Sunday, October 05, 2014

Enfamilial Crow Language

As many of you know,  I've been watching Crows for decades.  And of course the Crows have been watching me back.  

That, as we know, is one of the issues with CrowsThey know they're being watched and being Corvids, therefore very smart,  they hold their cards close to the chest.

For all we know they could be playing cards but we just haven't caught them at it yet.  

Actually no, I don't think they likely play cards but we do know that they have been observed in the throes of  competitive pig riding, have crafty ways of getting nuts cracked by humans driving cars, and that they slide down snow covered roofs on bottle caps for the fun of it..

They also communicate vocally.  We've all heard Crows using their public, long distance language, the caw.

But I've always had a strong suspicion that Crows had to have a reasonably complex enfamilial language, a vocal system of communication used with mates, offspring and other intimates.

Red-tailed Hawks have it. 

 Marie Winn, the author of Red-tails in Love and Central Park In the Dark, recounted an occasion when she was standing under a tree in which Pale Male and one of his mates were perched and they were vocalizing to each other in an sweet musical way.  I heard Charlotte "talking" to her eyasses Big and Little on the Trump Parc nest from a nearby window.

Last week I was in the house and happened to be standing, yet again,  near a window and I heard this rippling musical sound that had to be a bird (It was coming from above my head), but it certainly didn't sound like any bird I'd ever heard before.

I  very slowly and carefully pulled the drape aside about an inch and peered up.

There is a Crow up in the Ponderosa Pine and her beak is opening and closing to the rythmn of the sound.

Unbelievable!  A Crow is making that sound?

My  apologies, the sound is very difficult to describe. 

We all have a general idea what "a trill" sounds like. Right?  It is fast and it undulates.  

Think of a trill.

Now take it down an octave or two and play it in your head at less than half speed.

Make it lovely.  Make it  musical.  

 I know, I know, we aren't supposed to give human emotions to animals we're watching but... it sounded happy and it sounded affectionate.

And as always when you absolutely must find a way to record something unexpected, the expected happens.

The cassette recorder won't work.  

Then the sound outside stopped. 


Two days later, I'm once again standing near the same window and I hear it again.

Yes!  But I still don't have anything to hand to record it with.

Okay, okay, how about video?  That has sound!  I don't dare pull the drape aside so just hit record.

The mic isn't sensitive enough.

The sound stops.

The next day I hear it again and I pull the curtain aside just a little wider than before to try and get the recorder to have less of a barrier.

The Crow looks down and sees me.  She caws the alert.  The Crows fly away.

I haven't heard it since.  

I've searched the web for any recordings.  I've found nothing so far.

If you do, please send it along.

Donegal Browne