In the Company of Crows and Ravens

“Crows and people share similar traits and social strategies. To a surprising extent, to know the crow is to know ourselves.”—from the Preface

From the cave walls at Lascaux to the last painting by Van Gogh, from the works of Shakespeare to those of Mark Twain, there is clear evidence that crows and ravens influence human culture. Yet this influence is not unidirectional, say the authors  of this fascinating book: people profoundly influence crow culture, ecology, and evolution as well.

John Marzluff and Tony Angell examine the often surprising ways that crows and humans interact. The authors contend that those interactions reflect a process of “cultural coevolution.” They offer a challenging new view of the human-crow dynamic—a view that may change our thinking not only about crows but also about ourselves.

Featuring more than 100 original drawings, the book takes a close look at the influences people have had on the lives of crows throughout history and at the significant ways crows have altered human lives. In the Company of Crows and Ravens illuminates the entwined histories of crows and people and concludes with an intriguing discussion of the crow-human relationship and how our attitudes toward crows may affect our cultural trajectory.

This book makes clear the surprising case that crows have a culture, one that we modify a great deal, while they have made their own modifications on ours by behavior that gets them included in our stories and legends. It invites readers to make their own observations and send them to the authors; corvids are so ubiquitous that almost anyone can take them up on the offer. Marzluff is a professor in wildlife science, and Angell is a freelance artist and writer whose handsome drawings make this a particularly good-looking volume. They even hint that interaction with us is making crows smarter: “We suggest they are becoming smarter because learning, memory, and cultural evolution are so strongly favored by an increasingly complex urban lifestyle.”  Take up this book and help keep up our side of the race.

In the Company of Crows and Ravens

llustrator, sculptor and author Tony Angell has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Master Artist Award of Leigh Yawkey Art Museum (2001). Angell’s artwork is found in public and private collections, and he has written several books on birds. He is active in Washington’s Nature Conservancy and was director of Environmental Education for thirty years.

Birds and nature have always fascinated him. As a child he spent his spare time bird watching, plant collecting and hiking. Bird artists Morris Graves and Don Eckelberry inspire him for their expressiveness, and Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida carving and Japanese Edo screens for their emotion and form. These influences lead to an emphasis on form and line in his work and an emotional quality that brings his portraits alive.

Speaking to Deloris Tarzan in 1999 of his passion for crows and ravens, he said, ‘Their foibles are our own. They squabble within their families and wage battles with those clans that would impinge upon their home ground. Their lives involve a struggle for identity in their social hierarchy.’

Of his work on ‘In the Company of Crows and Ravens’, Angell says: ‘Often, when the writer or artist pauses to look closely at his or her subject, even greater mysteries can appear just as understanding and resolution is arrived at.  So it has been with this collection of drawings that brought me closer to my subject.  Ravens and crows have become a lens through which I have clarified my vision of Nature and my place in it.  At the same time they have further informed me of the natural world and its complexity, they have also left me feeling humble in realizing how much more there is to know. The best way for me to depict my subject is to work from the inside out.  I have lived with and been in close proximity to these subjects and have a “feeling” about them that influences my illustration.  They are not merely forms on a landscape to be precisely delineated, but they are spirited personalities, intelligent and insightful and who knows, perhaps a bit of the supernatural as well.  My challenge in illustration is to convey these somewhat intangible qualities in a manner that compliments and expands our narrative.’