Thoughts: Gifts of the Crow, by John Marzluff and Tony Angell

Another top notch non-fiction recommendation by the kind soul who recommended Your Inner Fish, Why The West Rules – For Now, and The Mismeasure of Man, and she continues to hit it out of the park, as the Yanks would say.

This is a book I picked up as research for a short story, which feels intensely embarrassing to say, as I am a hack who has no place writing the kinds of stories that need researching, but there it is, so let’s never speak of it again.

Snip for length and convenience.

Gifts of the Crow is pretty layperson-friendly as a rule, and comes with plenty of charming illustrations, but it does go pretty deep into neurobiology in places, which I couldn’t quite get my head around. It didn’t impact my enjoyment, and they explain what it all means clearly enough, I just couldn’t quite tell you the specifics of which parts of the brain are doing what with which receptors at any given time.

Pedant time! In the Kindle version there are a couple of typos including “peak” for “peek” and “distain” for “disdain”, but I tend not to blame authors for that because that’s not how that works. Still, I wanted to note it here.

Quite a few of the corvid features Marzluff and Angell mention in this book have become more common knowledge (I’m not sure how common outside my internet spheres but you know), mostly in viral Facebook videos and posts and things – crows befriending domestic pets, crows surfing down roofs on trays, etc. I liked that, though; the authors are clear from the start that they’ve done their very best to verify and corroborate all the eyewitness accounts they’ve been entrusted with, and knowing there’s proof out there of some makes the others feel that much more plausible.

Even if you’re up on crow stuff in popular culture, which I think I’d consider myself to be, there was plenty in Gifts of the Crow that I didn’t know and was fascinated to read about. Along with the tales of people’s pet crows’ antics and the clevernesses of crows in experimental situations, there were some more New Agey anecdotes*, about which Marzluff and Angell were very generous, discussing our own more spiritual sides and personal folklores and cultural traditions in a serious, anthropological/sociological way, talking about how the crow has shaped us as well as how we have shaped it.

This one’s going to stick with me for a while, and lucky for me, the index is really thorough so I’ll be able to dip in and out as I need to. I’ve barely finished the book but already on my walks around the park I’ve already started keeping an eye out for our local crows, to see what they might be up to, and watching the magpies sitting at the top of the tallest tree on the island in Rebstockpark, rattling away, wondering what they’re planning.

*Confession time: there is a certain strain of Crow Person that I find immensely tedious, and you see them all over social media kidnapping nestlings and generally behaving as though crows are part of their aesthetic rather than their ecosystem. I’m sure it’s mostly harmless, aside from the upsetting number of people I’ve seen who don’t seem to be knowledgeable crow owners, but I am a grumpy old woman. Anyway, this particular kind of Crow Person doesn’t appear in the book, and, terrible as I am, I was relieved.

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