Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Crows are Back

In October 1999 the USGS Wildlife Health Center issued a health alert to notify natural resource agencies “of the emergence of the West Nile virus in both free ranging and captive birds in the New York City area.” West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and affects some eighteen species of birds, most notably American crows, but blue jays, mallards, and several kinds of hawks were also affected if in low numbers (link). The experts did not know whether the virus would spread but thought not—because crows are not migratory birds.

Migratory or not, the disease arrived in our area by the fall of 2001. The Associated Press announced the fact in an August 29 story titled “Detroit Crows Have West Nile Virus,” citing the Michigan Department of Community Health, Lansing. Down on the ground, we noticed a sharp drop in numbers about six years ago—and later crows just about disappeared. I mentioned that in a tribute to crows and their kin on this blog last year here.

Well! Late this Spring Brigitte comes in from outside and says, full of wonder and a hint of pleasure. “I think I heard some crows. I may have even seen one.” — And, yes! They’re back. I’ve since both heard and seen them, in good numbers, flying and settling, wonderful, sleek black forms, sharp, unsettling sounds—that strike our ears quite pleasantly now.

This brings to mind an old poem about crows. Here the first verse of it:

Two old crows sat on a fence rail.
Two old crows sat on a fence rail,
Thinking of effect and cause,
Of weeds and flowers,
And nature’s laws.
One of them muttered, one of them stuttered,
One of them stuttered, one of them muttered.
Each of them thought far more than he uttered.
One crow asked the other crow a riddle.
One crow asked the other crow a riddle:
The muttering crow
Asked the stuttering crow,
“Why does a bee have a sword to his fiddle?
Why does a bee have a sword to his fiddle?”
“Bee-cause,” said the other crow,
“Bee-cause,
B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B B-cause.”
     [From Two Old Crows by Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931)]
The verse, of course, needs modernizing. Around here, anyway, it should be titled “Two Young Crows.”

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