Life Lessons from the Common Crow

Life Lessons from the Common Crow

Crow Planet, a non-fiction book by urban naturalist Lyanda Haupt, led me to a new appreciation of the common Crow, and to a few vital life lessons.

Crows are everywhere around us, as common in cities as they are out in the countryside. Crows lack the bright colors and sweet music of the smaller songbirds. They don’t have the awesome majesty of the great birds of prey, or the grace of the flocking waterfowl. Crows are carrion eaters and scavengers, great black flapping harbingers of death, with raucous caw-caw voices that wake us too early in the morning and disturb a tranquil evening.  Get too near a hidden nest or young crow and you’ll be savagely dive-bombed. In many cultures, the bold-eyed scavenger birds are associated with bad luck, evil, and even death.

So, why would any birdwatcher waste time on the common crow?

That was my question – and now I’ve got an answer.

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness

I read the non-fiction book Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness  recently. Not a book I’d have picked up, normally, but I did so on the recommendation of my mother, a keen birdwatcher who has always had a bit of a “thing” for the intelligent but unattractive corvids – and having read it, I now understand the strange appeal of crows.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt, the award-winning author of Crow Planet, came to the study of crows almost by accident, in the midst of some sort of breakdown that she calls “toppling” over the line between feeling enough and feeling too much.

Bedridden and weeping in the urban Seattle home that was not the rural refuge she’d always dreamed of, she suddenly spotted an injured crow through her window.

The crow’s behavior was so unusual, the sight compelled Haupt to get up out of bed for a closer look – and so began not only her gradual recovery from the depression or anxiety that had afflicted her, but also a wondrous voyage into the world of the common crow.

But let’s hear Haupt tell her own story of how she came to write a book about crows:

Wild Wonders in Our Own Backyards

Crows and their fascinating habits aside, what I most appreciated about Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness was the way it helped to reveal the richness of nature’s wonders right here in our cities and towns – right close at hand, right before our eyes.

You see, I come from a family of mad birders (the kind of birdwatchers who travel to other countries and continents in search of one more rare specimen to add to their life list) but I’m more the stay-at-home sort.  The idea that we can make the same keen study of the common backyard birds we see every day, and that such a hobby could be as rewarding as chasing the rarities, just never occurred to me until Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Crow Planet opened my mind to the wonder.

Wild Bird Books by the Same Author

If you’re like me, just one of the books by Lyanda Lynn Haupt won’t be enough. I’ve started looking at the most ordinary of backyard birds in a whole new way – not just the crows and ravens – so eagerly put her other books on my reading list.  Now, I’m somewhat intrigued by Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent, mostly about the birds that Charles Darwin studied (and the life lessons that Haupt has derived there), but my first choice for further reading is to stick a little closer to the backyard birds of North America that are most familiar to most of us here, with these two titles:

Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds

Everyone has a “crow story,” says Haupt in Crow Planet – and that does seem to be the case, that we all have anecdotes about the odd things we’ve seen crows do, or stories that illustrate their unsettling intelligence. Haupt’s collection of short essays called Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds is a treasure trove of those kinds of nature stories. It has “crow stories” in it but tales of encounters with many other common birds as well. If you like to gather little snippets of interesting information (useful to dole out later to impress the kids!), I think you’ll enjoy this more recent book about the birds we commonly see in our own backyards.

The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild

The Urban Bestiary:Encountering the Everyday Wild is Haupt’s most recent work and it’s next on my reading list – as soon as my birdwatcher mother has finished reading it first! We both enjoy the way Haupt writes, bringing a lyrical poetry to her meticulous observations as a naturalist without ever toppling into sentimentality or losing sight of the science.

American Crow By Linda Tanner [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

I see Lyanda Lynn Haupt as a Reluctant Urban Naturalist, made to be a “real” naturalist working out in the wilderness, but all the more admirable – and interesting – for overcoming that reluctance. Trapped by circumstances of life in an urban or suburban lifestyle, she nevertheless sets out with determination to learn all she can about her environment, that blurred line where humans and “nature” meet.

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness is one part nature study, one part biography, one part meditation on the role of humans as an integral if destructive part of the natural world.  Through this wonderful and thought-provoking book, I’ve come to appreciate the uncommon life lessons that are just waiting to be learned by watching the common crow.


likes to make and do and think and explore and share what is discovered. She is also incurably curious. If you are, too, you can find her posting as Flycatcher...r...r on Twitter and Google Plus.

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