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Nature: A Murder of Crows [Blu-ray]
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
The title of this short documentary refers to the high mortality of wild crows from a variety of reasons: predators, car crashes, diseases, extreme weather, people shooting at them. Only 40% of hatchlings make it to their first year, another 50% don't see their second birthday. Crows can recognize a face out of a crowd, especially the ones who have been enemies of the crows, and tell the rest of their flock who the bad guys are. Thus the title of this work.

This 52-minute-long documentary is about behaviorial experiments several ornithologists from the U of Washington (UoW)in Seattle and the Konrad Lorenze Institut in Austria have been conducting to prove the intelligence of these fascinating birds. One of these researchers, John Marsluff, is a wildlife biologist at UoW who provides most of the scientific data. Crows are smart, highly sociable, opportunistic, grieve for their dead partners, "scold" passersby and learn from other crows. They are grossly misunderstood. They communicate within their flocks, have over 250 distinct crow calls and are very territorial. They can remember a face for up to two years. Although they don't have the largest brains in the bird world, they are the most intelligent of all birds and have benefitted from evolutionary intelligence.

The Seattle ornithologists show the viewing audience the unique "tricks" crows can do, including recording the antics of a crow sibling pair, White Wing and her brother, who are followed around via radio transmitter for the first year to record their behavior. This team walks around the UoW campus wearing spooky-looking full-face masks during the experiments which probably had passersby watching the film crew wondering what was going on.

This is narrated by Nora Young, a soft and feminine voice that is accompanied by violin music whenever the scientists aren't speaking about their subject matter.

A lot of stuff mentioned in this documentary has already been extensively written about by Berndt Heinrich in his books on birds as well "Mind of a Raven" and "Ravens in Winter," books I highly recommend to anyone who wants to read more about crows and ravens.

Although this short documentary may not win any awards for cinematography, this is an interesting and enjoyable documentary for any bird or crow lover. I'd wish it were another hour longer, though. By the end of the documentary I was becoming attached to the crow subjects. I'm sure I won't be the only one after watching this!

I'm not sure why it says here "Released 11 January 2011" when this DVD is already on sale on the PBS website.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2011
As a person raised in the country and in love with the outdoors, I always had a dislike for crows. I never really understood why, it just was. Maybe it had to do with the way they always seemed to rat me out when hunting. Having watched this documentary on crows changed both my wife and my attitude and appreciation for the crow. It is amazing how a study like this can have such a profond effect on you. We now admire the crow and we watch them in the wild whenever they around. A fascinating creature of God, equally fascinating documentary.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2011
Nature did a really good job of presenting some quite amazing facts. It's very likely to change the way you look at Crows. You can rest assured, they're studying what you are doing.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2012
Our fascination with corvids began, this late spring, when we rescued 4 magpie chicks from some murderous crows. At that point we really thought magpies were the underdogs and crows, bullies. But as we started reading about corvids we began to realize how closely the two birds were related to each other. We observed them every day for 3 months, they are truly amazing! I am sure there are plenty people out there believe corvids are nothing but pesky creatures. Only if they understood how intelligent these birds really are.

This documentary film is very well done but a bit too short for its purpose. I have to agree with one other reviewer who stated that the experiment in the film seemed inconclusive. However, the flaw does not lie in the experiment but the film itself. The mask experiment was actually a lot more extensive and it lasted much longer than what the film shows us. Not only the experiment included random subjects (people) who wore masks on and off but some of the masks were also modified to test the crows cognitive ability. At one point the caveman's mask was wore upside down yet the crows still recognized it and treated it as a threat. If you are interested in reading about these experiments and learn how the authors came up with all other conclusions you may want to read the book "Gifts of the Crow". There are many stories and accounts (even brain anatomy and chemistry) in this book to explain why crows deserve the title "feathered apes". One of the co-authors to "Gifts of the Crow", John Marzluff, is also behind this wonderful documentary. If the movie seems a bit confusing, the book will draw you a much clearer picture.

I would like the film even better if it was a bit longer. In that case, a lot more information could be developed as a result less confusion. Imagine trying to make a 2-hour movie based on the entire Harry Potter series; it's inevitably that some details will have to be sacrificed in order to keep the film in predetermined length.

