Birds Blog

Birding in Traffic

I’m sitting in the congestion that builds at the I-270 spur during morning rush hour — of course I’m birding.

The traffic is inescapable, so I submit and sink into my seat. I hit the back button on the console.

Crow Over Trees
Crow Over Trees. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

I’m listening to Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, “DAMN”. I’ve worked my way up to the song, “Humble”.

I’m not even a fan, per se. I only recently heard of him through a friend on Facebook, but now I can’t stop listening to this song. 

It’s that piano riff. It just has me, along with countless others, hooked. (Perhaps I’m biased, having played the piano my entire life.) There’s plenty more going on in the music that grabs my attention. More than, admittedly, I can relate to or grasp, but I listen on.

While some bits wash over me, other pieces stick with me. What’s that you say, Kendrick? You’re sick of photoshop? Me too. Me too.

I enjoy listening. I appreciate the experience it creates for me and as a music lover (of many genres), I appreciate the music with sincerity.

I look around at the other commuters trapped in the same traffic hellhole that I am stuck in. What are they listening to? NPR? (Probably not because it’s their Fall Membership Drive.) Podcasts? MGMT? The Beatles? Mozart? Kendrick Lamar? Bird calls? Mind you, these are all things that I listen to in my car.

A small group of Crows fly over the congested lanes. My mind wanders a bit and I start thinking about a recent experience I had at the beach while observing a Crow.

Appreciation is Subjective

If you’re reading this and you’re thinking What does this post have to do with birds? What is she talking about? It’s OK.

It’s just a blog post, but my point is that music appreciation is subjective and I feel the same way about birds and birding.

No matter the tune, or the bird, it’s the motivation, experience, background, knowledge, culture, etc. that have so much to do with the way we, as individuals, experience birds in general. More specifically, and for the purposes of this post, I’m referring to Crows.

For example, some might view Crows as problem birds, but wouldn’t view a Cardinal as a problem bird. There’s just something (for some people) about Crows, that initiates a negative response.

I was recently in Delaware and while birding a public beach, I noticed a Crow perched on a sand fence.

Crow on Beach. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.
Crow on Beach. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

I was captivated by its proximity to the beachgoers.

As sun worshipers entered the backshore area of the beach, the bird cawed at each of them as if to say, “Welcome”, or more accurately (and with hopefully less anthropomorphism), “Feed me”.

One man, for some reason, wasn’t having it.

He was sitting in a beach chair about 20 feet away, alongside his female companion, shouting, “GIT! GIT!”

The sound of the breakers pounding the shore didn’t drown him out — he became louder than the Crow.

Beach Crow. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.
Beach Crow. Image Credit: Animal Perspectives.

The bird responded to the man’s GITS with caws. The man then added waving arms (it was quite a display). So it went, for some minutes.

Caw-caw-caw

GIT-GIT

When the man began to draw more public attention, he stopped. The Crow continued and nobody else seemed to care.

Crows and Culture

Crow culture, evolves alongside human culture. So for example, in an environment where Crows might be persecuted, like a rural habitat, Crows might be shy and stay away from people.

In area where Crows are left alone, like in a urban habitat, they might be more bold and get closer to people.

No matter what the habitat Crows are often part of it and are part of the scenery. How they behave depends a lot on how they are treated by their human cohabitants.

So what was going on here? Was the man a farmer, on vacation, who didn’t want to be bothered by a Crow? Was he concerned about the spread of disease? Did he see the Crow as a bad omen?

I found it amusing that the man’s response to the Crow was to shoo it away, while my response was to document it and observe. I also thought it was funny that the man became part of that documentation and observation.

The man and I were clearly experiencing the Crow from two different perspectives.

He was visibly annoyed. I was interested. I continued to wonder about his experience with Crows, what he knew about them, and if he had ever heard of a New Caledonian Crow? Did he know how smart they are?

I had a lot of questions, that I should have asked. But there was no way I was walking up to an annoyed person, who was shouting and waving their arms to ask, Why? they were doing so.

Like music, the experience of birds, is subjective and the example of these two perspectives on the same Crow illustrates what I mean.

Birding in Traffic

I hit the back button on the console, I need to hear that song again. Traffic, once again, comes to a halt. I’m so close to merging onto the spur.

“Sit down. Be humble,” the beat plays on.

Another group of Crows fly over. I think about the man again, and wonder why someone would be so annoyed by a cawing Crow. It’s just a Crow and also not just a Crow.

A large silhouette backlit by the morning sun catches my eye. It’s a Great Blue Heron, flapping on, what is no doubt to me, its morning route across I-270.

Smart bird, I muse, you’re going against traffic. I chuckle to myself, acknowledging the ridiculousness of that thought.

Then, two more birds catch my eye.

They’re black, massive, their flight pattern is smooth, regal, and I know in an instant that they are Ravens — their diamond-shaped tails confirm it. Just as I reach for my camera, traffic begins to move — Murphy’s Law.

Why can’t traffic stop for you? I joking say aloud. I hit the back button on the console.

800px-3782_common_raven_in_flight
Common Raven in Flight. Image Credit: Christian O. Petersen via PIXABAY.

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