Here in Tokyo I live in Kamisoshigaya, Setagaya-ku. It’s a pretty fancy neighborhood, and on the way home to the dorm from the station I walk past expensive-looking houses with walls and gardens and those small, fluffy dogs that all wealthy Tokyo families seem to own. The residents will nod graciously at each other as they pass each other on the street, or maybe even stop for some small talk. But those people and the students from the dorm aren’t the only ones living in this neighborhood. There’s a multitude of species here, and some of them I see on a daily basis. Pidgeons, a vast array of insects, and the species I want to write about in this blog post – crows.
In Japanese they’re called カラス, in my native language Swedish korp, and they’re members of the genus Corvus, which is latin for raven. There’s no real distinction between crows and ravens, altough generally speaking ravens are smaller than crows. Considering the size of my neighbors, I would say they’re crows. There are more than 45 members of the Corvus genus, and they exist on all temperate continents except for South America. They’re far from an obscure species, and are very well represented in various mythologies and stories from all over the world, suggesting that their proximity to human settlements is not a new thing. They’re thought to have originated in Asia, and then having spread to other continents, often along with human settlements where they’ve always been able to get leftovers, making proximity to humans a sound survival strategy. In mythologies they’ve been associated with ill luck, trickster gods, and much else. In Sweden they used to be seen as the ghosts of dead men. In Nordic mythology, the god of wisdom, Odin has two ravens under his command, Huginn and Muninn, and they bring him information from across the world. Their association with wisdom here is not misplaced, as crows are considered to be on of the most intelligent species on Earth, having incredible problem solving abilities and the ability to both use and make tools. It should thus come as no surprise that they are able to live quite comfortably around humans.
On BBC Wildlife, Japanese crows show an example of this, crows using a human city environment to open nuts that are too hard to break on their own. They drop the nut on a road, and wait for a car to run the nut over – breaking it. The crow then swoops down to gather the pieces. However, this is of course dangerous – so some crows have started dropping nuts only on pedestrian crossings, waiting until the cars have to stop until they collect their reward.
As I mentioned earlier, crows are one of the species that I see on pretty much a daily basis. They like to hang out outside of the local pizza/ice cream place, where they can eat anything dropped by humans, and they also seem to enjoy the trash we throw out in the bins behind the dorm. They sit on the electic lines above the road, or sit watching for opportunities in the trees. A day where I go without seeing on of them is rare, and I do think of them as my neighbors (although their preference for trash isn’t exactly appreciated by the dorm staff). I mean, I don’t really interact with my human neighbors, so they have about the same level of presence in my daily life. Crows can live up to 20 years, so it’s likely that most of the crows I see have been living here far longer than I have.
So, my neighbors the crows. They hatch from egg batches of ~3-9 eggs, and then reach sexual maturity at about 3 years for females and 5 years for males. It’s not rare for them to mate for life, and the grown up chicks sometimes stick around to help their parents protect the nest and new eggs. Writing this, it strikes me how similar the structures of our lives actually are, in a way. We live in the same place, we have similar family structures, and we both like pizza leftovers. This makes it kind of sad that they, because of strewing trash and in some cases causing property damage or spreading disease, are seen as a nuisance animal by many. This disliking, however, doesn’t seem to be mutual. Crows, as social animals, have been known to make friends with individual humans, even presenting them with gifts. Given their good memories, ability to recognize individual humans, and long lifespan, crow and human friendships can be lasting. Although, these same abilities also enable crows to have human enemies – for example, if they’ve been treated poorly or even hurt by a human. They can also communicate who’s an enemy to other crows, so he who hurts a crow better be careful around them.