Counting Crows

I remember reading an article back when I was a teen--probably in a Field and Stream magazine--that crows are smarter than the average bird. In fact, they're able to count.

The author passed lightly over how they discovered this amazing fact in favor of a long, convoluted tale about shuffling hunters in and out of a shooting blind in such a way that the crows couldn't tell whether anyone was still left inside hunting. Since my dad had an ironclad rule--you don't shoot anything unless you intend to eat it (remind me to tell you how raccoon tastes sometime)--I was more interested in the fact that this ordinary bird could keep track of numbers objects, apparently by ordering them in groups of three. Cool, I thought. Then promptly forgot about it.

Years later, I discovered counting rhymes: One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four a boy. They seemed to be popping up everywhere I looked, songs by Jeffrey Foucault and Seanan McGuire, Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum, even an band. There are dozens of them in folklore, and they seem to prefer to count corvids for some reason: magpies, rooks, ravens, and, yes, crows.

I'd just started painting crows on pots, a request from my brother David. One of his co-workers was part Cherokee, and the crow in their tradition is a bird of good omen, a sign of luck (unlike it's cousin the raven here in the Northwest, who's a trickster and a nuisance, trouble on the wing).

I've lost count how many I've done since then, on tall mugs mostly, or the occasional pie or dessert plate. It's an occasional pattern; consider yourself lucky if you find one in stock.

But don't count on it...