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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aesop Was Right



I am a great admirer of crows, ravens, all the corvids. A gaggle of them spy on me regularly from the eucalyptus trees in front of the house, commenting and reporting on my comings and goings in dark muttered croaks. Or they sit in the huge dead pine tree by the road watching me while I sit in my yellow summer chair and read books about . . . crows.

So it was with interest I read a story by Thomas Maugh II that appeared in the 8-8-09 L.A. Times: “Birds live up to fabled ingenuity.” Writes Mr. Maugh, “In ‘The Crow and the Pitcher,’ Aesop wrote of a thirsty bird confronted with a half-full pitcher of water. When the bird discovered that the water level was too low to reach, he dropped stones in to raise the level until it was high enough to quench his thirst.

“Aptly named zoologist Christopher David Bird of University of Cambridge showed that rooks, members of the crow family, could perform the same task, dropping stones into a tall glass beaker to retrieve a floating wax worm.

"The results, reported this week in the journal Current Biology, are not totally unexpected: Crows have previously been shown to use leaves and sticks as probes to dig out grubs, and shells and rocks as hammers to break open prey or as plugs to form pools of water for drinking.”

Continues Maugh, “The birds appeared to calculate how high the water had to rise, and put in only enough stones to raise the water to that level, not stopping to try to reach the worm after each stone. They also figured out quickly that larger stones would raise the water more quickly.

“The only other animals known to have accomplished a similar feat are orangutans . . . but the rooks’ feat is more impressive . . . because their brains are much smaller than those of orangutans.”

Volumetric smarty pants in elegant black plumage. Who keep a sharp eye on what humans are up to. We have been warned.

10 comments:

Alon Perlman said...

A gaggle?
Of geese. A pride of lions. A sleuth of bears. A smearing of activists. A murder of crows. (follow the link for another interesting collective term for crows)
Many years ago I visited the tower of London, and was amazed at the size and brazenness of the individuals of the unkindness of ravens. Their beaks as black as ancient iron, disappearing to a point sharper than any stiletto, were more imposing then the medieval weaponry inside.

Birdbrains? I once saw a documentary where a bird (species unknown, kingfisher?) had taught itself to bait-fish by finding bread from dumpsters and dropping it at the edge of a pond, then going for the small fish. The lesson for humans is more complex. The biologist described it as a unique situation. The bird was of a species that does not train its young and hunts solitary. (or possibly it was a male). Therefore there is no entry of this self-discovered hunting technique into the rest of the species. Birds do also inherit behavior genetically, so a fatter specimen could have a reproductive advantage, produce more offspring who are more intelligent or have a disposition for behaviors that allow that discovery.

Oh and BTW, that tree is a fire hazard. As are many such Pines in LO. Haven’t seen any dead eucalypti (other than the ones at the high tideline at Sweetsprings).
P.S. I have an electric chain saw, let me know if you need help.
Is it in the County right of way?
Call your nearest LOCAC representative for action this day.


Word verification for today-terse

Where are the appropriate word verifications when you need them?

Alon Perlman said...

Ok- Terse;

Caw

Caw!

CAW!!!

Quote the Raven "Nevermore"

Churadogs said...

Alon sez:"The bird was of a species that does not train its young and hunts solitary. (or possibly it was a male). Therefore there is no entry of this self-discovered hunting technique into the rest of the species"

According to the various books on crows I'm reading, crows teach their young and share info with their cohorts and pass info around. (all that muttering, I guess) which means they have a kind of "culture" that is passed down through the family, which is rather wonderful to think about.

Regarding the tree. Yes, it's in a right of way, it's so dead the woodpeckers seem to have stopped visiting it. Crows use it for perches, hawks and owls, too. But, yes, it's a fire hazard, a wind hazard, the limbs are hanging over the electric power lines to my house so in a bad windstorm, could easily knock down a nice hot wire. I called PG&E and The County to report it and was told they'd put it on the list. Maybe you can put it on LOCAC the list?

Sewertoons said...

Thanks to both Ann and Alon for your crow postings. I love crows and miss the large number that used to visit my yard at my old house in LA. There are some good flocks over by the middle school to be enjoyed though. We found a wonderful painting of a bust of a crow by a local Los Osos artist a few years back (whose name I would mention had she signed her painting)!

Donna said...

saw a murder of crows surround a rabbit in a field and go in for the kill.

Churadogs said...

Donna sez:"saw a murder of crows surround a rabbit in a field and go in for the kill."

Was the rabbit sick, dying, deadish? Crows are risk averse and extremely "new" averse -- really cautious about tangling with anything that might "win." Can't imagine them going after a healthy full grown rabbit. They usually stick to baby birds, baby things, dying things, dead things and dog kibble and peanuts. . . . But they're tough customers which is why a lot of people hate them.

Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Ann, on a related note, you might enjoy the music of Los Angeles-area band, "Ken Layne and the Corvids." It's rock with a retro feel.

Churadogs said...

Crow rock. How funny.

Alon Perlman said...

The tinderbox tree is potentially home to raptors. Catch 22. I will follow up.
Hopefully, the branches that are in play over the power lines are cut.
(Meanwhile in a paralell universe where a project was further underway, a Construction crane loaded on a carrier snagged the branch causing the wires to whip and start a conflaguration. The Los Osos Fire Department (in our universe it's the "South Bay FD") responded, but due to road closures...)(crackle...) (...Casualties. In the subsequent local agency meetings citizens complained that..)(cherr- craccle)"

OK my Tinimushi-other-Universe viewer(RTm) is having difficulties

But let's not worry about those Osso-paralellians, what have they ever done for us? There are countless What-if scenarios.
1. Maybe there is more than one paralell universe, where the government agencies got together and figured out how they can help the environment and the human population (that is part of it) at the same time.
2. Maybe there is a paralell universe where people decided that it just wasn't worth it. They scrapped their egos, their differences, forgave each other and looked to make a better place to live.
With current modeling and current data, a paralell universe where both the above conditions exist, is statistically impossible.
If such a universe was to be found, it would yet remain a single event category, it would have to be named accordingly; "PARADISE".

And to come back to the subject matter CAW!!!

Churadogs said...

That's where I'm hoping an arborist can make the call -- i.e. cut any overhanging branches, then leave the tree until it's checked in a few years to determine if it's roots have rotted sufficiently to make it a menace. Then remove it. That way it can serve as roost to raptors and other birds, yet not present too big a threat to the surrounding houses.