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86 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Those noisy neighbours, 15 Feb 2007
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
They lack the colour glories of parrots and lorikeets. They're not like the little tweetie birds of our childhood books. Probably the best known of them is Poe's bleak image - perched atop a skull croaking its dismal litany. Long before Poe, however, the corvids had gained a shady reputation in Western European legends and myths. Crows and ravens were messengers of dark fortunes sent by agents of evil intent. As is so often the case with relying on literature to depict Nature, the legends misled us. The reality is far more interesting and explains more than fiction ever has. Marzluff and Angell, are dedicated scholars in the history and legends of the corvids. This book reflects well that background, and their combined skills present what they've gleaned with style and wit.

Perhaps no other species has shown how Darwinian adaptability can work as have crows, the authors suggest. Once wild and scattered, the crow has become habitated to human settlement. They were certainly scavengers at human feeding sites, whether people were hunters or scavengers themselves. Agriculture clearly brought them from the forests to the fields we planted. Grain crops - "the staff of life" - enticed them to our neighbourhoods quickly. The rise of cities only intensified the contact and offered the crow fresh opportunity. The "fast-food" restaurant, with its Dumpsters and scattered, food bearing trash, brings them hovering over what they clearly find a delicacy. They may even become selective, choosing the more brightly-coloured fries container over an equally laden drab one. It's even possible that the newly inhabited urban existence may be enhancing their numbers. The hunting activities in farmland is lacking in the city, but there are many nesting sites. We may complain about their noisy presence, but we brought them into our neighbourhood.

Nobody has ever questioned the intelligence of the Corvus genus. Crows, ravens, rooks and their relations are considered grand tricksters at best, and opportunist thieves at least. Their intelligence is stated by the authors as being the equivalent of "flying monkeys". Marzluff and Angell relate how crows in Japan took up residence near a driving school. They learned to drop nuts under the tires of stopped autos, returning to retrieve the meat after the wheel passed over and crushed the nut. The talent spread out over time and crows many kilometres away now practice the feat. Antics of this sort have been observed over the centuries, with our culture adopting Corvid elements into stories and descriptions. What are the wrinkles alongside the eyes of the elderly, but "crow's feet". We'll pass over the origins of "eating crow".

Corvid intellect goes beyond tricks and chance. The authors have witnessed both a murder of a crow by its fellows. They've also observed "funerals" in which a mob of crows silently surrounds a departed member [not the "murdered" one] for a long period, only to depart without a sound beyond the flutter of wings. Quiet crows are unusual. They also, it has been learned, developed the ability to count. Tests conducted with crows indicate they can count to five. They also "play". According to the authors, crows will slide down snowbanks or another smooth surface much as otters do, and with as little discernible purpose. Perhaps it's indicative that the Norse god Odin had two ravens, Thought and Memory as companions.

There's much more to be said about this book. As a resource, it's without peer, covering all aspects of Corvid life from mating rituals to nesting practices and territorial claims. As a narrative of observations, it reads much as an adventure story. You needn't be a fan of crows or ravens to enjoy this book. Angell's artwork greatly enhances the text, and is both informative and a treat in itself. The Corvids are your close neighbours and it's both pleasurable and profitable to read about who and what they are. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CROWS OF THE WORLD, UNITE AND TAKE OVER!, 2 Sep 2008
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This review is from: In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Paperback)
Many people hate crows, magpies and related birds. I don't. Already as a kid, my mother gave me and my brother two crocheted toy crows. You heard me. Naturally, we named them Hugin and Munin. We did live in Sweden, after all. I was also fascinated by real, non-crocheted magpies. They had built an enormous nest in a tall tree just outside our window, in the middle of an apartment building neighbourhood! And you wonder why I review corvoid books, are you now?

;-)

"In the company of crows and ravens" by John Marzluff and Tony Angell must be the ultimate nerd book on American Crows and the Common Raven, although many other species are mentioned in passing. To be honest, John and Tony are the kind of natural scientists who prefer socializing with birds to writing books, which makes their book shaky at times, in terms of style and disposition. Sometimes, they mysteriously return to subjects already covered in a previous chapter, and they often introduce new subjects without natural transitions from the previous ones. Did I mind? Naaah, not this time. The book is simply too interesting!

