A cheer for the corvids

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To the Editor:

Apparently I’ve been included in the Facebook group Martha’s Vineyard Bird Alert. I’ve been treated to various posts and pictures of very colorful, pretty birds — cardinals, blue jays, robins, etc. I’d like to comment about my outside “pets,” birds that are either ignored or despised by many in the community — crows.

Crows have always been given a bad rap, and like some of our neighbors, portrayed as the “other.” For example, for those who remember the Disney movie “Dumbo,” the crows that initially mock Dumbo are racially depicted, which in 1941 was, of course, acceptable, as was the use of the name “Jim Crow” for the main crow figure. Today, such characterizations would be frowned upon (at least in some parts of the country).

Then there are crow cousins, the magpies, denigrated in cartoon form as Heckle and Jeckle. Of course, in the ’40s, this was all good fun (not really), but would anyone attempt to make fools out of blue jays or cardinals? I realize that Woody Woodpecker was an idiot, but that holds true for real woodpeckers. It comes from banging their heads against trees for their whole life.

But corvids such as crows and magpies are universally denigrated, made fun of, and portrayed as evil. We have Edgar Allan Poe’s raven and the dark film “The Crow.”

All this leads up to my defense of corvids in general and crows in particular. I submit that they are a vital part of nature, the sanitation department of the wild. They clean the roadways of carrion, roadkill, and other detritus that other creatures disdain. Squirrels (rats with puffy tails) wouldn’t come near the stuff. You’ll never see the “pretty birds” with their bright, fancy feathers chowing down on a perfectly good dead skunk or squirrel. Gulls might help the cleanup effort, but usually prefer beach areas and seafood.

So in an effort to show our black-feathered friends our appreciation for all that they do, we purchased some cold cuts especially for them (Stop and Shop had a sale). In addition to being polite (they wait in the trees for the food) and cute (more so than blue jays), they reciprocate. In addition to their sanitation efforts, they leave little gifts — seashells and other trinkets.

Finally, unlike other creatures that are destructive, and people who often are hurtful, these birds are relatively civilized, appear to care about each other, and don’t appear to be deceitful. Given the present political climate, this is something to crow about.

I suggest we refer to a group of crows as something less hurtful than a “murder.” Geese come in a “gaggle,” hummingbirds in a “charm,” and larks in an “exaltation”; maybe crows should come in a “party” or a “clique.” Watching a group of crows, one can only be impressed by their comradery. Sure, they squawk at each other, but in the end they share and have a good community. Humans could learn something from them.

Ted Jochsberger
West Tisbury