Thursday, June 27, 2019

Birds that go straight

Corvids: a family of birds comprising the crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers.

"As the crow flies" means in a straight line.

The chess piece that moves in a straight line -- called a chariot or castle in most languages -- is known in English as a rook.

When Noah released birds from the ark, the dove returned -- flew in a circle -- but the raven did not.

When, instead of making a detour to the nearest crosswalk, one opts to traverse the shortest distance between two points, one is said to be guilty of jaywalking.


S.K. Orr said...

Such a delightful post with which to begin my day. I have a special fondness for crows, having long been fascinated by their intelligence and industry. I've earned a reputation among the people at my job for being something of an eccentric because I daily feed the crows who gather near the parking lot. I had never made the connections you emphasized in your post. Thank you!

Bruce Charlton said...

Good observation. I too have a liking for corvids.

Although I've never knowingly seen a Raven (very rare in Britain), I was very taken with the Raven King in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Crows are all over the place, including our garden - what I most enjoy about them is when they mob a hawk and drive it away. I saw a fantastic display in the borders, where the hawk (a buzzard I think) ended up being pursued a few miles by a particularly aggressive crow - showing off, I suppose.

We have a couple of pairs of Magpies in and near the garden (who sometimes fight) and they are so obviously intelligent (far more so than most birds) and pair-bonded that I can't help but like them - although they are generally considered a serious nuisance, and nasty predators on other birds' eggs and babies, which is true. Newcastle Magpies supposedly discovered how to peck through foil milk bottle tops, thereby giving some humans in this area the very nasty type of food poisoning called Campylobacter - I speak from experience. I enjoy setting them little puzzles by hiding peanuts inaccessibly: the magpies have no trouble, but the crows haven't a clue.

I've seen Jays only briefly and a couple of times, on the fences; but sometimes a small group of Jackdaws will graze on the lawn. Michael Woodley (my old collaborator on IQ research) used to have a pet Jackdaw, and he tells me they are the most intelligent of our native birds (although some parrots are supreme internationally) - Jackdaws can sometimes solve a puzzle they have never seen before - without trial-and-error, apparently by exmaining it and realising how the thing is done.

Our other main British corvids are Rooks, which used to be abundant living in elm trees. When the elms all died, I saw no rooks for a long time, but they have made a bit of a come-back in the past decade. They used to have a bad rep for descending in flocks upon cornfields ('corn' here is wheat, barley, rye or oats - depending on location) and stripping them - and in olden times, 100 ya, many rural kids first job was as 'bird scarers' trying to stop this.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I'm so glad to find that this completely random post resonated with some of you.

I'm very fond of crows, too, but unfortunately I now live in a country in which, although they appear in field guides, they are so vanishingly rare that I've never seen or heard a single one in the 15 years I've been here. Our local corvids are the very intelligent Himalayan treepie and the spectacular Formosan blue magpie.

Mynahs (which are starlings, not corvids) are ubiquitous here and are also very intelligent and full of personality. They've discovered that the hollow horizontal aluminum poles that hold up traffic lights are the perfect nesting sites -- completely inaccessible to predators -- and just about every traffic light in the city hosts a hidden mynah nest. I once rescued a fledgling that had fallen from such a nest and kept it in my home for a while. The guy I buy mealworms from keeps a tame mynah, and if it sees a coin it does a little head-bobbing dance and chants (in Chinese) "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

?Mynahs in traffic-light nests

S.K. Orr said...

I've seen the same mobbing of hawks that Bruce fact, just last weekend in the woods behind my home.

The crows I've been feeding at work for 12+ years know me very well. When I arrive, the two largest ones will swoop over my head as I walk to the building, cawing seven times each. One of them has been there all that time; I know him by his peculiar walk, which suggests an old injury.

I've watched them use "hooks" fashioned from branches to retrieve things. And I once watched a pair work together to get French fries from a discarded bag. One stood on the edge of the bag to keep it from sliding away while the other ducked inside and pulled out the fries, one by one, and placed them in two piles. "One for you, one for me..."

I read a book on crows some years ago that described their ability to mimic, like parrots, etc. A road crew in the Southwest was doing demolition with dynamite, coordinating their actions with walkie-talkies. Members of the crew reported a crow imitating their radio communications: "" and then an eerily accurate, crow-reproduced sound of a large explosion.

White sands, red sun

Bruce Charlton recently posted on C. S. Lewis's Law of Undulation . For me, the undulation tends to be between thinking and synching. I ...