City Crows Pre-seminar Assignment

You will read a section about The Home Place (preferably the real book version)  to get your mind moving. The next step is to put your mind in a frame of inquiry by generating a list of questions. The main part of this activity is to observe the birds near your house for 30 minutes at sunset (between 4-5 pm). You may try to pay special attention to the crows or you can look at all of the birds. If you don’t know the names of the birds make them up or use some sort of description. The final task is to record something about your observations. You can record while you observe but the key thing is to sit still and deeply observe what is happening for 30 minutes.

  1. Start by reading the section of The Home Place that mentions crows (pgs 105 – 106). It is below or you can read it (maybe even the whole chapter in the book)
  2. Gather your warm clothes, a notepad, and something to write with.
  3. Write 20 questions about crows and any other birds you might find near your house during sunset.
  4. Spend 30 minutes (set a timer) observing birds from outside or inside of your house
  5. As you observe or after your observation record anything you think is important. This can be text, drawings, graphs, charts. It is up to you.
  6. Take a picture of your notes and a photo of your observation place and send to the group chat or me individually. 

We will start the discussion at 5 and it will go until 6.



(PGS 105-106)

“I wasn’t quite a man when I put away the childish things, but I was old enough to understand that unassisted flight wasn’t going to happen for me, no matter how hard I flapped or how high I jumped. Dreams of fame as a fighter pilot eventually faded, too, as my identity and desires evolved. But while many things in my mind changed, the fascination with birds and flight stuck hard and fast.

Birds were a part of everyday life on the Home Place. There were the blue jays that “stole” Mamatha’s pecans in the fall. There were the turkeys that gobbled in the spring, and the quail that called in the summer. There were flocks of sparrows and juncos that seemed grateful for the grits Mamatha scattered in the snow.

I’ve noticed birds for as long as I can remember. Mamatha’s seed-spreading sympathy for the snowbirds in the winter was the first I ever knew of anyone feeding birds. Daddy’s cornfield confrontations with crows—and his practice of killing one and hanging it to scare away the other marauders—worked. Crows were anything but birdbrained. Hoover understood that the big black birds’ intelligence was a force to be reckoned with. It moved my respect for crows and their kindred to a different level.

I saw birds through others’ eyes first. Many were friends: insect-eating robins, beautiful singing redbirds, weather-forecasting rain crows. Others were foes: crop-eating crows, death-dealing owls, pecan-stealing jays. The vast majority were neutral neighbors: thrushes, warblers, vireos, tanagers, sparrows, buntings, and blackbirds. I’m not sure anyone else noticed seasonal changes in their vast array.

At first the identities of the birds didn’t really matter to me, either. The Home Place names were enough. There weren’t differences between chipping sparrows or song sparrows; they were all just sparrows. I never knew that there were other red birds besides cardinals.

Then, one day, my matronly, gray-haired second-grade teacher, Mrs. Beasley, gave us mimeographed pictures of birds to color. The empty outline of that bird on the white page inspired me. I somehow knew the bird on the page was what Mamatha called a “markingbird”—a gray-and-white copycat songster that I saw and heard often on the Home Place—and so was given permission to pursue my ornithological obsession. Inside my seven-year-old psyche a switch was flipped on that would never be turned off. Not long after the mimeographed mockingbird’s inspiration, I bought my first field guide—A Golden Nature Guide to Birds. The pocket-sized book was full of the birds I knew and many more I didn’t. It gave some of the birds different names and stories that explained where they lived or even how they sounded. Soon my grandmother’s birds became my ornithology. Her redbirds, bee-martins, yellowhammers, snowbirds, rain crows, partridges, buzzards, and chicken hawks became northern cardinals, eastern kingbirds, yellow-shafted flickers, slate-colored juncos, yellow-billed cuckoos, northern bobwhite, vultures, and red-tailed hawks. Perhaps I could still live some of my life’s desires through birds. Even if I couldn’t fly like them, I could watch them and imagine life on the wing.”