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The Most Intelligent of Birds
June 23, 2010 - 1:21am


Five inches of rain fell here in the first two weeks of June, after a wet May. Lush plants I’ve never seen before have shot up from the mud, earwigs squirm out of lit barbecue grills, snakes slide sibilantly in the grass, frolicking squirrels pause in their orgies to wonder at their comrades smashed in the road, and crows the size of ravens bluster from the trees.

Then there are the rabbits. In normal years I might see one or two on our block, but this fecund year we have two in our yard alone, nibbling grass and taking shelter in the fieldstone foundations under our porches. A few weeks ago I was walking and saw a rabbit doe with her naked kit on a neighbor’s driveway. The baby still didn’t have its eyes open but had hind legs like jackstraws and long hollow flanks, like a cow’s. It moved a little on the gravel, and I was bothered, but it was in deep shade, and I knew the mother must have a burrow nearby. She stared at me, her eyes large, round, and wet.

I walked another 100 yards before the cawing registered, and I suddenly saw in memory the black wingspan swooping over the rabbits as I’d stood there. I paused another minute on the corner then walked back. Both rabbits were gone, and there were no crows to be seen or heard.

“A loss of one wild rabbit or even a whole litter is not a threat to the species. Up to 95 percent of all wild rabbits die before they are six months old. It’s cruel, but it is nature’s way,” says

“The ubiquitous crow is loved by many for its sharp intelligence,” says Nature. “Also, crows have a remarkable memory and there are some studies indicating that crows can count.”

Starbuck told me a week later that a teacher at his school had taped-off a garden on the playground after it was found to contain a nest of rabbit kittens. The next day he reported that a crow had snatched one of the kits and was trying to fly away with it, but a girl shouted at and charged the bird, and it panicked and dropped the rabbit. All the kids were excited and took turns watching over the nest as heroes and protectors; they’d finally found something more in need of looking-after than themselves.

The end of the semester came a couple of days later. A murder of crows filled the trees on the playground, cawing hoarsely and waiting for the last bell.


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