Crow Journal 2

05 / 04 / 2023

Thoughts about crows, sightings, encounters, communication ... 
I looked on the map.

Hooded crow, hoodie, scald-crow. Grey jacket over black feathers. A patch of red from a dividing line east from this city, spreading north and east and as far south as the Persian Gulf. Carrion crows, jet black, glossy, to the west of the dividing and then in scattered pockets as far as another dense patch of green in Japan.  

I grew up around carrion crows, black shadows scratched out of the sky, flapping shapes in the trees like carrier bags caught there, tattered by the wind. Glamorous, somehow, with their purpleblack irridescence among all the post industrial, almost suburban wreckage of alleyways and abandoned fridges, up and over garages containing god knows what. Glamourous, somehow, even through we knew they ate the dog shit in the park, picked at the unspeakable left on the pavements after a heavy Friday night.

They gathered in gangs and made a noise and caused trouble. We all did.

When I went to Tokyo, after I graduated, the crows were even bigger, even blacker, caused even more trouble. They were even more glamorous, terrorising the city from the tops of dumpsters. Thieving, gossiping, staking claim on their territories from telegraph poles and balconies, ignoring the stringed up CDs that failed to scare them off. They haunted the forest of Meijijingu Shrine. They stole my cigarettes from the table on the balcony while I was sitting there. 

One year, perhaps the year I left, the city tried to kill them off. Said they were pests. A nuisance. So they put poison in their food sources. But they must have got the dose wrong. Instead, I saw angry crows, in pain, pissed off. Many of them lost their feathers on their heads and chests, exposing their grey skin, turning them into angry, pissed off demons.

I didn’t see hooded crows until much later when I came to Berlin. The first one I saw, I thought there was something wrong with it, some health condition or genetic flaw, its grey jacket an aberration. Then I realised they all wore grey jackets, and their feathers were softer, less lustre. They were the same crows though. Same behaviours, same character, same noise and glamour.

Almost the same.

It took science until less than two decades ago to realise that hooded crows and carrion crows are differentiated by more than a trivial difference in plumage. That hybrids along the line of contact do not show hybrid vigour, but rather the opposite. That their DNA is different enough that they are different species.  

The crows on Tempelhofer Feld can only be described as a city, a city defined not by concrete or structures, but by wheeling and whirling, by territories, by interlocking groups joining together and then peeling off again.

They are always there. We got to know their habits. They are usually cagey and shy, quick to fly off when you get too close. But in the early mornings, when the pickings in the grass are rich, they form intent ranks, beaks down. They are so intent on their labour, so intent on the protein rich, calorie rich bounty of worms coming up for air, that they don’t care if you get close, flutter away only grudgingly as you run by.

They are collegiate with the clattering magpies, the babbling jackdaws, the few rooks that pick at the fields on the eastern fringes of the park with scabrous beaks. They watch the lone black raven fly high, once in the morning, once in the evening, in the same way dolphins might watch a passing whale. 

They harry the birds of prey, nipping at their wings, cawing in delight and turning in spirals as the hawks and falcons just fly in dogged straight lines, hoping for some peace and a mouse. 

They gather near the old communications array before sundown forming a great, noisy gyre. As the whirl reaches its climax, a group leaves for its roosting trees, while the rest of the cohort settles again, chuckling and bustling, waiting for the next great gyre. 

From roost, to assembly tree, to foraging team, to communion. Alone, in pairs, separate. The crows crow. 

We told one another stories about how they can fly through time. How the crows here and now are the same crows that watched walls fall and graves dug, that watched the first huts smudge smoke against the sky. They’re the same one who watch the last of us. 

They’re going to build here. Houses. Retail units. ‘Carefully,’ they say, but carefully for whom? 

It’s tempting to think the crows are invincible, flying from time to time, glamorous, humorous, untouchable. But are they? I remember the crows in Tokyo, angry, in pain. I didn’t see any dead crows, though I suppose there must have been some. So where did they go to die?

I’ve never seen a dead crow, just a crow that isn’t there.