The conversation almost always goes like this. 

“Is this Mike LaFlamme from the Sun and Journal? You must come over at once and take pictures of the MASSIVE FLOCK OF CROWS in the trees behind my house!” 

“Sir,” says I, “or madam. I don’t need to come over to your house. For you see, I have a MASSIVE FLOCK OF CROWS behind my house, as well.” 

Here I’m greeted by a kind of incredulous agitation with occasional cussing. 

“You don’t understand,” the caller says. “This flock is HUGE! The sky is completely black with them! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life! You definitely want to get over here and take some pictures.” 

And so, sighing, I go to the other side of town where I’ll find a murder of crows exactly like the one presently pooping on my truck back at home. The only difference between that flock and this one is that this one is pooping on my head, instead. 

You want to talk about the crows? OK, then. Let’s talk about the crows. 

The other day I came home from a long day of social distancing to find a stately raven — or possibly just a big crow, I really don’t understand the difference — standing behind my truck in the driveway. 

Much I marveled about this ungainly fowl as he stood looking at me in that black-eyed way of crows. 

“Is there?” I asked him. “Is there balm in Gilead?” 

At which point the bird fluttered, danced on the air a bit and came to rest on the truck bed. He cocked his head in that curious mien of birds and looked at me as if to say, “If I croak ‘nevermore,’ will you just shut up about it?” 

I watched the enigmatic bird for several minutes and he watched me. And as I gazed into the depthless pools of mystery that were his eyes, I could feel our souls intertwining and all the ancient riddles themselves were revealed to me at once in the form of … 

Ha! As if. Were you actually buying that?

What really happened was that an oil truck went groaning by on the street, its brakes hissing at the light, and my crow friend went fluttering off to impart its ancient secrets elsewhere. 

Or, you know. To poop on some dude’s Prius. 

I will not deny that crows (and ravens) are fantastically ominous birds and it’s little wonder that superstitions about them have persisted over eons. 

Why, I have one family member — whom I shan’t name because I would never out my mother that way — who was actively worried about my strange encounter with the crow, or possibly raven. 

“They’re not harbingers of anything good,” she cautioned, and it was hard for me to refrain from flopping onto the floor with a fake heart attack that very moment just for the yucks. 

Others speculated that maybe the bird in my driveway was the so-called “Queen’s Raven” that disappeared from the Tower of London around the same time. But I don’t think so. For one thing, when I made a psychic connection with the bird, his telepathic voice didn’t have that weirdly cheerful English accent I know so well from Benny Hill reruns. The crow sounded more like William Shatner. 

Many cultures believed that crows (and ravens) are mediators between the living and the dead, which is why Edgar Allan Poe was always interrogating them for news of his dead kin. 

So when somebody sees not one crow flitting about in the yard, but HUNDREDS of them occupying the trees like a winged underworld army, a person naturally becomes awed. And concerned. And frankly, a little bit deranged, at which point they start making frantic calls to reporters whom they call by the wrong name. 

“Is this Matt LaPhlegm of the Sun and Journal? You won’t believe the crows in my backyard …”

So, to forestall any further such calls, I consulted with a few of my local bird experts (yes, I have some of those), who referred me to a recent Bangor Daily News interview with the most experty bird guy of them all, Bob Duschene. 

According to Duschene, there are many good reasons why crows flock to the cities this time of year, most of them having to do with not wanting to get eaten by their mortal enemy, the gray horned owl. 

“If you’re in a flock of a thousand birds,” Duschene said, “the odds are 999 to 1 that you won’t be the owl’s supper.” 

The crafty birds also appreciate the ambient light of cities, which allows them advanced warning of predators or nosy Poe types. The cities are also a few degrees warmer than outlying areas and they offer way more cool stuff for a bird to poop on, including my father-in-law’s new pickup truck, which is parked out front after 3 p.m. (I mean the man no ill will; I just want to see if the crows will take me up on my suggestions.) 

So, yes, breathless caller, I’m as awed as you are by these birds. And yes, I have my superstitions about them, too, yet the presence of the crows doesn’t unnerve me much.  

In my view, if you need a flock of birds to tell you that bad things are afoot in the world, you probably haven’t been paying close enough attention. 

And with that, I have to go. Some late visitor is faintly tapping on my chamber door. 

The fool. I wonder what THAT’s about.


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