I WAS JEALOUS of the crows.
It was a strange, surprising feeling, as I looked up and watched thousands upon thousands of crows gather one evening at their popular roosting destination on the University of Washington Bothell campus. As the sun set, the sky slowly grew darker — and then darker still with each flock flying in overhead, as if they were conducting a choreographed procession to bed.
What struck me was the crows’ togetherness. I visited the site in April, smack in the middle of our stay-at-home time. As I exited Interstate 405, I noticed a dozen of them neatly lined up on top of a roadside railing, perhaps enjoying their version of a backyard barbecue on a warm spring night.
So, yes, I was jealous of the crows — jealous that they got to hang out with extended family and friends in a way I knew I couldn’t during our coronavirus isolation. These crows, I learned, are smart. Really smart, like one of the smartest species of animals on the planet. For them, there is safety in numbers, hence their nightly gathering at these Bothell wetlands, where, at their peak, some 16,000 crows roost during the fall and winter.
They’re clever, too, and they can adapt to just about any situation. They also seem to have a sense of humor. A favorite story UW biologist John Marzluff loves to share came from a husband and wife in Sweden. The wife took a liking to a pair of crows. She fed them for a bit, but then forgot to leave them anything one day. The crows came knocking, literally: First, they tapped her window, and when that wasn’t enough, they figured out how to ring her doorbell chime.
The husband didn’t approve of the crows, and he tried to scare them off by pretending to throw rocks at them. The crows responded by pooping all over his car multiple times over multiple days. Even when the husband and wife moved their cars — switching spots in the driveway — the crows took direct aim only at the husband’s car. Turns out, the crows never forget a face, as Marzluff has proved with his experiments at UW.
Moral of the story is: Hey, be nice to crows. I was glad to learn more about them for this week’s cover story, and might even consider inviting them to our next barbecue (whenever it’s safe to do such things again). Those dudes look like they know how to have a good time.