Every evening before dusk, I can see hundreds of crows flying past my workplace on their way to roost in Burnaby. They stream past, cawing to each other, either alone, in small groups, or in larger murders. (Thatâ€™s the correct term, incidentally. A murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens, a parliament of rooks, a tiding of magpiesâ€”that last one probably referring to magpie counting rhymes. Damn, but Corvids have cool collective nouns.) Every once in a while Iâ€™ve just stood outside and watched them go past. The lightâ€™s fading and itâ€™s nippy and sometimes I get bored (if thereâ€™s a long gap between groups) or annoyed by the rush-hour traffic or feel self-conscious standing there where the smokers gather during the day. Thereâ€™s never anybody here this late but if someone I know comes along and asks what Iâ€™m doing, Iâ€™d feel silly answering, â€œIâ€™m looking at the crows.â€ Ah, but then when they do comeâ€¦ I remember how stunned I was the first time I looked, really looked, at crows flying overhead. The birds arenâ€™t out for murder, theyâ€™re out for fun, swooping around, mock-fighting, diving at buildings and pulling up at the last minuteâ€¦ All just for the thrill of it. Even in the middle of their commute, they find time for play. Amazing stuff. I could watch them for hours.
And then there are ravens. Back when Cayenta was located up at Discovery Park Iâ€™d sometimes hear their distinctive â€œRrrrok!â€ coming from the treetops. (Amusingly, one time it sounded more like â€œRrrrowf!â€, as though the raven were barking. And maybe it was: theyâ€™re apparently very good mimics.) One afternoon I looked up from my desk and saw a raven right outside my (ground-level) window. Let me tell you, ravens are gorgeous creatures, twice as big as crows, with shiny black plumage and nasty-looking beaks. This one had a mouse (or some other small rodent) with it, still alive and feebly struggling; the raven circled its prey, slowly, in what I thought was a very dignified manner, every once in a while giving it a sharp peck. I felt kind of sorry for the little critter but hey, a birdâ€™s gotta eat, and I was fairly desensitized anyway. Our cat back in Ottawaâ€”a first-rate huntressâ€”used to bring us a lot of â€œgifts.â€ Besides, I was absolutely fascinated by this beautiful black bird.
I donâ€™t remember what happened after that. At some point I turned back towards my computerâ€”and then the raven was gone, along with the mouse. Oh, well. That was the only time I ever saw a raven up close. In spite of what it was doing, I never thought of it as unkind.