I'm sure some of you are asking, "Why would anyone go to the bother of researching crows?" Two years ago, I blogged about researching dogs. Despite being a dog lover, I won't force them into a story if they don't fit. It just so happens that I had a couple of plots where dogs did fit into my stories. Not only that, but I was able to use my own breed, the Belgian sheepdog, in my Civil War ghost story Whispers from the Grave and the sequel Whispers Through Time. In my more recent work, The Dreaming: Walks Through Mist, a greyhound was my cunning woman's familiar spirit. That's also why I began researching crows. In the upcoming sequel to the dreaming series, Wind Talker, a crow is a recurring spirit animal.
Originally, I had chosen a crow because in many Native American cultures, the bird is a shape shifter. A shape shifter is a master of illusion, transforms themselves, and can travel many realms, including passing between the physical and spiritual worlds. The theme fit nicely with my original plot. In Wind Talker, the crow spirit took on much greater depth, so I began researching what the birds are really like.
Crows are highly intelligent and tend to live in family groups. They mate for life. What's more, they have a language. The most familiar sound is a "caw," but they can imitate other species, including humans. They make a variety of vocalizations, of which very few have been deciphered. Some observers also say that crows have a culture because the birds seem to be able learn new information through observation or instruction, then share the information with other members of their species.
They have been known to protect humans who feed them by dive-bombing the threat in the same manner as people often see crows harassing hawks, which are a danger to them. Crows have also been observed holding funerals. They'll surround the dead bird, sometimes in great numbers, and give piercing cries over it. Usually a silence grips the group before they start cawing again. They often spend hours with the dead one before flying off. I've never witnessed a funeral myself, but a close friend of mine has. She didn't know what was happening at the time and was truly amazed.
Because of my interest in crows, I started feeding my local flock. Being omnivores, they eat just about anything. The only things I've really seen them turn their beaks up at are leafy greens, tomatoes, and carrots. When I feed, they'll often come swooping in, sometimes within a couple of feet, and if I leave for a week on vacation, they'll shriek to me a welcome home. Then again, maybe they're saying, "It's about time you got back. Now feed me!" At other times, they'll make clicking or rattling sounds at me. I know they're talking. I only wish I knew what they are saying.