Friday 11 May 2018 | 17

The world according to crows

The world according to crows

Mis à jour le 28 May 2018

To many, crows are ominous birds, a pest that is hunted all year round. But in fact, crows are one of the world's most intelligent species, boasting a more advanced cognitive ability than the great apes. These corvids that we see all around our towns can speak, can plan, can use tools, can remember and have their own cultures in their peaceful and well-balanced communities. These qualities have allowed them to effectively adapt themselves to human presence. A day in the life of these ordinary crows…

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The two crows fly over the town rapidly flapping their wings. Suburbs pass beneath them with roads and deserted lanes, cars parked in lines along the streets, and bins out in front of the houses, as they always are on this day of the week. They know the precise time and date of the rubbish collection, but they don't need to stop: they have found what they are looking for. The black bird's beaks are loaded with objects as they fly back from the council tip. On the horizon, removed from the grey ocean of human construction, lies an oasis of greenery. The park comes into view, with its central lake and the giant plane tree perched on its banks: the crow's home.

The couple

The father to be returns from his expedition with two fine pink metal hangars. He likes them because of their colour and the way they shine. He pulls at the metal a bit so that it provides a better support for the old twig nest where so many children have come into the world. His partner is in charge of organising the interior. She moulds the walls out of dead leaves, bits of fabric, wadding and warm hair, which will protect her youngsters from any sudden drop in temperature. Better to prepare for risks, in a changeable climate. 

The mother to be plunges towards the ground. She circles around a donkey grazing in her enclosure, then lands on her back and snatches a tuft of her hair. The donkey snorts in contempt, but the crow is already back at the top of the plane tree. 

The three or four little blue and brown speckled eggs that she will lay will hatch into much loved adorable fluffy bundles. She and her partner will be devoted parents. Fortunately for them, they have both survived and nestled together for many tender years. Bringing up their children together means not only feeding them, but also a long period of education, as there is a lot to learn if they are to get by in this human world.

The family

This year, their eldest son is staying nearby to help. His two sisters have already flown off with a group of adolescents. All day long, the youngsters mess about and get to know each other in rowdy groups where these two girls will eventually find their partner. They are at first greeted by the intrepid males with head-butts before the males parade in front of them in a serious of crazy dares: undertaking near suicidal dives, chasing cars or sliding along snowy roofs with a yoghurt pot as a sledge. They entertain themselves like this all year round, until life couples form and they leave to start their own family.

The old man's face

The days are getting milder and the ducklings are already following their mothers around. Humans come regularly to throw bread for them. An old man walks slowly down the path. The birds are familiar with his face, despite the time that has gone by. He feeds the ducks and other birds having returned after over a year of absence. Today he is back, with a cane and a new hat.

Happily cawing, the crows greet him before jumping from their branch and sitting next to him, forcing the pigeons to spread apart. The man throws chunks of raisin bread. Delicious! The couple's son grabs a big piece and hides it further away, saving it for later.

Out of the corner of his eye, he notices that his father has seen. No problem: Pretending to gather leaves over his little treasure, he waits until his father looks away and quickly takes the bread and hides it under a privet grove. The family don't like to share.

The tree that talks

Suddenly, cries can be heard coming from the side of the busy road that noisily borders the park. A crow has been hit by a car and her body thrown onto the verge. The corvids all take off and fly to the scene, perching at the top of a budding maple tree. The couple are among them, and are joined by others from a neighbouring park. Most of them come in pairs, including several of the couple's children, who have since become parents. They greet each other in the powerful community dialect, but the family quickly reverts to softer tones, their own language. Everyone being black from beak to toe, the caw is the first distinguishing feature.

Yet, even though she will never talk again, the elder's body is recognised by all. She was one of the oldest females in the park. At twenty years of age, her feathers had become shaggy and dirty and two of her left toes were infected. Everyone knew that she would die one day soon. But even so…

The meaning of death

The elder crow was a much appreciated member of the community, a matriarch of high standing who was esteemed for her forewarning, indicating the approach of a cat, a falcon, or budgerigars entering their trees in a particular tone. Seeing her dead provokes much reflection and the accident is discussed. It will be a long time before any crow will sit on that pavement there, for sure.

Little by little, the gossip comes to an end. Silence falls in the big tree heaving with black birds. Emotional, and with hearts full of memories, they each contemplate the corpse lying on the side of the pavement, under the dead leaves placed over her by companion, her partner until the end. What a mystery death is! Much sadness… But life calls, nests must be repaired, food needs to be found, children need to be educated. So everyone takes off in a black cloud doing a final circle overhead, one last goodbye…


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Comments 17

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Marie | Monday 28 May 2018

Merci pour ce récit très beau et très touchant. Arrêtons de faire la chasse aux prétendus "nuisibles" et mal aimés (corvidés, ragondins et j'en passe), l'espèce la plus nuisible de toutes sur terre est bel et bien l'espèce humaine !

Claudine | Tuesday 22 May 2018

Que tous les humains apprennent à connaître ces etres si sentients et si intelligents

GENNY | Monday 21 May 2018

cerchiamo di vivere tutti.....anche loro

Sabine Schreindorfer-Gruber | Friday 18 May 2018

Please help!