I could hardly wait to try the Cornell Lab Bird ID app during February’s Great Backyard Bird Count.

Especially the sound identification feature.

When you select it, ‘Merlin’ listens and tells you which birds it hears.

I already know the beautiful songs of house finches, cardinals, and Carolina wrens. The low, mournful coo of doves. I know birds of the night by sound: the haunting, onomatopoetic call of the whippoorwill in summer, the hair-raising screech and who? who? who? of owls. What other wonders are hidden in the woods surrounding my home?

And so it was one damp, drab morning that I stepped out on the back deck with my phone and opened up the bird wizard (the name Merlin is too good).

First bird heard:


The words American crow popped up in the app.

Thanks, Merlin. That’s only the easiest bird sound in the world. I knew it as a little kid watching Kornfield Kounty in Hee Haw.

Globally speaking, however: Is there a bird more steeped in superstition, legend, and lore? Or with more conflicted symbolism?

Harbinger of death and sickness. Psychopomp, spiritual guide for the human soul. A sign of transformation, balance, wisdom, confidence, trickery… crows are even said to carry a person’s prayers to heaven.

They are scavengers but they cannot tear flesh open with their own beaks and have to wait for some other toothed predator to start the process; they’ve been known to lead wolves or other hunters to prey. Crows don’t dine exclusively on meat; they’ll eat “almost anything,” researchers say.

Scientists say that crows have big brains and are aware of their own thoughts. In Norse mythology, two crows (or ravens, depending on the source) whose names meant Thought and Memory rode the shoulders of Odin. Crows act with deliberation. They are keen observers. They use tools like sticks and shells when needed to get their food. They learn to recognize human faces and have been known to leave gifts such as pebbles or pretty shards of broken pottery as a thank you for humans who have fed them…


Crows also prey on songbirds…

There’s Papa House Finch singing like Tevye on the roof of my house while Mama Finch is nestled on little blue eggs so perfectly hidden in the wreath on my front door…

Don’t even think about it, Crows. The finches are mine.


In all my dreams about birds—for there’ve been many—I’ve not seen finches. Eagles, peacocks, owls, and whippoorwills (I think) have appeared.

And one bright-eyed crow, sitting in the gravel beside a car, with a bright green stone or ball, waiting to give it to me.

What does it mean?? That is the question…


I feel pretty sure about this one thing: If a crow offers you a gift…take it.

AMERICAN CROWcuatrok77. CC BY-SA 2.0.

One more bit of food for thought: The name Merlin has a controversial origin history itself… possibly derived from French merle, which means blackbird.


with thanks to two fellow Slicers in the Two Writing Teachers community:
Kim Johnson, for pointing me to the Great Backyard Bird Count, and
Ms. Chiubooka (Cindy), for recently wondering what my take on crows would be.

We’re all in the daily Slice of Life Story Challenge together.

Writing life.

12 thoughts on “Crows

  1. Hi Fran, I really enjoy my Merlin bird app. The song identifier is so helpful. Crows and ravens are one of my favorite birds to notice. It is probably because they have such a rich history and connection with humans. I also remember hearing that crows can hold a grudge! Good luck on the bird count!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your piece moves so beautifully from the moment to information to nostalgia and insight. There’s something about your portrayal of crows that makes me want to go outside and watch for them– maybe send a prayer or two their way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fran, I always am amazed at all the new knowledge you bring us of birds, and the ways you resurrect the remembering of knowledge long buried. When you mentioned the crows using sticks to get to their food, it reminded me of the Aesop fable (I think it was Aesop) where the crow can’t get to the water in the pitcher, so it uses pebbles to raise the water. I hand’t thought of that in years, but I read it all the time as a child. They are indeed some smart birds.
    I’m thrilled that you are enjoying the Merlin bird app and that it is working to help identify the birds that come to visit you. I’m going to be on the lookout for a can of crow repellent that we can spray around your front door to keep the crows away from the sweet finches.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Crows have something like a funeral service for their dead, too, with little piles of sticks – endlessly fascinating. My sweet finches seem to be thriving in their porch sanctuary!


  4. I am so glad to have learned about the Great Bird Count; thanks for passing it along! Our neighbor whistles Beethoven to call crows to his yard for snacks. And they come! Love all the information in such snack-like format. Facts take wing here!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Omg this is superb! Love the history and lore you weave throughout the piece. Favorite word has to be psychopomp. And yes, they recognize faces! I swear they know mine- I’m the one shooing them away on garbage day. Thank you thank you for writing this!


  6. Wow, interesting to learn so much about crows. I find them quite unlikeable and ever present (ie. every part of the globe I’ve visited they’ve been there and made their presence felt). Thanks for the mention of the bird app, I would love to know the names of birds singing around me.

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