If there is a main theme in this rollercoaster ride of a book, it's co-evolution between humans and crows/ravens. For instance, the authors believe that the American, Northwestern and Fish Crows were originally a single species. The primordial American Crow evolved into three distinct species by adapting to three different kinds of Native American culture. Today, as the big cities are expanding, the American Crows are becoming more widespread, interbreeding with the previously isolated Northwestern Crows. Also, the subspecies of the American Crow more frequently interbreed with each other. The authors speculate that global warming might induce the American Crow to breed earlier in the year, making it possible for American Crows to interbreed with Fish Crows as well. If urban expansion (and climate change) continues, this might lead to the emergence of a single, homogenous, all-purpose Crow in North America!

Urban expansion, and the prohibition against shooting birds within city limits, seems to be the main reason for the rapid expansion of the American Crow. With little or no natural predators, and abundant food supplies, sudden epidemics seem to be the only thing that can stop the crows from expanding virtually endlessly. The authors also make the interesting observation that suburbia rather than the urban centres are the best breeding- and hunting-grounds for crows. Apparently, crows and their chicks can't *simply* live on junk food, and need suburban lawns and parks to find natural food, such as insects! Why are we not surprised?

Of course, crow-human interaction doesn't always benefit the crows. The book mentions several island crows driven to extinction or near-extinction by humans or human-introduced predators.

An entire chapter of the book is devoted to corvid influence on human culture. It turns out that there are Stone Age cave paintings showing ravens, that many Native American peoples considered the crow or the raven to be the creator of the universe, and that crows have inspired Japanese art. In Europe, crows were observed for purposes of divination, and the Norse god Odin was accompanied by two ravens named...guess what...Hugin and Munin. It also turns out that eating crow isn't as rare as you might think, not even in the US. However, crows were sometimes served under the phoney designation "Rook", apparently because Rooks were considered even more delicious! Finally, the authors reveal that the Crow Indians were named by arrogant White settlers - in reality, they worship the eagle.

There are also chapters on crow behaviour, intelligence and altruism. Apparently, crows sometimes take care of family members that have been maimed and can't take care of themselves. On the other hand, crows might be very aggressive to non-family members. If a dominant crow is seriously injured, he might be attacked and even killed by other crows, eager to replace him. It also turns out that crows and ravens use deception in some of their social interactions. Crows and ravens are definitely more intelligent than other birds, with the possible exception of parrots. The authors mention an experiment proving that Jackdaws can count to five!

Sometimes, Marzluff and Angell venture into the twilight zone, as when they seriously discuss whether crows execute other crows, a persistent myth in many cultures, or wonder whether crows really are re-incarnated humans souls. I didn't quite get *these* parts of the book. Is John secretly a member of some spiritualist cult? May I join up?

Once again, this book could have been more well-written. Still, if you belong to the small minority of humankind that's fascinated with American Crows and Ravens (mostly the former), this is definitely the buy of the month.

And no, I wont tell you where me and my brother keep those crocheted toy crows. Hands off, you thievish little magpie.

:-D
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 9 Jun 2013
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This review is from: In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Paperback)
I chose this as I needed some detail on crows, intending to flick through and pick out the bits I required. However I read it all and this is an indication of the book's readability. It is an American book and an American literary style and draws mainly from American sources,which may be a disadvantage if you want to read about crows in Europe. It is aimed very much at the non specialist with an entry level interest. It gave me all I needed, was interesting and I enjoyed reading it. No photoplates but great and often moody drawings
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5.0 out of 5 stars In the Company of Ravens, 29 May 2014
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This review is from: In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Paperback)
This is a fantastic book made even better by the top quality illustrations - the authors should be congratulated for their fascinating look at the natural history but also the folk lore of corvids, and their long association with man. The inclusion of some of the rarer species (e.g. the Hawaiian Crow) and the conservation measures brought in for such species is particularly interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, 14 April 2014
By 
C. A. Gammon "Claire" (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In the Company of Crows and Ravens (Paperback)
This is a fantastic book, great writing & information. Superb pictures and drawings, cannot recommend more highly. Great present idea.
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In the Company of Crows and Ravens
In the Company of Crows and Ravens by Tony Angell (Paperback - 23 Mar 2007)
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