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In the Company of Crows and Ravens Paperback – 2005

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In the Company of Crows and Ravens + Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans + Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historically feared, hunted and otherwise maligned, corvids (crows, ravens and the like) have finally found in the coauthors two champions of their cause. Professor Marzluff and artist and writer Angell, in their decades of observing crows and ravens (Angell's illustrations complement the text), have compiled an eye-popping catalogue of crow feats: Japanese carrion crows use moving cars as nutcrackers; Seattle crows, after being trapped by the authors, have learned to avoid them, even in the midst of thousands of UW-students; and, given the choice between french fries in a plain bag or a McDonald's bag, crows choose the branded bag every time. Marzluff and Angell entertain with these stories, but find less success with their arguments that no other animal has been as influential to human culture, and the two species have been for centuries involved in a "cultural coevolution." In essence, shifts in our culture cause crows to adapt, and in response, our culture responds, ad infinitum. They provide a litany of examples of crow influences on human culture (think Counting Crows, cave art and doctors dressed up as crows during the Black Death) and point to the similarities between human and crow cultures (particularly that of social learning) as evidence for the book's unofficial maxim: "to know the crow is to know ourselves." While the claims made here may over-reach, Marzluff and Angell passionately argue crows' importance, and along the way, provide ample evidence of corvid ingenuity.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Crows are one of the few birds that everyone can recognize. As ubiquitous members of the worldwide corvid family (which also includes the ravens, jays, magpies, and their kin), the more than 40 distinct species of crows have formed both practical and mythic relationships with their human neighbors. In this delightful blend of science, art, and anthropology, biologist Marzluff and illustrator Angell, both fascinated by the corvids, demonstrate why the crows and ravens are worthy of study and respect. Crows and ravens are adaptable, intelligent, and able to learn, remember, and use insight to solve problems. They use unique methods to obtain food, such as pulling up the lines of ice fishermen and rolling walnuts under car wheels. Humans have long noted these large, black, brainy birds, and their images have entered human culture (we "eat crow," open things with a "crowbar") and human mythology (the Norse god Odin was guided by two ravens). The text travels easily from science to folklore to literature, which, along with Angell's lively black-and-white illustrations, recommends this book highly. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300122551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300122558
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington. My graduate (Northern Arizona University) and initial post-doctoral (University of Vermont) research focused on the social behavior and ecology of jays and ravens. I was especially interested in communication, social organization, and foraging behavior. My current research brings this behavioral approach to pressing conservation issues including conservation of endangered species, urban ecology, and the varied connections between crows and people. I enjoy blending biology, conservation, and anthropology to suggest that human and crow cultures have co-evolved. My most recent work applies a neurobiological perspective to understand the amazing feats of corvids (crows, ravens, jays and their kin). In addition to teaching, research, and writing, I am a member of the board of editors for Acta Ornithologica and Ecological Applications, and leader of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Recovery Team for the critically endangered Mariana Crow, a former member of the Washington Biodiversity Council, and a Fellow of the American Ornithologist's Union.

I enjoy fishing, hiking, downhill skiing, and sea kayaking. My wife, Colleen, and I have always had dogs. We detail our growing addiction to sled dogs in Dog Days, Raven Nights, but now live with 3 border collies. We have two daughters.

I read mostly non-fiction. I love works about the west including those by William O. Douglas, Wallace Stegner, and Douglas Brinkley.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Gregarious, family grouped, long-lived, diurnal, vocally and visually astute, and reliant on memory and individual recognition." Yes, that might be a biological description of us humans, but it's a description from _In the Company of Crows and Ravens_ (Yale University Press) by John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell. We share those traits with the birds that are the subject of this fine book, mostly because we, like they, have big brains and use them. Dolphins and humans have bigger brain-to-body ratios, but the crow and raven ratio is something like that of most primates: "Mentally, crows and ravens are more like flying monkeys than they are like other birds." As a result, we have had a richer history of cooperating with these corvids (the family also includes rooks, jackdaws, and magpies) and competing against them. As a measure of our attention to these birds, for instance, this wide-ranging book cites their influence on our language; cats and dogs have more words, but no wild animal has more than crows and ravens. The examples include scarecrow, crow's feet, crowbar, and ravenous. We also crow about good news, but we also from time to time have to eat crow. We say "as the crow flies" when we want to indicate a linear distance between geographical points, but that's out of ignorance: crows take breaks and (as befits birds with brains) get distracted to check out other routes along the way. Crows and ravens have been our partners throughout history, and this broad and brightly-written book will increase anyone's appreciation for them and for the partnership.

Crows and ravens are scavengers on what humans throw out; so are pigeons and seagulls, for that matter, but those aren't as intelligent or observant as corvids.
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110 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Boria Sax on October 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the Company of Crows and Ravens recounts in great deal how crows and human beings have lived intimately together, influencing the cultural and biological evolution of one another. Crows have developed ingenious ways to take advantage of human presence, from opening garbage bags to using automobiles to crack nuts. They have developed complex societies that resemble those of human beings, based on the nuclear family yet incorporating many other kinds of associations. They probably excel all animals but human beings in the manufacture of tools and the use of language. They share with dogs a remarkable ability to "read" human gestures and expressions. And yet, perhaps because it so pervades our daily lives, we take this partnership with crows, together with the responsibilities that accompany it, for granted. As this book documents, it is an important part of what has made us "human."
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By R. Kelly Wagner on August 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Fascinating book. The sheer amount of literary and artistic references the authors bring in serve to show the importance of crows to our culture. The epigraph is a Robert Frost poem, "Dust of Snow."

Lots of facts and trivia. For example: corvids' stout, all-purpose bills are often compared to Swiss Army knives because they can cut, tear, crush, gape, probe, rip, and open just about anything. Longevity: Common ravens have lived 13 years in the wild, and forty to eighty (!) years in captivity. Raven roosts vary in size from fifty to two thousand birds each night. American crows roost in groups of up to two million.

Illustrations of corvid skulls, next to other birds, to show how much larger their brain-case is than most birds. Lots of lovely drawings - although many of the ones meant to show the differences between the various species look exactly the same to me. Note: "crows" includes crows, ravens, jackdaws, and rooks (all the same genus, 46 species); "corvids" includes all those plus magpies, jays, and nutcrackers (all the same family).

The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher once quipped, "If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows." Some crows have started playing a game involving a tennis net and old tennis balls left on the court, after observing humans playing tennis. This observation is part of a greater point that the authors are making, which is that crows have culture, perhaps even more so than most of the great apes, up at the level of dolphins and whales - dialects and regional accents of crow calls, lots of learned behavior transmitted to the young by teachers, and other signs that distinguish culture from nature.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By William A. Gifford on July 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting book with much to recommend it. It provides some details into the social habits of one of the most ubiquitous birds known and helps provide some reasons why. You can't read this book and remain dispassionate about these species, no matter what negative experience and limited views you may have held about their habits. They sit at the top of the avian IQ score and are a veritable triumph in evolutionary terms through their ability to adapt to different and changing environments. The authors have allowed the reader to walk with them through many years of observation and research and that's provided a glimpse of the intricate social workings of these birds. Seldom acknowledged as more than vermin and the harbingers of everything evil, the authors have now managed to raise such low ideals to their rightful place. To one of acknowledgment and respect. Wonderful illustrations too.
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