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Ephemera: Crows.

Ephemera: Crows.

Ephemera: Crows.

Painting by Thomas Hooper

Jon Moy is a freelance writer based in Detroit. He’s written about a lot of things, but mostly about fashion. He’s just happy to be here.

If you’ve ever wondered what my writing process is, it’s a fairly simple three step endeavor.

1. Come up with an idea.
2. Procrastinate.
3. Write.

That’s about it. The real interesting bit is number 2. My preferred way to avoid writing is to get temporarily obsessed with something and learn as much as I can in the time before my deadline becomes due. Instead of just boring my friends and family with borderline useless facts and fascinations, I’m gonna bore you guys with them. This week? It’s all about crows.

Crows and the family they belong to, are incredibly smart. Like, really fucking smart. There’s scientific evidence that not only do crows have incredibly long memories, but they also have imaginations and concepts of time. They also use tools and like chimpanzees and humans, pass down tool making techniques and strategies. A phenomenon some scholars call culture.

Crows and their direct relatives can solve multistep puzzles. Like, there’s a study that shows how these birds can observe a human operate a three step series of locks and successfully operate these locks in the specific order required. BUT THERE’S MORE. They aren’t just replicating a learned behavior, they demonstrate the ability to understand the concept of a series of interrelated tasks. For example, let’s say in order to work the puzzle, the first step is lifting a latch, the second is removing a pin, and the third is then pressing a lever. If you remove the second step, namely removing the pin, a crow will know it can skip the first step and the second step and go straight to pressing the lever. It understands sequences.

How do we know they have a concept of time? There’s a type of corvidae that store food in hidden caches, much like squirrels. If given both long lasting food types (like nuts) and food with decidedly shorter expiration dates (like mealworms) the birds will retrieve the mealworms far sooner than the nuts. Further, a relative of crows is capable of planning for an uncertain future, something my bank account would argue I am incapable of, by caching food in an experiment that randomly withheld morning feedings. Every night without knowing if they’d get breakfast or not, they’d stash some mealworms, just in case.

They also remember faces, including human faces. Scientists wore masks and some of them fed crows and others harassed them. The crows learned which masks were benevolent, and which were antagonistic and developed specific calls to tell other crows which humans to fuck with and which ones to not fuck with. And they held on to this knowledge for years and passed it down.

What do I do with all these Crow Facts™? Like crows, I remember them and rely on them to slowly befriend crows and their relatives. That way, when I’m in a bind that only crows could help me out of, they’ll be like “Yo that’s that guy who fed us stale bread and occasional french fries at the park, we should help him solve this 8 step puzzle and perhaps, once he’s out of this jam, help him learn how to plan for his future. He’s always wearing a new t-shirt or pair of jeans and there’s no way he’s saving enough money for a rainy day.” It’s like in Training Day when Ethan Hawke saves that one girl and it turns out her uncles were hired by Denzel to assassinate him and they don’t because he helped out their niece. Just like that, but with crows.