crow funeral

this morning, I am the attendee
of another crow funeral

the fourth such curated cacophony
close followed by hushful reverence

yet this is only something eventual
finally becoming true

while elsewhere, the crickets
rasp hymns to the rain

© Sarah Whiteley

Anyone who has followed this poetry blog for any length of time knows that I have been accepted by a very special family of crows. For the past 9 years, they have been clownish companions who visit me on the porch, caw through my window to get my attention, introduce their young to me, and tag along on walks with the dogs. I have had to warn any dog sitters coming in that the crows recognize my dogs and will want to walk with them even when I’m not there. I have been entertained, enchanted, and delighted by them – even when they steal my lighter and drop chicken bones on my head (I think that’s a gift?).

This morning the family lost one of this year’s young – hit by a car while I was on my way to work. This is the fourth crow funeral I have witnessed, but the first I have seen from start to finish. While I would have much preferred to have a different start to my Friday, it at the very least serves as a reminder that animals are as capable of close connection and of mourning as we are.

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19 Comments

  1. Crows are amazing. We have so many trees in and around this area and thus an abundant crow population as well. One set of parents spent over 2 months (visibly) taking care of a young crow who had an injured or seriously deformed leg from birth. They fed him and hid him and would dive at people walking past. He learned to fly somewhat but it was clear he just wasn’t going to be around long. The neighbor found him eventually. I see so many mated pairs everyday and always wonder which set were the parents.
    I hope next spring brings them better luck.

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  2. I find myself wondering about the form of that funeral. Ok, there was a choir of a sort, and a silence. I suppose they had to leave the body where they found it. I’m sorry to be so inquisitive – I hope this is not being insensitive – but your poem and explanation have set me mind whirling!

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    1. Not at all! I’m lucky enough to live in Seattle where the university has ongoing research into the lives and behaviors of crows – including what they term “crow funerals.” When a crow dies, crows nearby will begin calling and any crow within earshot seems to rush in to join them. The first one I ever saw involved upwards of 100 crows so you can imagine how the noise can be deafening. Researchers think it’s likely about learning about a perceived danger (what killed the crow may be an ongoing threat). The few times I’ve witnessed one of these, once the cacophony dies down, the birds will sit in (mostly) silence for a few moments before flying off in their normal familial groups and the related crows of the deceased linger nearby. And when the related crows finally do leave, I’ve seen them return to the body periodically, whether to process the event further, or simply to inspect, who knows? Though I’m sure it’s a question on the researchers’ minds too. 🙂

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  3. Thank you for explaining that Sarah. The details are really most interesting and I can visualise the event, or the ceremony perhaps, much better now. I shall look out for it here in southern England. The intelligence of crows has often been commended but this is a new aspect. Best wishes, John

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  4. A beautiful, poignant poem, Sarah. I witnessed one crow funeral when we lived in Shoreline – it was also a fledgling, hit by a car near our mailbox. Broke my heart. The funeral was just as you describe.
    (A birder friend of mine is friends with the professor at the U. of W. who does the research on crows’ facial recognition. Can’t remember his name….) Anyway, what a special honor that you’ve been accepted so fondly by a family of crows!! ❤️

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    1. I am so intrigued by the facial recognition studies – particularly that they can pass on the information to other crows. It just denotes this deep level of intelligence and understanding. They truly are amazing creatures.

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      1. I’m totally intrigued too, Sarah. Most humans are so arrogant, they can’t stand the idea that other creatures can actually be intelligent and have emotions. It’s known that other species mourn – elephants, whales, et al…. Humbling and inspiring!

        BTW, still hoping we can meet someday so you can autograph your book! Do let me know if you ever get down this way. 😊

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