The Wariness of Crows

We feed the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other visiting animals such as foxes and possums and raccoons on occasion.  We try to provide special nourishment during snows and blizzards, such as we have been having lately.  Our usual birds are the doves, blue jays, various woodpeckers, cardinals, sparrows, finches, grackles, and others.  But for the last few days we have had gangs of crows, sometimes numbering in the dozens.  They sit in the distant trees and swoop in when the coast is clear.  They are beautifully black against the white snow.  When Dylan Thomas described night time in his mythical town of Milkwood as “crow-black,” he was using an apt image.

Being snowbound here, I have tried to make pictures of these crows.  I find it is very hard to do.  They are constantly alert for the slightest threat or movement and take off immediately if they sense one.  As carefully as I try, I cannot ease open the back door and appear with my camera without sending them into flight.  It is amazing that they have such detection and also that they need to be so wary, or think they do.

Compare the two pictures I made, one of a crow and one of  a visiting squirrel.  These were made through glass from inside the house.  They were made from the same spot, with the same camera, with the same focal length lens.  The munching squirrel is unworried that I am only a few feet away.  The crow in the distant tree is likely to fly away at any moment.

How to account for this difference?  There were hawks overhead this morning as our skies calmed and cleared.  Crows chase the hawks without fear, but a hawk will make a meal of a squirrel.  You would think a squirrel would be more wary than a crow, but it is not.

The word “wary” means “cautious and alert for problems.”

But how much caution is enough?  Down in nearby DC someone spots a “suspicious package” and entire buildings are evacuated, streets closed, workers sent home, robots and sniffing dogs brought in, and millions of dollars spent.  Telephoned bomb threats by anonymous strangers bring similar responses.  Much like the crows.

When I traveled through the towns and cities of Mexico, I observed the living places of the desperately poor and the very rich.  The poor live in flimsy, makeshift huts.  The rich live in mansions.  But their mansions are surrounded by high walls with sharp glass and razor wire on top.  Their entrances are locked gates with all sorts of electronic security devices.  They have armed guards.  I’m sure their homes must be nice inside, but they resemble prisons.  If the rich venture outside their walls and gates, they do so with caution.  Much like the crows.

Just look at my visiting squirrel.  Isn’t this a contented squirrel or not?  I’m sure she is practicing reasonable squirrel safety, but it isn’t ruining her day or driving her to paranoia.

There are people, perhaps whole societies, who live hunkered down and constantly afraid that some terrible thing is about to happen.

If that’s the case, I think maybe it already has.

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