched in the trees, the one I call McCaw because of his fondness for McDonald’s fries.

I found this out last summer — when friends could still gather. Leftover fries were first to go.
Sitting at my umbrella table, we pretended not to notice as McCaw tried to stack five or six fries in his mouth. He would drop one, pick it up, two more would fall out. Hilarious. Like a game of Pick Up Sticks.

McCaw is a quality control expert. The taster.  His motus operandi is to move closer but not within reach of his meal. Then he performs a casual, walk-by, two-step dance: “La dee dah,  Ho-hum. Might not be worth my trouble.”

Finally, McCaw stops posturing and cocks his head. Is this a trick? He circles the prize like a boxer in the ring and even hops away feigning disinterest. Then he grabs a bite and flies off.

If it proves tasty,  the call goes out until a murder of crows, nine or more of them, take turns flying down to the food. Crows like dry cat food, human leftovers such as nachos, mac and cheese, and  pizza. Tips on crows’ dining habits can be found online at Corvid Research — and that’s CORVID not COVID.

Crows can live to be 17 years or older, so they are likely to be at my house longer than I will be. That means my murder of crows will have to learn to trust a new bunch of humans — or is it “parliament” of humans?

No matter. If the new people in my crows’ future really are smart, they won’t claw back the benefits and risk a dive bombing. So words to the wise: McCaw likes ketchup on his fries.

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