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In the Company of Crows and Ravens

In the Company of Crows and Ravens

John M. Marzluff
Tony Angell
Illustrated by Tony Angell
Foreword by Paul Ehrlich
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    In the Company of Crows and Ravens
    Book Description:

    "Crows and people share similar traits and social strategies. To a surprising extent, to know the crow is to know ourselves."-from the Preface

    From the cave walls at Lascaux to the last painting by Van Gogh, from the works of Shakespeare to those of Mark Twain, there is clear evidence that crows and ravens influence human culture. Yet this influence is not unidirectional, say the authors of this fascinating book: people profoundly influence crow culture, ecology, and evolution as well.

    John Marzluff and Tony Angell examine the often surprising ways that crows and humans interact. The authors contend that those interactions reflect a process of "cultural coevolution." They offer a challenging new view of the human-crow dynamic-a view that may change our thinking not only about crows but also about ourselves.

    Featuring more than 100 original drawings, the book takes a close look at the influences people have had on the lives of crows throughout history and at the significant ways crows have altered human lives. In theCompany of CrowsandRavensilluminates the entwined histories of crows and people and concludes with an intriguing discussion of the crow-human relationship and how our attitudes toward crows may affect our cultural trajectory.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13526-8
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Paul Ehrlich

    In a world of disappearing biodiversity, enormous attention has been paid to the impacts on birds of growing numbers of people and accelerating consumption. From the Dodo to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker to, now, Indian vultures, people have been concerned with the extermination of beautiful and interesting creatures, many of which play key roles in supplying vital ecosystem services to humanity. But relatively little attention has been paid to the other side of the coin, the manifold influences some groups of birds have had on human culture.In the Company of Crows and Ravenshelps to redress the balance—and in...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. ONE Cultural Connections
    (pp. 1-35)

    Crows demand our attention. When they fly, we two watch and follow. When they call, we listen. When they encounter people, we anticipate fascinating interactions. We are ornithologists and artists consumed by these common black, noisy birds. Thousands of days spent chasing, drawing, watching, sculpting, searching for, and reading about these birds have rewarded us with a deep understanding of their biology and an unashamed respect for their abilities to frustrate, challenge, inspire, and exploit us. Few people are as passionate about birds generally, or crows specifically, as we are. But our scientific and artistic passion for crows did not...

  7. TWO A Crow Is a Crow, or Is It?
    (pp. 36-79)

    While on a lecture tour in India in 1896 , Mark Twain was besieged by flocks of House Crows (Corvus splendens) as he ate, smoked, and wrote. One can almost see the irascible author, his insights and thoughts stirred up by the horde of bold birds, as they pilfered his cigars and food and seemed constantly to evaluate and criticize him. Twain’s description of the species as an accumulation of many incarnations perfectly suits all crows: “In the course of his evolutionary promotions, his sublime march toward ultimate perfection, he has been a gambler, a low comedian, a dissolute priest,...

  8. THREE Intertwined Ecologies and Mutual Destinies
    (pp. 80-107)

    The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher once quipped, “If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.” Today some might debate his claim, but few would argue that our earthly tenure of superior intelligence has been a long one. Corvids had at least an eight-million-year head start on people in the evolutionary race to intellectual superiority. This very likely meant that early people, who evolved from primate ancestors only about five to seven million years ago and did not experience a significant surge in brain growth until a mere two and a...

  9. FOUR Inspiration for Legend, Literature, Art, and Language
    (pp. 108-151)

    The clacking of the long cedar beaks echoed like gunshots in the semidarkness. All eyes were on the three native dancers who snaked in and out of a traditional longhouse wearing full raven costumes. Their heads supported brightly colored masks of cedar with strips of bark for hair and four-foot-long black bills. They moved gracefully among rocks and trees looking this way and that like curious birds surveying for food, information, or both. Members of the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw) Raven Clan had allowed these dancers to perform thehamatsa, or cannibal dance. Each dancer represented one of three cannibal birds, Raven,...

  10. FIVE The Social Customs and Culture of Crows
    (pp. 152-195)

    As night falls, swirling flocks meld and settle among the branches of the large cottonwood trees behind Rene Drake’s house. Squadrons of cawing, ebony explorers have been pouring in from the east for more than an hour now, often moving about the tree-covered wetland reserve, a ten-acre (four-hectare) island of open space in a suburban sea. Perhaps five hundred or more American Crows have gathered this August evening to roost, as they have here for the past twenty years. The riot of crow sounds magnifies their numbers. They are insanely loud, with little sequence or rhythm, as if the birds...

  11. SIX Communication and Culture
    (pp. 196-217)

    The afternoon calm is disturbed by a growing growl that swirls above the snowy conifer forest. As the sound gathers force, black forms wing in from all directions. Judging from the near-hysterical pitch of their calls, crows are mobbing something big and dangerous. The thunderous wall of sound moves in our direction as an eagle flies overhead followed by a frantic black mob.

    We are often alerted to spectacular sights like marauding eagles by listening to the voices of crows and other animals. Crows communicate their motivations, identities, and report on local conditions each time theycaworcroak. But...

  12. SEVEN Reaping What We Sow
    (pp. 218-252)

    The seemingly inexhaustible herds of Bison (Bison bison) that churned across North America’s central plains were essentially extinguished before the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The combined impacts of wanton slaughter and hide hunting had taken a terrible toll. At the same time, midwestern states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin had their rich forests felled for lumber and their fertile prairies plowed and planted with corn, wheat, sorghum, and other grains. As America’s population expanded, so did the exploitation of the timber resources; by 1920 , just 4 percent of the eastern forest remained uncut.¹

    These sudden...

  13. EIGHT Centering the Balance
    (pp. 253-280)

    On September 6, 2002, our morning’s field work found American Crows flourishing across a four-year-old neighborhood we had been studying twenty miles east of Seattle, along the city’s rapidly sprawling “urban fringe.” We had watched this neighborhood since it was a two-hundredacre (eighty-hectare) patch of forest rarely penetrated by crows. Now it was a subdivision supporting sixty-eight new households and regular flocks of cruising, foraging, nonbreeding crows. By the summer of the following year crows would be breeding in the new backyards.

    That afternoon, we received a fax from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hawaii that underscored how...

  14. NINE Future Interactions
    (pp. 281-302)

    Our discussions about people and crows, those handsome, forty-some species of the genusCorvus, have led us to a unique overview. We see a relationship between people and animals that is multifaceted and runs both ways. We occasionally protect our crops and health from crows, but our interactions go much beyond mere practicality. Our experiences with crows, for instance, are far more diverse than our strongly utilitarian relationships with fish, whales, and livestock. At a basic level, human society is a powerful engine forcing ecological conditions and evolutionary pressures on crows. We increase the survivorship and reproduction of many crow...

  15. Appendix 1 Making Observations to Learn More
    (pp. 303-307)
  16. Appendix 2 Children’s Books That Involve Crows and Ravens
    (pp. 308-312)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 313-332)
  18. References
    (pp. 333-359)
  19. Index
    (pp. 361-384)