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