For the last week or so my neighbours and I have been awakened just before sunrise by the sound of crows swooping about and cawing, landing in trees and squawking. Yesterday I had the good fortune to be able to ask one of these crows a few questions when he dropped by my bird feeder.
I watched him munch away for a few minutes through the window until he noticed me and nodded his appreciation for the snack. I slowly opened the window and greeted him.
“Good morning sir,” he said pleasantly.
“If you have a moment,” I said. “Can I ask you a few questions?”
“Please feel free,” he replied.
“Mr. Crow,” I began, but he put up his wing to stop me.
“Please, call me Carl.”
“Thank you Carl, I was going to ask why you and your fellow crows, every spring, go through this process of swooping about the neighbourhood en masse at sunrise.”
“Oh that’s simple,” he began. “We are updating our distance service, much like every now and then you may notice a Google vehicle passing along your street with all those cameras on top. They update their map service all the time.”
Trying to impress him with my knowledge of collective nouns I said “Your murder provides a distance service, Carl.”
“First let me point out that we prefer flock and not murder,” he stated. “We had a terrible time with that collective. People and other birds figured we had a gang mentality, Crips, Bloods and a Murder of Crows; not very nice. We launched a successful Stop the Murder of Crows campaign, that had a positive dual effect.”
“OK, so flock it is, just like seagulls.”
“No, not like seagulls, we are crows.”
No,” I explained. “I mean a flock of seagulls.”
“Are you referring to the New Wave eighties band from Liverpool?” he asked me.
“No, I just mean I will now refer to your group as a flock and not a murder as was once the fashion.” I said trying to get us back on subject.
“Good, because that whole murder thing was very damaging to our reputation. Hopefully it will be heard nevermore”
“Can I quoth you on that?” I asked.
“I may be black, but I am a crow, not a raven, so no ‘quothing’ please, let’s keep this off the record.” he replied sternly.
“Fine, but I am very curious about this updating you are carrying out. And all that noise.”
“It’s simple, we fly about shouting to the recorder crows, those with iPad, the various distances between points on our journey. We then update our service.”
“Okay,” I said. “Please tell me a bit about this service you mention.”
“Certainly, although I imagine you are familiar with it already. It is called ‘As the Crow Flies’ and gives people a much more accurate assessment of the direct distance between two places.”
“More accurate than Google and GPS?” I asked.
“Without question,” Carl replied.
“So you fly about constantly reassessing and updating your service. Do you publish the results in a book?”
“We used to, but now we find it more helpful to post it on the Internet at http://www.asthecrowflies.org.”
He was in a rush to get back to his flock so I thanked him and wished him well. As he was about to leave he said I should consider downloading the app, available for iPhone and Android.