Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SANZUWU: The three-legged crow


Artwork credits: Larry Vienneau (internet source)
The mythology of the three-legged crow can be found in various cultures in the Asia Minor, Asia, and North Africa regions. One of its possible origins comes from early Neolithic pottery art dating back to the Han Dynasty in China (202BC-220AD).

The three-legged crow in Chinese culture was called “Sanzuwu”. It was told in legends that this mythological bird was responsible for the Sun's passage through the sky each and everyday. It was once said in folklore that there used to be ten sun crows, each crow would have a responsibility to fly out and draw a sun out across the skies of earth. The crow’s favorite food consisted of two types of grass only found on earth, thus some of the crows would fly down and eat them, distorting the flight pattern of the sun.

Xihe, the ‘mother’ of the ten crows did not like this, thus she blinded all of them by covering their eyes so that they would not fly down to eat their grass. However, one day, all ten crows decided to fly out and caused the world to burn. Another god named Houyi, a celestial archer shot down all but one of the crows left, thus the world was left with one three legged crow.

It is interesting to see that crows described in mythology like this are not depicted as evil, sinister, or a trickster as we associate with today. It was intriguing to see that a crow was bestowed with such an important responsibility and serving a positive role for mankind and not a bad sign or omen.

Friday, February 21, 2014



For BCUSP 140A, my project partner and I have decided to create a piece of wall art representing crow social behavior and roosting behavior. To represent this we chose two images which are very familiar to us at the University of Washington Bothell. 

At around 5 pm or so, thousands of crows come to roost. Many times during this insane display of crows on campus, they fly in and out of the trees and building roofs. I can almost hear the calls right now. Crows tend to come to the same roost at the UW-Bothell every night and groups join larger groups. This may help to exchange information, find mates, and remain safe  from predators and maybe even be warm.

On the left we have the start of our project. Four tiles of clay that we rolled out. Through this process we learned the skill of ceramics. Here you see many different portrays of the American Crow or Corvus brachyrhynchos. Not only is this representing the social nature of the Common Crow, but the roosting behavior. 

Notice the different crow behaviors being represented in our clay work. We have the representation of exchanging information (the idea of thousands of birds coming together), and other crow behaviors. However, this project has just started. 

On the right, you can see the finished wet clay piece. After our fire we plan to glaze, and paint, and then put the pieces together to create a wall display. While on the wall, it may even display the feeling of the crows high above us. 

Art and nature are natural combinations, and by using this piece of art to represent science is a great accomplishment for me and my partner in this project.


Photo by Rand Jack
As I watched the sun start to drop of the horizon, my grandfather came to sit beside me. "Do you see that?" Those two tiny black flecks in the distance", he asked me. "Ya, kind of" I answered. "Those are ravens, they come to us every day as the sky starts to grow dark and the moon replaces the sun; our tribe believes that those two ravens are descents of the great raven,  Kit-ka'ositiyi-qa. He was the raven that brought the sun into the sky and filled our dark world with bright light." I was quite young at the time, but I was very intelligent, I couldn't believe what he was saying! How could he say that a bird put the sun into the sky. I looked up at him, into his light brown eyes and said "papa how could raven put the sun into the sky?" He let a loud bellow of a laugh and told me, "it is no wonder you are a raven, raven didn't believe his father either when he told him he was meant to grow up to be strong and lift the sun into the sky, ravens are beautiful and smart, but always so stubborn." He laughed. "But papa, what do you mean I'm a raven?" I asked. "Well little Kit-ka'ositiyi-qa everyone in our tribe has an animal that watches over them, protects them. Some people have the whale or the eagle, or the salmon.Your animal is raven." "Oh, I see. So how do you know I'm a raven?" "Well little one, the raven is always the first born of the eldest son. Since your daddy is my eldest son, and you are his first born child you are our raven. You are very lucky to be a raven, she is our most precious animal." "Really, why?" I asked puzzled at what could make this animal so different, so much more renounced than the others. "Raven brings light to the world, not only the sun but knowledge, and learning; without Raven we would be a people in the dark." I watched the two ravens in the sky, they seemed to dance around each other twirling, and dipping in the sky. I was lucky to be a raven.
            As I grew older, I always managed to spot a raven not too far away perched on a branch by the sea. Or picking through the garden outside my bedroom window, I took comfort with the, connection to my people.
            My father is one quarter Tlingit Native American, my family and I visited Alaska when I was eight years old to meet our family, and see the land that would be left to my father. Our tribe believes that once very long ago a raven brought the sun into the sky. Raven's father gave him all of his energy before he died, so that he would have enough strengthen to bring the sun into the sky. Raven relics and totem poles are quite common among people of Tlingit descent.


