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A Murder Fable from Colorado

July 22, 2015 6 comments

If I hadn’t heard it myself, I wouldn’t have seen it myself.

First came the caws, followed by squawks, and finally screams.    That’s when I got up from my perch on the couch to see what was up with the angry birds. No, not the video game.  Real live, irate crows.

From both my balcony and my dining room, (sorry, can’t resist this one) I had a birds’-eye view.  The squabble seemed to be over some prime Colorado real estate, a rooftop that afforded would-be squatters great opportunities to pick off meals on the fly.   The crows all looked alike but being birds of a feather didn’t make them friendlies.

Initially, the three, large noise-makers confronted each other close-up and personally, literally beak-to-beak.  I watched mesmerized.

No actual physical attacks, but plenty of verbal abuse and ruffled feathers.   Then with oral intimidation failing to oust any one of the contenders, two of the crows paired up in a ploy familiar in high school hallways and high flying social circles: isolation. Two or more against one.  Two of the crows moved closer —much closer —to each other until there was scarcely a feather’s difference separating them.  Then they began an amazing choreography, silently side-stepping away from the middle toward one side of the rooftop ridge, pointedly leaving the other one on the opposite end, alone.

That’s when it occurred to me — Nature was providing a parody of pre-presidential primary politicking.  As I waited to see what the outcome would be for my nearby roof-top squabblers, I could almost hear the human-voice attacks  and picture caricatures of  famous and wannabe political figures dancing around positions in an upcoming debate.

After a few more minutes, a  flurry of activity across the way once again turned  my attention to that event. The two now buddy-buddy crows were lifting off in one direction; shortly thereafter their feathered competitor flew off a different way, presumably in search of friendlier skies.  Within moments of each other, all three were gone, leaving the once furiously-contended-for prize for some totally different newcomer to claim.

Interesting— as they flew away, no sounds filled the air.  No cackling. No crowing. Even bird brains apparently know internecine squabbling doesn’t make for a winner.

After this intriguing illustration from nature, I did a little research.  The centuries-old label for a group of crows is not a flock; it’s a “murder.”   According to PBS, one folktale explanation for the term is that this very intelligent, very social  species will gather periodically to decide the capital fate of another crow.  I’m not making this up.

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