A new book available at the Hennepin County library is entitled "Gifts of the Crow." Author Dr. John Marzluff and artist Tony Angell present a fascinating study of crow intelligence, how and why. Marzluzz is professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. Angell's ink drawings of crows have long been an excellent reason to pick up anything with his name on it. Play is one of the crow activities discussed by Marzluff. Play is a sign of intelligence, and can be important in its development, according to the author.
On our Wyoming trip we had a picnic lunch in a park in Laramie, Wyoming. Also enjoying lunch in the park were six crows. I think it was a family group. Four of the birds made obvious begging overtures to the other two birds, even though they were full-size and looked old enough to fare for themselves. At one point three of the young birds began what I can only describe as play. Two of the birds would stand side by side as the third squeezed his way between them. They wrestled, a brief gentle combat before the participants would drop to the ground, prone, one on its stomach, the other on its back. They'd jump at each other like puppies sometimes do. It was fascinating to watch this two or three-minute break from begging.
I've watched ravens act in a way I can only describe as having fun: they were barrel-rolling in the air, for brief intervals appearing as though flying upsidedown. There was a pair of them flying past us that day. Perhaps the trick flyer was showing off.
Here are a couple of photos of the crows at play.
The book, by the way, is accessible science sprinkled with anticdotes illustrating the points made about brain development. You'll know a lot about crows -- and brains in general -- when you finish it.