Kit-ka'ositiyi-qa: great raven, or raven



Out of sight, but not out of mind.

Hocus and Pocus                
 The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is known to be mischievous, cunning, playful, and even a little crafty. One ability that crows appear to be really good at is hiding food, or caching. Crows hide their food in caches so that they can come back later to eat their hidden treats. If you were walking in a grassy field or park, you may never know that food storages are all around you, which were left by these resourceful birds.  Many of these caches are located in my backyard. I know this because I have been watching two crows hide their food on my property for seven months. I am partly responsible for this unique avian activity because I fed them in order to observe them. In turn, I would like to use the observation as basis for future research.

 I am a student at the University of Washington in Bothell, and I have been feeding two American crows in my backyard in order to earn their trust so that I can study their cognitive behaviors. One of the most interesting behaviors that I have witnessed is watching my two American crows cache their food in my backyard. I named these two crows Hocus and Pocus because of their ability to make their food vanish right in front of my eyes. Their mastery of the now you see it, now you don't trick would make any up-and-coming magician jealous with envy.

Hocus and Pocus picking peanuts
 I feed them bread or hard-shelled unsalted peanuts around the same time every other day. The crows and I go through the same ritual each time I feed them. I walk outside into my backyard, call their names, they call back as they fly down to the roof of my house. I drop the peanuts or bread and walk away, they immediately swoop down from my roof and eat the food. I have learned their shell-cracking eating habits by watching them hold the peanuts with their feet while they bob their heads back and forth and peck at the hard shells to get to the meaty nuts inside. This eating behavior is the same every time. One would find this behavior monotonous after watching for seven moths straight, but there is one other thing that they do each time they eat that is remarkable every time I witness it.
Caching spot where food was hidden
Hocus and Pocus love to hide their food in my backyard, and they are darn good at it. I've witnessed this behavior many times, and each time I am amazed at the craftiness of their hiding skills. Watching them find the perfect spot to dig in the grass to make a hole, place their peanuts or bread into the hole, and then find grass, leaves, or twigs to cover their prize, never gets old no matter how many times I've seen them do it. After they cache their food and fly away I have walked right up to the hiding spot and I always have trouble finding it, even after I just watched them hide it. They are that good at hiding their food!

After several days, I have walked back to the hiding spots and the food is always gone. The two crows have come back at some point and redeemed their tasty prizes!  There is no trace of crumbs, peanut shells, or any indicator that there was once food in the hiding spot. How they remember where their food is hidden is still a mystery to me, but it never ceases to amaze me that they can always find it.

The two crows, Hocus and Pocus, are the wizards of my backyard and they have rightly earned their names. Even after seven months, their ability to play hide-and-seek with food is something that still amazes me. In the next seven months, I expect to still be in awe of their search and rescue proficiency regarding their food. I can only imagine what new discoveries I will make from my two corvid friends.


By Kimberlye Parker

How can we call a flock of Crows murders? I was perplexed with how Crows had gotten stuck with such a harsh title? According to PBS Nature show, they are called “Murders” simply because they eat EVERYTHING! Including dead remains. What is not said is we humans are the reason for these dead bodies. Not the crows. In fact they are in a sense cleaning up our mess. After learning of this mislabeling of the Corvidae family, I wanted to redirect the facts. It wasn’t until our guest speaker Dr. Janie Miller, a poet, came and spoke to our class about the art of poetry and how we can use poetry to give things new meaning. I was hooked; this is how I would share my disdain for the way I feel crows are mislabeled. Here is the truth of the Corvidae family displayed in my poem.


How dare you labels us & say its because of how we live
We are simple,
We eat
Trash, garbage, leftovers
Eating what’s been casted away or forgotten
What its there, when its there
Fresh, rotten, new, or old
Nothing is ever wasted
We even do as you say
Reduce, reuse, &recycle
 What of this suggest we are murders
We partake of those that have fallen upon death
Fellow sprits lost to roads
Frozen by the cold
Killed at sea
We even digesting those pesky insects
That not everyone can see
Yet, you still label us
How can that be
When our favorite foods are things you waist
O’ wait it must be the Cheetos we stole
Hoping you did see
What else could it be
Maybe murder means something else to thee
Because we are bird maybe we just don’t see
This could maybe be
Yet, there were countless times
That my ancestors had seen
When there was nothing but dead human bodies
Left out for all to see
At sea, on land, and even in the trees
It was not us who cover the world with
All these dates reminders of
Pain, loss, and tragedy
We never slayed our neighboring countries
Because they wouldn’t share their goodies
Or speak to our deities
Then don’t forget color was also a key
When black and white couldn’t be
All these lost sprits lost but
Not a one was due to the
Corvidae family