Pamela S. Turner - Turning on lightbulbs in kids' brains
Some people don't like crows. Those evil-looking birds eat roadkill and peck out the eyeballs!
Yet crows are smart and curious, just like people. Crows will carry objects into the sky—sticks, paper, even aluminum pie tins—to be dropped, caught by another crow, and dropped again,an aerial game of "catch." Those six crows perched in your backyard? They're a close-knit family. Two are Mom and Dad, mated for life. Two are youngsters just out of the nest. Two are older siblings who are helping Mom and Dad raise the little ones. One of the older crows will stand guard while the other adults fly down to pluck worms and bugs from the lawn. The youngsters follow, eager to learn what’s good to eat.
Their eating habits are another way crows are like us: they are omnivores. Unlike animals that eat only meat (carnivores) or animals that eat only plants (herbivores), omnivores eat meat, grains, fruit, and seeds—all sorts of things. Crows gobble blackberries and beetles. They are perfectly happy with a discarded Happy Meal™.
Crows have just the right bill for the omnivore lifestyle. A hawk has a bill like a steak knife, made to tear flesh. A flamingo has a bill that’s curvy like a spoon, made for scooping tiny plants out of the water. But the crow isn't a specialist like the hawk or flamingo. It's a generalist. The crow doesn’t have a knife-like bill, or a spoon-like bill. It has spork-like bill. A spork is an all-purpose utensil, sort of a cross between a fork and a spoon. It handles a lot of foods fairly well but isn’t great at anything.
You knew I was coming back to eyeballs, right?
The spork-like bill of a crow isn't strong enough to tear open the carcass of a road-killed raccoon. You're a crow, your younger brother is cawing with desperate hunger, and here's this nice big hunk of dead meat on the asphalt. A bigger scavenger—a hungry coyote, a turkey vulture, or a guy driving an Animal Control truck—might arrive at any moment. If you’re a crow you’re going to grab the one soft bit. The eyeball.
Don't blame the crow. If it makes you feel any better, that crow would probably prefer to gobble muscle or guts instead. And if you think that's disgusting…well, you don't want to know what goes into hotdogs.
© Pamela S. Turner, 2014
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