Migraine stops play: a repost today about the humble crow. Could it one day rule the world?

Who could make the humble crow into a film star?

Alfred Hitchcock seized upon the work of Daphne Du Maurier.

It lent itself to the big screen, this bold literature. First he took Jamaica Inn, a year later, Rebecca. And more than a decade after that, he turned to a collection of her short stories written in 1952 called The Apple Tree. One of its stories was entitled The Birds.

Told from the viewpoint of a coastal Cornishman, it explores what would happen if our avian sphere dwellers began, inexplicably, to turn on us.

The makers of the film are said to have rounded up and trained hundreds of gulls, ravens and crows for some of the stark attack scenes.

The results were striking because we expect the crow to co-exist. They do that, crows. I have a great affection for the small black figures I see wandering across a field or inspecting something on a road. I always wonder: what can possibly be going through their heads?

More than one might imagine, apparently.

Enter Joshua Klein.

Defining him is not simple, because he does not fit into boxes. He says, simply, he is a hacker.

Klein got to watching the crows in his back garden, and arguing their usefulness to society with a neighbour over the fence.

In a short lecture for TED (Technology, Entertainment Design, a non-profit organisation which aims to disseminate ‘ideas worth spreading’) Klein outlines some of the breathtaking problem solving skills of our corvid friends.

Take a look. He showcases film of a crow who is faced with a long jar, which has food at the bottom. The only tool has he has is a long piece of wire. He takes the wire, bends it to form a hook, and hooks the food out.

Klein has has created a vending machine for crows. He has spent the last ten years training them to pick up a coin and insert it into a machine to attain a reward of peanuts.

His final words in this short piece of film are an oddity: he says, why not train the crows to do something useful, instead of reviling them? They could clear litter, for example: or select electrical components to order.

One strange example might support this: that of Moses, an American crow who adopted a stray kitten, fed it and nurtured it to full strength, and made a fast friend for life.

But Klein’s leap brings me straight back to Hitchcock with a bump. All my corvid idealism evaporates in an instant.

Because they are already learning. And they have attitude.

Klein cites the University of Washington, where some students were set to round up a group of crows, weigh them and measure them for a simple set of experiments.

They let them free again: and when they went home the crows set up a racket,shouting at the students and making themselves generally objectionable.

The next day, they did the same with those who had worked on them. And the next week, and the next year: in fact the students had no peace until they left their studies all together.

Later, returning from the big wide world for some conference or other, the crows still remembered them and made their dislike unsettlingly clear.

A crow never forgets.

Picture source here


44 thoughts on “Crow

  1. Crows have never been on my best friend list. South Australians (my birthplace) carry the sobriquet “Crow-eaters” – never found out why – but I can imagine the pioneer blocker carving out his acre in the scrub to the music of constant cawing crows and eyeing them hungrily. We weren’t fussy back then!

  2. I heard the actress Tipi Hendren being interviewed about her part in Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. She said the attack scenes were filmed by tying the birds to her with elastic!! So the birds were flapping to get away (probably thinking “what the hell are these humans doing?”) but couldn’t. The dresses she wore had small holes in to allow the elastic through and filming was carefully choreographed to hide the elastic ties.

  3. A crow never forgets, and I will never forget the first time I saw The Birds. Watching it now, one can see some of the contrivances, but, it still holds me in suspense, Kate. I enjoyed this post anew – and do hope you are feeling better asap. Those migraines can be horrible. Rest.

  4. Hope you feel better soon, Kate.
    The post is great, the part at the end about the students is really scary.

  5. It is true that crow’s never forget. The son of my best friend from college has turned her back yard in Marin County California into a farm. He raises chickens, bees, and has planted a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. The crows started attacking the garden. She would scream her lungs out at them and eventually they got the message. When I visit her I’ve seen crows circling her neighbor’s homes, but not hers. She told me, “They know I’m the neighborhood crazy.”

  6. Dear Kate, I’m so sorry to learn that you have one of those horrific migraines. I hope you have some medication that helps you deal with the pain and makes the migraine vamoose.

    Thanks for the two crow links. They seemly to really be intelligent birds and I find myself liking them. Peace.

  7. Oh, Kate. Here’s a dark room and a cold pack and good drugs. I hope your headache has already eased by the time you read this note.

    When we went to the Center for Birds of Prey (near Charleston), they went into a lengthy talk about the intelligence of the crow and cited this video. The guide said they harassed other birds there, too.

  8. We have so many crows, and they are both fascinating and pesky! They are really messy, finding large pieces of food they want to wash in our pond or birdbaths. Ugh! But a couple of years ago the West Nile Virus was killing the crows and they were literally, really, dropping from the sky. It was very Alfred Hitchcock, for sure. I hated taking walks for needing to step over them! They died in such numbers that we were rid of them for a long time…but they’re back! I’ll have to try to appreciate their cleverness! Do feel better…talk about pesky! Migraines! Debra

  9. Humble crow, my foot. πŸ™‚ But they are clever, I agree – I’ve seen one press down on the trigger button of an outside drinking fountain and sip from the trickle of water he managed to make flow.

    Yesterday I watched a crow peck at a blushing pear on the tree outside my window, turned away only to hear a great squawk – and there was the crow on the lawn together with what remained of the pear after it crashed to the ground… I couldn’t help laughing. He on the other hand just kept picking at it, enjoying a lunch he didn’t have to share or even defend from his fellows.

  10. Crows are the nemesis of golfers because they love stealing golf balls off the fairway – this has got me thinking that perhaps there is a way to train them to retrieve lost balls instead!
    Hope you feel better soon, Kate – did you see the Harvard Medical article on implant therapy for migraines?

    1. This is such a creative time for you, Cameron! All the best with your latest novel. Your drive is just amazing. Here’s sending you wishes for a very wide audience indeed.

  11. A solid hit. Your post was informative and creative, and you provided two of my loves: Hitchcock and TED.
    When I was a teen living in the country, I found a book about a man who had a crow he trained to talk. Fascinating. Yes, they are very smart birds. Great post.

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