( Originally Published Ealry 1900's )
Mrs. Mary Rogers Miller is one of the lecturers on Nature Study at Cornell University. She has contributed to the leading magazines and educational publications and is the author of " The Brook Book."
THOUSANDS and thousands of crows fast asleep amongst the branches of a grove of pines ! The trees themselves look dark and sombre against the snowy hillside, but when the assemblage of dusky birds has gathered there, the shadows thicken and the darkness settles like a pall. Soon all is hushed and silent.
Would you not go miles to see such a sight? Yet maybe you have lived for years within easy walking distance of a great crow " dormitory " without even suspecting its existence. You may have watched the crows flying overhead every morning and then again every afternoon, without noticing that they came from the same direction each morning and returned at nightfall. This was just my experience until I began to care about crows and their ways. Now I know that there is a sleeping roost a mile or so up one of our wooded valleys and the oldest inhabitant tells me that he remembers seeing " more'n a million " crows up there in winters when he was a boy. Undoubtedly generation after generation of crows return to these sleeping places ; certain localities have probably been so used for centuries.
Although we have crows here all winter they may not be the same individuals that spent the summer here. The center of crow population in the Eastern United States from November till February is the neighborhood of Chesapeake Bay. There the food supply is more abundant than where the ground is snow-covered in winter, and thither the crows migrate in innumerable armies. Dormitories from ten to thirty acres in extent and accommodating from ten thousand to three hundred thousand crows each have been found in that region.
Why crows gather thus in companies either small or large is undoubtedly due to their natural sociability. The opportunities for exhibition of conversational powers offered by such a custom seems to be greatly appreciated by every crow. Such a babel as they raise when in early morning their watchman rouses them from sleep! They appear to be reviling him for his untimely interruption. For several minutes the woods fairly ring with their loud, coarse shouts. Then, as if resigned to their fate, they take flight towards the feeding grounds. By sunset they all congregate again and after recounting their adventures, settle down early to sleep.
In open winters crows fare well enough. Seeds and berries are easy to get and considerable grain may be found in harvested fields. But like barnyard fowls, crows are omnivorous. After the grasshoppers disappear, a supply of animal food is hard to get. The silken egg-sacs of spiders are often found torn open and rifled, while suspiciously near by are the tracks of crows. Undoubtedly rabbits and field mice would unite with the spiders in declaring the crow to be their deadly enemy.
That crows eat corn is undeniable. The farmers know it to their sorrow, the bird's champions reluctantly admit it, the crow himself goes openly into the field, both in win-ter and summer, with no intent to conceal his intentions. And yet this universally acknowledged habit will bear investigation. Upon the real or supposed injury done to sprouting corn and to roasting-ears, the farmer and his sons base their animosity toward crows and rejoice at the wholesale or retail slaughter of these birds. Carefully prepared estimates show conclusively that the crow is the farmer's friend. Only three per cent of the total food of the crow consists of corn in any form, while twenty-six per cent consists of insects such as grasshoppers, May beetles (June bugs, whose young are the white grubs), cutworms and other injurious kinds. On such evidence as this would not an unprejudiced jury acquit the crow?
The best way to establish the crow in this new and true relationship to the farmer, is to interest the boys and girls in studying crows and their ways. To make a fair judgment, one must collect evidence. Mere hearsay is not always to be depended on. Justice and truth are worth working for. The case of the Crow vs. the Farmer, will give opportunity for the practice of both of these virtues.