Friday, July 09, 2004

A Murder of Crow Websites

Okay, two doesn't really constitute a "murder." Apparently the only people who use that term are those who are poetically inclined, anyway--"flock" is the scientifically appropriate term, according to this crow FAQ from Dr. Kevin J. McGowan, Cornell University. If you've ever sought the answers to questions such as "Can crows be shot legally?" and "Do crows taste bad? Is that where 'to eat crow' comes from?" then this is the site for you.

But for my money (a moot point as I have very little and the website is free anyway) I'd rather browse around Crows.net, which has a number of voluntarily contributed observational logs of crow behavior. The people at Crows.net are (or were--nothing's newer than two years ago) compiling as many instances as possible of crow behavior and vocalizations in order to better study and interpret them. Crows are much smarter than your average birdbrain (my stepdad informed me that you can teach them several words, much like a parrot). Anyway, it was fascinating to read some of the accounts of people's encounters with crows.

The reason I was looking all this up is that I'm planning a painting that will have crows in it, and I was looking for some good photographs of crows, particularly close-ups of flocks of crows in flight. The painting will be about my grandfather, and will also include depictions of old photos of him painted trompe-l'oeil style, interspersed with the crows in a composition I'm still figuring out. The crows are there because of a strange occurrence which happened the morning my grandfather died:

It was around 7:00 am in June of 1997. I was 20 years old. He died in his bed, in his own house, where he had been receiving hospice care. My mother, stepdad and I had moved in to be with him. That morning we called the mortuary van, and we were all standing outside in the driveway as my grandfather's body was being put into the back of the van. I was standing next to my mom and my stepdad's sister (a former nurse, who'd been helping us care for my grandfather). Suddenly we realized there was a din, a racket, coming from overhead. When we looked up, there were a few dozen crows circling directly above the driveway, cawing loudly and raucously. It was one of the oddest things I'd ever seen and a very surreal moment. Not long after the van containing my grandfather's body had driven away, they dispersed.

On the crow websites, I've read that crows can bond with humans. I've read that they will circle overhead in a flock, cawing, when one of their own has died. I like to think that because my grandfather spent a lot of time outside in his garden, because he could whistle like a bird better than anyone I've ever met, that maybe the neighborhood crows mourned for him in their own way. Or maybe, scavengers that they are, they could simply smell death in the air. No matter what the reason is, though, it's going into my painting in some form.

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