Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humansby Tony Angell, John Marzluff, Danny Campbell (Narrated by)
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New research indicates that crows are among the brightest animals in the world. And professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington John Marzluff has done some of the most extraordinary research on crows, which has been featured in The New York Times, National Geographic, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as on NPR and PBS. Now he teams up with artist and fellow naturalist Tony Angell to offer an in-depth look at these incredible creatures—in a book that is brimming with surprises.Redefining the notion of "bird brain," crows and ravens are often called feathered apes because of their clever tool-making and their ability to respond to environmental challenges, including those posed by humans. Indeed, their long lives, social habits, and large complex brains allow them to observe and learn from us and our social gatherings. Their marvelous brains allow crows to think, plan, and reconsider their actions. In these and other enthralling revelations, Marzluff and Angell portray creatures that are nothing short of amazing: they play, bestow gifts on people who help or feed them, use cars as nutcrackers, seek revenge on animals that harass them, are tricksters that lure birds to their deaths, and dream. The authors marvel at crows' behavior that we humans would find strangely familiar, from delinquency and risk taking to passion and frolic. A testament to years of painstaking research, this riveting work is a thrilling look at one of nature's most wondrous creatures.
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- Library - Unabridged CD
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- 6.80(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
A BLUE-BLACK CROW PERCHES REGALLY on the cornice of a stone building on the University of Washington campus, where he is often found. Almost hourly, he delivers food to his mate and three fledglings, while also keeping watch for any threat to the nest. Suddenly he turns his head, caws softly, and glides away, landing on a lamppost directly above a blonde woman. The woman, Lijana Holmes, smiles and calls him “Bela” as she offers him a breakfast of eggs and meat, which she prepares daily. Bela, in turn, presents his special gift—recognizing Lijana and participating in this routine with her. His gift to Lijana is more abstract than what he provides his bird family, but it is powerful nonetheless—it is the ephemeral and profound connection to nature that many people crave.
Bela gives a slightly different gift this morning to my team as we walk through the same campus. For Bela knows us, and we know him. Five-and-a-half years ago we captured Bela and affixed light plastic rings to his legs for identification. So whenever he sees us, the old crow cocks his head, stares, takes flight and swoops low—right at us—screaming a harsh call that we immediately recognize as a bird scold. His family and neighbors hear the cry and join in, flying toward Bela to support his attack, and soon they, too, share his rage. The mobbing crows circle and scream above our heads just as they would do to a predator. Bela’s discriminating actions give us remarkable and invaluable information, proving that crows can recognize and remember human faces. We wonder when, or if, he will ever forget (or forgive) us.
The gifts of the crow are physical, metaphorical, and far-reaching. Some, like Bela, provide understanding and companionship. Others have delivered sparkling glass, plastic toys, and candy hearts to their human benefactors. Some have dropped from the sky and shocked strangers by saying, “Hello.” A raven, with its natural curiosity and conspicuous manner, can lead a hunter to game or alert a search party to the whereabouts of an injured person. A magpie or jay can brighten a cold day by pecking softly at a window to beg for its daily ration of food.
These birds are corvids, members of the avian family Corvidae, which includes nutcrackers, jays, ravens, magpies, and crows. We will consider many of the gifts with which corvids enrich the lives of people and the action of nature in the chapters ahead, and we will argue that a corvid’s ability to quickly and accurately infer causation is itself a natural gift. It has survival value. This and other demonstrations of its mental prowess are gifts that all birds—and most likely their dinosaur ancestors—gained through evolution.
Crows’ close association with humans has inspired art, language, legends, and myths. Corvids have their own form of eloquence as they exercise mischief, playfulness, and passion. They also lead us to reflect on their common behaviors with us and other sentient creatures and empower us with a deeper understanding of nature.
People from all walks of life eagerly recount the antics of their former pet crows or enthusiastically tell us authors about the fascinating, sometimes troubling behaviors perpetrated by their local jays, magpies, and ravens. In this book we celebrate their accounts along with others we have found in the scientific and popular literature, because these rare and exceptional behaviors cannot be limited to the few specialized researchers who study corvids.
Some scientists are dismissive of citizens’ reports, viewing them as unreliable or unexplainable, because of laypeople’s lack of formal training, lack of documentation, overinterpretation, and uncontrolled influences. To be sure, we have encountered descriptions of events laden with hyperbole and seasoned with more imagination than fact, but we were compelled to investigate them nonetheless and to interview the people who made the observations in order to verify the events. Taken individually, such stories are anecdotal, but collectively they provide a unique body of information that stimulates scientific exploration and becomes an assemblage of possibilities.
We draw from this cross-cultural collection to offer many intriguing stories about corvids’ fascinating behaviors as we explore the anatomy and physiology of the bird brain. We have tested these anecdotes, such as those of the crow that summoned dogs or the ravens that windsurfed. Putting them through the scientific process, we evaluated each report for believability, precedence in the scientific and cultural literature, and the mental ability a bird would need to act in such a manner. We came to know the bird and the citizen scientist behind the observation as we examined as completely as possible what causes people and birds to share such poignant moments.
We recognize the intelligence and adaptability of this unique group of birds and base every thesis about their humanlike behaviors on how the brain of a bird is known to function. Through brain-scanning technology, which allows us to see within the crow’s gray matter, we first glimpse how a crow’s brain works through a problem. To date, most of the understanding of the inner working of the crow brain was derived from what was known from a few mammals and detailed investigations of song-learning in birds. We hope you will find, as we have, that understanding some of the neurobiological processes of crows adds mightily to your appreciation of how these remarkable creatures operate so successfully in our dynamic world.
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Meet the Author
John Marzluff is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. His books include In the Company of Crows and Ravens, coauthored with Tony Angell, which won the Washington State Book Award for general nonfiction, and Dog Days, Raven Nights, coauthored with his wife, Colleen. He has led studies on the effects of military training on falcons and eagles in southwestern Idaho, the effects of timber harvest, recreation, and forest fragmentation on goshawks and marbled murrelets in western Washington and Oregon, conservation strategies for Pacific Island crows, and the effects of urbanization on songbirds in the Seattle area. John has authored over 120 scientific papers on various aspects of bird behavior and wildlife management. He is currently leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Recovery Team for the critically endangered Mariana Crow, a member of the Washington Biodiversity Council, and a fellow of the American Ornithologist's Union. Author, illustrator, and sculptor, Tony Angell has won numerous writing and artistic awards for his work on behalf of nature, including the prestigious Master Artist Award of the Leigh Yawkey Art Museum. He has published a number of books, principally about the birds of the Northwest, including Owls, Ravens, Crows, Magpies and Jays, and Marine Birds and Mammals of Puget Sound. His sculptural forms celebrating nature are to be found in public and private collections throughout the country. Tony has worked actively as a board member of Washington's chapter of the Nature Conservancy, is an elected fellow of the National Sculpture Society, and retired in 2002 as Director of Environmental Education for the state of Washington after thirty years. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two daughters. Danny Campbell's regional acting credits include the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Utah Shakespearean Festival, the Vermont Stage, Stage West, the Mint Theatre in New York City, and six years with the Independent Shakespeare Company in Los Angeles. His favorite roles include Falstaff, Bottom, Launce, and the Porter. He has appeared in CBS's The Guardian, the recent films A Pool, a Fool, and a Duel and Greater Than Gravity, and over twenty-five commercials. Danny is also a member of the adjunct faculty in the theatre arts department at Santa Monica College. He has recently narrated the audiobook Once a Spy by Keith Thomson, and he read the part of David Foster Wallace in Mike Lipsky's Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.
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