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Something to Crow About
Julie Maxey-Allison | 10th Street

Maxey-Allison dish towel.
Photo by Julie herself.
Click to enlarge.

Looking up. Is it a plane? It is a bird? Is it —yes! A super bird, the crow. We see them everywhere around the world, with exception of Antartica and South America, clad in all black, and hear their distinctive but less than melodic caws. Our American crows like living in Del Mar. The weather, the food. We see them eating easy meals of other birds’ young or eggs or our garbage. The more picky eaters don’t wait: more then one picnicker at the beach has returned after a walk or swim to find their packet of food opened by crows who have taken off with the choice bits. French fries seem to be a favorite.

Del Mar crows do not enjoy a stellar reputation. Maybe because they eat other birds eggs, maybe because they can be a noisy nuisance with that grating, raucous caw. It doesn’t help that the plural term for a collective of crows is “a murder of crows’, not a cozy term. Their bad rap may also be due to the crows traditional association with the dark side; think Poe’s “The Raven”, or that movie “The Birds .”

They are, however, thought by some to be spirit animals and are good family members, mostly mating for life and living together in social groups above us in our trees. Crows are smart. Their bird brain ratio to body size is impressively large and their inventive abilities at learning and improvising have been equated with those of the great apes. They use their smarts to go after food for the family. When not dining al fresco in Del Mar, crows have mastered tools for more difficult foraging of all sorts. American crows’ relatives craft hooks from pliable twigs to dig out bugs hiding in tiny spaces. Crows in Japan and here in California use cars.

They have been documented placing nuts in a trafficked street for a car to crack open. The bird patiently waits till the car stops at a red light to retrieve the nutmeat. The theory is that they also understand the function of traffic lights.

Among their other remarkable talents, crows can recognize human faces, identify us as friends or foe, and pass the information along to their peers and offspring according to a 2011 study from the University of Washington. At least one Del Mar resident has used this to his advantage: he keeps them them out of the yard by threatening them with stick. They know he is a bad guy and so far have left him alone.



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