For the Birds Radio Program: Crows (and Robert Frost's "Dust of Snow")

Original Air Date: May 28, 1986

Laura talks about the intelligent and wonderful (unless you hate it) American Crow.

Duration: 3′28″


Aarh–For the Birds! For the Birds!

(Recording of a Common Crow)

I have a pair of crows nesting in my backyard. When I tell my birding friends, they think I deserve sympathy. Nobody ever envies my good fortune, like they would if hummingbirds or even robins moved in.

The American Crow is attacked by smaller birds, hunted by larger ones, shot at and poisoned by man–unloved by almost everybody. I guess people expect birds to be better than we are–to attain some lofty height that human beings can only aspire to. When people think of a bird song, they seem to expect something ethereal, something no mere human could produce–like this winter wren’s song.

(Recording of a Winter Wren)

Anybody in a foul enough mood can imitate a crow.

(Recording of a Common Crow)

It’s probably true that crows are no better than we are. They’re sly, opportunistic, adventurous, attracted to glitter–come to think of it, they pretty much embody the entrepreneurial spirit. Crows do steal eggs and young of other species–they’re quite willing to do murder to keep their own babies alive. Like I said, they’re only human. But crows embrace some of mankind’s finest qualities. They’re sociable, loyal, devoted mates and parents, and among the most intelligent of all creatures.

I’ve been keeping an eye on my two crows. The same one has been sitting on the nest almost constantly since the end of April–that must be the female. The other one spends his day scouring the neighbors’ lawns for earthworms, grubs, and insects. I never see him eating–he seems to bring everything he finds to her, sneaking around the back of the tree so the birds at my feeder won’t notice him. They’d be a nuisance, mobbing him constantly. And if they ever do manage to discover the nest, their distress calls might attract the raccoons and Great Horned Owls in the neighborhood–his mate and babies might be eaten that very night.

He does caw–loudly and angrily–whenever a dog or cat enters the scene. He’s used to my golden retriever now, and has even developed something of an alliance with her. She looks forward to his cawing– there’s adventure afoot–something new to chase.

The baby crows hatched last week. Their feathers are still too sparse to keep them warm, so I haven’t been able to get a look at them yet–the mother sidles to the edge of the nest, blocking my view, to feed them, and then blankets them again. Already they’re noisy–though their call won’t be harsh until their voices change this winter. They sound like this: (Imitation of a baby crow)

In a few days they’ll be big enough to crowd their mother out–by then, she’ll have to join her mate searching for food. It takes less than a month for them to feather out, reach full size, and be ready to fly. That’s a lot of eating.

I think Robert Frost must have liked crows. He wrote:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.”

That was Robert Frost, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”