The Mast-Head: Listening to Crows

This one learned how to say “God damn it” and a whole lot more from hanging around the fish market

Driving along Long Lane before the freeze broke a few days ago and looking out of the left side of my truck over the corn stubble, I noticed a large number of crows in among the Canada geese. 

It was late in the day, and in the yellowing light, flocks of geese winged in from the direction of Hook Pond, where, presumably, there had been a few remaining open patches of water. 

Most of the time the geese around here spend their days in the fields and the nights on the ponds. With the ponds frozen, the geese settle down in the evening on solid ground. It is sunset on a Tuesday in January as I write this, and I can see from my office window long black strings of them moving in the opposite direction over the Village Green, so who knows.

Crows seize whatever opportunity presents itself, even if it means bedding down with the geese — or eating them. Harvey Bennett, who runs the Tackle Shop in Amagansett and spends much of his time outdoors, told me that he saw a group of crows dining on a goose carcass by the side of the highway up at Ken Schwenk’s place in Sagaponack. They will eat hard rolls, too, like any good Bonacker, Harvey said. For years a goose would come around his place in Amagansett if Harvey threw it some of his breakfast. “It got to that he would almost take it out of my hand,” he said.

Crows were something of an Amagansett thing at one time, Harvey said. Stuart Vorpahl Sr., who was an accomplished trapper, was the first person Harvey knew of who took a fledgling crow from its nest and raised it as a pet. 

Keeping crows and other wildlife as pets is forbidden by the state now. It probably was when Harvey was growing up, too, but the authorities did not care as much at the time. 

Back then, Harvey said, one crow in particular would follow Stuart Junior to the Amagansett School and in good weather could be heard through open windows cursing from its perch in a tree. Crows are exceptional mimics, Harvey said, and this one learned how to say “God damn it” and a whole lot more from hanging around the fish market.

Harvey laughed at the thought of some fifth grader going home and asking his mom what “son of a bitch” meant and then having to explain that he had heard it from a crow. 

Think of that the next time you see a flock of crows harassing a hawk or picking at something furry and indistinct on the side of the road.