Friday, October 24, 2008

Crowing around

If you're from northern New Jersey, or really most other places in the world, like, say Vienna for instance, chances are you share your living space with crows. True, they might not be the most beautiful of birds nor the most mellifluous, but they are keenly intelligent. For example, crows have been known to take nuts and put them on roads where cars are driving, so that the cars will drive over the nuts and thus open them for the crows to eat. It's not quite rocket science, but as animal intelligence goes, that's a lot higher than most species get.
In Europe there is one major crow species, sometimes called the Carrion Crow (although it, like most crows will eat just about anything- not just rotting meat). Interestingly the Carrion Crow comes in two major races, the western race, which is all black, and the eastern race (sometimes called the "Hooded Crow" although the two forms are conspecific) which is gray below. Their ranges barely overlap (crows usually don't migrate either), but Vienna, ornithologically as well as culturally, is right on the dividing line between eastern and western Europe.
Thus I had the opportunity yesterday to come across two crows, one western and one eastern on a Vienna street. At the time, I had just bought a chocolate muffin and became curious. Do crows have taste buds? Could they pick out the taste of a chocolate muffin? Would they enjoy it? Although I had never really thought about it, I would assume that all three questions can be answered with a yes. Clearly, my pet parakeets over the years have preferred certain foods to others, so one assumes that crows must too.
I would further assume that these two crows had never tasted a delicious chocolate muffin before, so I thought that I would bring some unexpected delight into their lives by feeding them. Probably not the healthiest thing to do, but they both sure enjoyed it.
And that got me thinking- if crows enjoy chocolate, maybe they enjoy other aspects of existence that we overlook. And maybe, though unable to speak or do higher mathematics or write a blog entry, maybe they and their animal kin should be treated with a lot more respect than we normally give them. This doesn't mean we should all become vegetarians- I'll explain why next week- but it does mean that when we think about how best to help the world out, maybe we ought to give the other tens of billions of birds, mammals, and other sentient beings (i.e. beings that can enjoy life, feel pain and even express certain emotions) their due. And maybe people (who rather selfishly and solipsistically often say that "man is the measure of all things") should recognize that on any reasonable moral grounds, the distinction between humans and animals is not as big as we think. Again, more on that next week.

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