Overall I enjoy this short documentary. The filming was nicely done and the narrator was engaging. To those who don't know much about crows, this film will not only be enjoyable bit also eye opening.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2012
I'm a little thrown off by all the positive reviews. I love birds, and I find crows particularly clever and interesting. After finishing David Attenborough's "Life of Birds" I thought I would move on to this one, for some more focused attention on crows. While it's unfair to compare this to Attenborough's work, it's worth saying that it comes no where near the caliber of quality, footage or insight. I didn't find the documentary to contain any unique or insightful footage, just a regular shot of crows pecking through trash here, and gathering on power lines there. If you've never seen a crow use a tool before to get grubs, then this might be interesting in a couple of places ("Life of Birds" has much better footage of this though).
Now this might be a bit of spoiler, so be warned.
The individuals in this film carrying out a study on the learning cycle of crows did a very poor job, and the evidence was not just inconclusive, but dismissible. The idea was to find out if crows could not only recognize faces but also pass on that information to their young. Those completing the study wanted to see if baby crows would grow up and then still remember the faces of those that their parents found threatening while they grew up. They decided to wear masks and then ,they never explained how, but, while the masks were on they somehow caused the crows to feel threatened or in danger. Then they would walk by the crows without masks and find the crows did not caw but with the masks on they would caw warnings. They radio tagged a very small number of birds to follow as they grew up. They radio tagged them without the masks on. I found this to be a problem in the study. If I were a crow, I would then find those who stole me out of my nest while I was awake, and man handled me to be just as threatening at the individuals in the masks which did... what? Oh yeah, they never even tell you what exactly they did in the masks to upset the birds. Anyway, all but 1 of the crows dies, and when they find the last crow as an adult, they walk past him without the mask, and no response. Then he puts on the mask, and after walking past the crow and walking past it again and staring at it, and not leaving it alone for some time, the crow finally lets out a little caw, that they claim means he remembered and so his parents must have passed down this information to him. I don't think it's impossible for the crow to remember this, but I think they did a terrible job carrying out this study, and it seemed extremely nonscientific. Also the response time of the "warning caw" was very slow, and they have no way of knowing why it cawed. Crows caw, a lot. I get cawed at, and I never dawned a mask and threatened crows. This could have been a much better study... but I guess they did their best... so 3 stars it is.
Overall I found the documentary to be very uninteresting, and the study was annoying. I think crows are smart, I think the study was not.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2011
I have been feeding a family of crows on my side yard for several years now, and can attest to their intelligence and sociability. I started rewarding them with food when they started to chase the hawks away from my bird feeder whenever the latter came around. We came to a bargain: I would provide regular snacks - and they would keep the hawks away. I started to mimic their calls and after about a year they will generally come quickly now (in a couple of minutes) when I call then. Likewise, they will call to let me know that they're outside and would like some food. Since we no longer have a dog(s), I have found the crows to be good eaters of leftovers, so they now *help* in disposing of items from my regular cleaning out of the fridge.

They particularly like french fries (preferably w/ketchup) and pasta (w/red sauce). (Of course they like meat but we are vegetarians so they're mostly out of luck in that regard. Like some children, they're not big on eating vegetables!)

This is a good film to introduce people to crows' intelligence and ability, and especially to let people know that animals in general also have intelligence of their own. Once upon a time (as virtually all fairy tales/legends tell) we human beings had much closer relationships with the animals we share this earth with. We lost much of that when we moved from agrarian to industrialized societies. But the animals are still there, and still willing to listen and relate to/with us - if we are interested in giving them the chance.

This might be a great film, along with the Hutto one on turkeys, for a teen who may be interested in pursuing a career in wildlife studies.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2011
Many years ago, while I walking along a sidewalk, a crow swooped down from a telephone pole and gently grazed the top of my head with its feet. It then flew back up to the top of an adjacent telephone pole and silently stared down at me. Ever since this experience, I've considered crows to be a rather "cheeky" and interesting creature. Many people consider these birds to be annoying pests, but I've always liked them. Perhaps more than anything, I've enjoyed the mystique and superstition that has surrounded these animals since time immemorial. Thus, when I saw the PBS special MURDER OF CROWS available on DVD, I knew that I'd want to watch it.

Overall, I enjoyed the documentary. It was interesting to learn that crows have the ability to recognize specific faces and voices, and that certain crow species create and use tools to procure food. One researcher even referred to them as "apes with feathers"-- I liked that quote. I've always known that crows are intelligent and tenacious animals; this documentary shows just how intelligent and cognizant these creatures really are.

That being said, however, I have to admit that the documentary was rather dry and largely matter-of-fact. I was hoping that they would also discuss more of the rich mythological history of the animal through the ages, pop cultural references, etc. (They make a brief mention about crows being portrayed as "trickster" sorts of characters in Native American cultures, as well as a couple of other minimal social/cultural references, but that's about it).

I loved the idea of MURDER OF CROWS, but it could have been done much better. I have to agree with another reviewer that it's not something that I would want to watch over and over again.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2011
Overall a good introduction to these birds. The video does not idolize them and does a good job of staying neutral, admitting that many find them to be a pest despite their high intelligence. Doesn't have enough information to make it worth watching over and over IMHO, but worth seeing simply because its the only video i have found about crows.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2011
Most people consider crows to be nuisances or just another dumb bird, however this documentary proves them wrong. Crows are highly intelligent omnivores who care for their young far longer than most people realize and who have highly developed brains which allow them to solve complex problems and interract with the world around almost like a monkey can. They also speak 2 crow languages and are capable of solving problems using tools.

This documentary was highly informative and really helped me understand that crows are highly intelligent animals worthy of being observed and preserved. I would recommend this film to those interested in the life of crows. 5 stars! Very intriguing.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2011
Saw it on PBS, and then watched it again. Had to buy it so I could show my friends. What an amazing documentary. Every school teacher should have a copy...
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