Wild Georgia: Cawing of crows is a welcome sound in winter

As winter approaches, a silence creeps over the natural landscape. Songbirds are mostly quiet now, not to resume their cheery singing until early next spring. Bees have stopped buzzing. Katydids and cicadas no longer drone incessantly as they did during summer.

But as if to make up for the seasonal hush, there’s another sound of nature that greets me on these cool, late autumn days — the hoarse cawing of a murder of crows from the woods or elsewhere in my neighborhood. A crow’s cawing is the sound I most identify with in fall and winter. The crows may be no louder now than they were during summer, but it seems that way — perhaps because of the lack of competition.

Everybody, I assume, knows the crow — solid black, cunning, inquisitive and one of North America’s most widespread birds. “It needs merely to be seen or heard to be instantly recognized,” said the late Georgia ornithologist Thomas Burleigh.

Being shrewd, adaptable birds, crows’ numbers in Georgia fluctuate little throughout the year. They are omnivorous and opportunistic, eating nearly everything that the changing seasons bring — carrion, mice, other birds’ eggs and nestlings, insects, berries, nuts, seeds and food that humans spill or throw away.

Most people have an opinion about crows, ranging from disgust to bemused admiration. I am among the admirers because crows are perhaps the most adaptable of all our native birds and are good learners and problem-solvers. In recent decades, crows, which once were typically rural birds, have begun thriving in cities. One possible reason, say ornithologists, is that urban areas offer protection from hunters. (Nov. 6 was the start of this year’s legal crow hunting season in Georgia.)

Crows indeed may do some damage to farm and garden crops and take an annual toll of bird eggs and fledglings. But the good they do outweighs the harm. For one thing, crows benefit the environment by eating a variety of injurious pests.

And on a cold winter day, when flowers are withered and songbirds are muted, their cawing is a comforting presence in an otherwise shushed landscape.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be first quarter Wednesday. Mars is in the east and Saturn is low in the southwest at dark. Saturn will appear near the moon on Monday night. Jupiter is high in the south at sunset.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.