Two people recently wrote, one from Indianapolis, the other from another state, and told me that crows feeding on carrion in a road are sometimes hit and killed by passing trucks, but they are almost never hit by cars. The reason: Crows feeding in a road have a lookout, and when a car approaches, the lookout calls, “Cah-cah-cah.”
Crows, however, haven’t learned how to say, “Truck.”
Okay, it’s a corny joke. But after reading it, I thought about crow, first just the word. According to the dictionary, to crow is to “utter noises indicative of pleasure; to exult or gloat; to boast.”
Was this common bird named “crow” because it seemed happy, or that it appeared to be exultant or boastful?
Are we supposed to be happy, exultant or boastful when we say we have something to crow about?
Looking next in “Words for Birds” by Edward S. Gruson, I read, “Crow is the bird that crows. The noun and the verb are derivative and onomatopoeic.” Reading on in Gruson, after going to the dictionary again to find out what “onomatopoeic” meant, I read that in Middle English, the bird was a crowe and its call was to crowen.
In Old English, it was “crawe” and “crawen.” In German, it was “krahe,” which means “crow,” according to my German-English dictionary, and krahen.
Everybody must know what a crow looks like. I learned when I was just a boy, about the same time I learned to recognize a robin and a sparrow. Crows weren’t as numerous as robins and sparrows, but they were common and they were everywhere. I saw them in the town where I grew up. I saw them in the country. I saw them in woods. I saw them and I heard them, thought I thought then they said “Caw,” not “Cah.”
Besides, I often heard crows calling where there was no road. When I was in a wooded area and heard them, I hurried toward the sound whenever I could, whenever I wasn’t on the way home, and later than I’d been told to be back.
A flock of crows calling in a woods, I learned, often meant a great horned owl. The crows would have spotted the owl, and they’d be circling about, diving at the owl, harassing it. I didn’t see great horned owls often, but when I did, more often than not it was because of the calling of a mob of crows.
Crows are not among the most popular if birds. They eat the eggs and nestlings of smaller birds, and most people are prejudiced in favor of the smaller birds. They eat corn on the cob when it’s in the milk stage. They eat fruit. On the other hand, they also eat many insects.
Crows are intelligent birds. Once they were hunted widely, frequently shot on sight. But they adapted. Many hunters claim crows call at them, as well as owls and cars, warning other anumals of a hunter’s location and approach, another reason they are not popular.
They learned to recognize men as dangerous and to stay out of their way. I’ve heard hunters say crows recognize a man with a gun, and perhaps they do. When I’m out without a gun, which for me is whenever I’m out, I have often gotten quite close to a crow or crows, particularly when they’re mobbing a great horned owl.
At one time, before it became illegal, crows were kept as pets. Young crows taken from a nest and raised in a home became tame, and could be taught tricks. They could also learn to mimic people, to say some words.
But as far as I know, no crow ever learned to say “truck.”