My grandparents live on a farm in central California, in a small ranch house surrounded by rolling hills. The house is shaped like an L, with a long hallway stretching one way, and a short stubby kitchen and living room not-quite-stretching the other way.
In the long hallway there are paintings and photographs on the walls. Now, most of them are of grandchildren, but before those grandchildren existed the walls were covered in nature scenes. Including a painting of flock of birds.
I did not like to be held as a baby (which is a story for another time) and if I was going to tolerate being in anybody’s arms, that person had better be walking and talking and pointing and distracting me with things. And so when my grandparents wanted to hold me, the only way to keep the situation from devolving into a full meltdown was to walk up and down the hall way and point at the paintings. “Look, horses!” “Look, a farm!” “Do you see the doggy?” And at the end of the hallway, “wow! look at all those birds!”
This, according to my family at least, was where I pointed my stubby little finger and spoke my first word: “bird.”
I’m not sure if there’s any science that suggests that a baby’s first word has any real significance, but it certainly feels like it should. And in the children’s book story of this I would go on to become some kind of Jane Goodall of the birds — living with them, studying them, training them. Maybe I’d be some kind of bird whisperer, understanding their odd little head tilts and twittering.
The problem is that I hate birds.
It’s not the pooping on you from the air thing (although that is rude as hell). It’s not that they’re dirty or pestilent or transmit diseases (also all rude as hell). It’s that they’re too damn smart. The smarter the bird, the more I fear and dislike them. Which means that on my bird fear scale, corvids are at the top.
Let’s review the facts here.
They can use tools. They understand water displacement. They know how to use cars to open nuts for them. They even memorize the pattern of traffic lights to best time the nut dropping. They can recognize individual humans. They will sometimes use bird baths to discard carcasses they find. They watch other birds hide food, remember where they hid it, and return to steal it.They are impossible to get rid of. Crows are so smart and so petty that they will gossip about you and hold a grudge for forever (as Michelle covered on this very blog). Some studies suggest that crows are as intelligent as a seven year old child but to be perfectly honest I’ve dated people who would lose out in a battle of wits to a crow.
There is even a whole website dedicated to tracking crow attacks in Vancouver alone. Jim O’Leary founded CrowTrax last year to map the thousands of terrible run-in’s people have had with deranged crows. He had the idea after witnessing crows dive bombing people in front of his building in Vancouver. “The crows were attacking everybody on both sides of the street. I thought, Is there something we can do about this?” There’s a reason Hitchcock’s The Birds used crows. And the city of Vancouver? They’re not helping. They won’t remove crow nests or eggs and instead suggest that people “take an alternate route or use an umbrella.”
Ravens are bad too. Ravens are known to attack the faces of young livestock, and pecking them to death. “It’s like something out of a horror film. They are horrible, horrible birds. They see the young lambs and just fly down and help themselves,” a farmer named John Kirk told the Daily Mail in 2008. “Sometimes you find a carcass with the eyes and tongue pecked out, but sometimes all you find is the skin. They peck away until nothing is left.”
Look, I get it, corvids are impressively smart, beautiful birds. But you can’t just end the adjective list there: they’re conniving, ruthless, manipulative, and terrifying. A group of ravens is called an unkindness. A group of crows is literally called a MURDER. Come on people.
Bird was my first word, and I’m also sometimes convinced it will be my last.