By JIM ABRAMS
Halloween: the spooky holiday that festers with images of black cats, spiders and bats. While the felines depict bad luck and some cringe at the thought of creeping arachnids and swooping winged mice — fears that are far out of proportion to the threats — there’s one animal that has earned a mystically dark reputation.
Their black-cloaked presence has been known to be the transformation of a witch; it travels in groups called “murders,” its larger cousins in an “unkindness” or “conspiracy.” They were featured by that eccentrically eerie quill of Edgar Allen Poe, have been known to be thieves and robbers, will hold vendettas against human and animal, feed on the dead, and mourn their own losses in ritualistic gatherings. They can identify tricks meant to catch them and defeat difficult puzzles that leave others baffled.
These are none other than the American crow and its larger raven relatives. The crow is more widespread than the raven and is found across North America. The last known Ohio ravens are nested in the state’s heavily forested northwest region: the Black Swamp. Its loss coincided with the forests’ destruction, which reduced suitable nesting sites and resulted in the bird’s extirpation.
The crow actually benefited by the timber clearing and they’re more abundant today than in presettlement times. While not a forest species, crows thrive in areas with ample trees for roosting and nesting and nearby fields for feeding. Besides the raven, crows are also relatives of blue jays and magpies. Crows have also become a barometer for the presence and frequency of West Nile disease.
Crows have proven to have quite a memory. If something has been recognized as dangerous, they will communicate that threat to others of their own kind. If a similar threat enters their area in the future — such as a perching red-tailed hawk, fox, cat or a person who has hunted them — the loud cawing begins.
In the case of the animal invaders, quite a raucous ruckus can reverberate across the countryside as they bellow their blasphemous calls and feign attacks to disrupt the interloper’s activities. This mobbing behavior gives a threatening appearance and portrays a show of strength, a sort of reenactment of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie, “The Birds.”
If one of their kind becomes the hapless victim, they’re known to behave strangely around their dead. Crows will gather together while squawking their cries loudly. Many see this as some sort of funeral and memorial for the deceased. It turns out that this may be a teaching moment, which indicates that on some level they understand the relationship between a threat and their dead and view the situation as a serious warning to be heeded. There’s also some indication that these warnings can be passed on from generation to generation.
Having first appeared nearly 17 million years ago during the Miocene epoch, the crow has had plenty of time to develop. They’re known to have the largest brain-to-body ratio of all birds. Of special import is the fact that its forebrain, where noninstinctual intelligence is located, is exceptionally developed. Its basic brain anatomy is strikingly similar to a human’s.
Crows mature at the age of two and will take one mate, bonding for life. Even so, when a female is incubating, other crows in their flock (dare I say “murder”) will watch for danger and protect the new mother while papa crow assists with rearing the youngsters.
Why are flocks of crows called a murder? Some believe that they’ll attack and kill an interloping crow, while other observations suggest the group will put a severely injured comrade out of its misery. Actually, it’s more likely that some Middle-Ages Englishman decided to wax poetically about the bird. Probably the same guy that started calling a group of owls a “parliament.”
“If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.” — Henry Ward Beecher
Along the way:
The Great Lakes’ governors will never agree upon who has the best team vying for their place on top of the Big Ten Conference. Friendly wagers are placed, jerseys traded and jokes tossed back and forth during the annual confronts. Even so, regardless of affiliation, they’re never rivals when it comes to safeguarding our northern coastlines.
Governors Mike DeWine (Ohio), Gretchen Whitmer (Michigan), J.B. Pritzker (Illinois), Tim Walz (Minnesota), Tom Wolf (Pennsylvania) and Tony Evers (Wisconsin) have joined their voices in enthusiastic support for the bipartisan federal legislation entitled “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.”
In a letter written to Raúl M. Grijalva, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, and Rob Bishop, ranking member on that committee, they explained their reasoned support of this important legislative action.
“This legislation provides a solution for one of America’s greatest threats — the decline of our fish and wildlife and their natural habitats, and what this means for people and our economy. One-third of fish and wildlife species in the United States are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered unless we proactively implement on-the-ground conservation measures.
“It costs the American public hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year to recover threatened and endangered species, costs that could be avoided or greatly reduced if we prevent fish and wildlife from needing these ’emergency room’ measures in the first place.
“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is built upon the premise that the best way to save America’s wildlife is through collaborative, proactive, and voluntary work before species are in trouble.
“This legislation will help conserve and recover our nation’s fish and wildlife by dedicating $1.3 billion for state-level conservation and $97.5 million to Tribal nations to recover and sustain healthy fish and wildlife populations. The funds will be used to accelerate the recovery of the more than 12,000 species of greatest conservation need across the country by implementing the strategies identified in each state’s Congressionally-mandated State Wildlife Action Plan.
“Similarly, tribal nations will expand conservation efforts on their lands, which provide vital habitat for hundreds of fish and wildlife species, including more than 500 species listed as threatened or endangered.
“Our nation has a remarkable history of coming together to bring species back from the brink of extinction by funding professional, science-driven fish and wildlife management. Eighty years ago, prized game species like elk, wood ducks, wild turkeys, and trout were at the cusp of being lost forever.
“Instead, hunters and anglers came together to leverage user fees for game species conservation because they understood that preserving wildlife takes coordinated, consistent investment in collaborative conservation.”
Passage of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will represent the largest investment in conservation funding in more than a generation, helping to safeguard our wildlife resources for generations to come. While this bill is a federal policy initiative, its impacts and implementation will happen at the state level where it is best administered and monitored.
While our country seems embroiled in grade-school inspired politics of finger-pointing and name-calling, it’s good to see that there are some that can still come together and perform the tasks they were hired to do. Thank you, governors.
“To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” — Aldo Leopold
• Today and Sunday: Gun show, Master’s Building, Wyandot County Fairgrounds, 10171 Ohio 53, Upper Sandusky, doors open at 9 a.m.
• Nov. 6: Free deer processing workshop, 6-9 p.m., Antwerp Conservation Club, 17814 Road 53, Antwerp. This hands-on event includes field dressing, skinning and butchering. Preregistration is required by Nov. 5 at https://apps.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife/educationregistration
• Nov. 9: Bird dog demo and shotgun shooting, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Fairfield County Bird Dog Club, 6621 Miller Siding Road, Rushville. Learn about bird dog training, hunting, overview of gear, and matching gun to game. Contact Tony Zerkle at 740-739-7661.
• Hunter and trapper education class listings — Nov. 2: Ebenezer Mennonite Church, 8905 Columbus Grove Road, Bluffton; Nov. 18, 19, 20: Fostoria United Sportsmen, 1324 Springville St., Fostoria. Information and registration information available at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard OH 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com