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September 14, 2012

Crows aresmarter thanyou think

The Daily Star

---- — As I drive down Interstate-88 at 70-plus miles an hour, I’m amazed at the timing of the crows that feed on those delicious splatters of road kill.

My truck gets closer and closer and they just stand there, picking at the mangled flesh. Then at the very last moment, they walk across the white line out of harm’s way and I race by.

I even test them every once in a while. If there are no other cars close by, I’ll slow down to 50 until I get really close and then stomp the pedal to the floor. They’ve probably seen that trick before because they just casually walk to the side of the highway – again at the last possible moment – and give me the feather.

My dad used to say that crows would just sit in the hedgerows of the meadow and let him walk by, as long as he had nothing in his hands. If he had a gun, though, he’d never be in shooting range because they’d be long gone.

Crows are smarter than we give them credit.

At a university in Seattle, seven crows were captured and tagged by scientists wearing masks. After they were released, the crows would swoop down and try to attack the men wearing the masks. If those same researchers were on campus without the masks, though, they were not harassed by the birds. The researchers concluded that crows could actually remember faces.

If you have crows bothering your garden and you shoot one, the rest will disappear and never come back. In the town of Chatham, Ontario, Canada, thousands of crows congregated each year while migrating south for the winter. The farmers’ crops were being destroyed, affecting their livelihoods. One year, some hunters shot several of the crows. The migrating crows have avoided that town ever since.

When I was young, I had a pet crow. I had spotted a nest high up in a white pine tree, so I climbed up into the smaller branches one day and picked a young, black-feathered bird from the nest. That wasn’t easy with momma trying to protect her young, but I made it.

I built a cage and fed him what I thought was a good diet for a young bird. Insects, bits of hamburger and other assorted tidbits became his regular source of nourishment. I had heard that you could teach crows to talk, but I never had any luck with that. He would start cawing at me, though, when I got off the school bus each night.

That bird grew, rode around on my shoulder and picked up anything that was shiny. He never flew off, but after a couple of years and several attempts, I released the crow into the wild. Every once in a while, I’d see him sitting on a branch in the big, old pine tree next to the house. I’m sure he remembered me before flying off with the flock. Maybe he came by to let me know he was all right.

Crows think, remember and reason. They have a language enabling them to communicate with one another and even have a distinct dialect.

We were camping near Kissimmee, Fla., one time and listened to the crows every morning in the campground. Those birds actually cawed with a southern accent.

Crows are an amazing and misunderstood creature, but they’re a little like Rodney Dangerfield. They have a similar beak and don’t get much respect.

About last week

After last week’s column, many e-mailed me with other old sayings about winter.

An old friend who taught with me in Wells – as well as several other people – reminded me of another bit of folklore.

“You can’t have winter until the swamps are full.”

I guess you folks who hate winter don’t have to worry about it for a long, long time this year.

What’s happening?

Tickets are going fast for the Sept. 29 CANY Banquet at Oneonta’s Holiday Inn. All proceeds benefit the Venison Donation Program to feed the needy. For tickets or more information, call Al Bowers at 607-432-6398, Rich Gravelin at 607-432-6212, or Ron Martini at 607-432-5945.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at