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In the Company of Crows and Ravens

John M. Marzluff; Tony Angell

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“Crows and people share similar traits and social strategies. To a surprising extent, to know the crow is to know ourselves.”—from the Preface

From the cave walls at Lascaux to the last painting by Van Gogh, from the works of Shakespeare to those of Mark Twain, there is clear evidence that crows and ravens influence human culture. Yet this influence is not unidirectional, say the authors  of this fascinating book: people profoundly influence crow culture, ecology, and evolution as well.

John Marzluff and Tony Angell examine the often surprising ways that crows and humans interact. The authors contend that those interactions reflect a process of “cultural coevolution.” They offer a challenging new view of the human-crow dynamic—a view that may change our thinking not only about crows but also about ourselves.

Featuring more than 100 original drawings, the book takes a close look at the influences people have had on the lives of crows throughout history and at the significant ways crows have altered human lives. In the Company of Crows and Ravens illuminates the entwined histories of crows and people and concludes with an intriguing discussion of the crow-human relationship and how our attitudes toward crows may affect our cultural trajectory.

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From the Author:

Q: How did you come to write this book?

A: Seven years ago we set out to write a natural history of the American crow, but a much different book emerged—a natural and cultural history of crows and ravens worldwide. Discovering the joint history of people and crows opened our eyes to the close and continuing relationship evolving between people and elements of the natural world. We hope others can experience our discovery. Crows are elegant without benefit of fancy and colorful plumage; they are animated and physically imposing, the fuel for artistic inspiration.

Q: You’ve studied crows and ravens extensively. Does it seem that they in turn study you?

A: (Marzluff) I particularly remember a raven who carefully approached one of myb traps, stopped short of stepping into it, and reached over to pull the grass camouflage off the trap’s trigger. He turned to look down the road at me before emphatically throwing the grass into the road and deftly reaching over the trap to grab the bread I used as bait. He didn’t have to look at me, but he did—like a celebratory football player who just scored!

A: (Angell) My raven Macaw employed my “greeting” each morning as a vocal initiation of each day. After a few months of my saying “Hello, Macaw,” to him as a young bird, he would say “Hello, Macaw,” sometimes before I spoke, rather like a “Good morning” greeting. He always used it in this context during his time with me.

Q: What might your readers be most surprised to learn about these birds?

A: Our conclusion that crows have culture, and that it affects and is affected by  human culture, makes us realize that we share more than some would like to think with other animals. The tales from people who have witnessed apparent crow murders, funerals, and visitations from dead relatives will certainly shake readers. We hope that by bringing up such controversial crow traits, others will study them and help us all understand the actions of these powerful birds. That crows and their kin possess culture that in some ways parallels our own is a consideration not easily addressed.

About the Author:

John M. Marzluff is Denman Professor of Sustainable Resource Sciences and professor of wildlife science, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington. Tony Angell is a freelance artist and writer in Lopez Island, Washington. Together the authors combine more than 60 years of scientific and artistic fascination with crows and their bird relatives.

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John M. Marzluff; Tony Angell Author
Published by Yale University Press (2005)
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