Monday, July 16, 2007

1.34 - The Walking Crows

MONKEY ISLAND, OCTOBER 1986 - It's never a good thing when a creature makes it to the endangered species list, and it was a dark day when Monkey Island's famous Walking Crows were declared to be near extinction and placed under federal protection.

A dark day indeed, for the Walking Crow has been long considered to be just about the most annoying animate object around, and eliminating it from the face of the earth has long been the goal of many islanders. The birds being placed on the endangered list would only make this task harder.

Some background: Like kudzu to the American South, like mesquite to Texas, like Martha Stewart to the east end of Long Island, the Walking Crows are transplants from another land. They are descendents of the famous ravens that guard the Tower of London, brought here as stowaways aboard a ship of Sir Walter Raleigh in the early seventeenth century. Ah, I can hear you say, but aren't the tower ravens wingless because their wings are clipped? Because if they fly away, the story goes, "the Tower will fall, and with it the Crown."? So are these 'walking crows' not just common ravens that someone's taken a scissor to?

Well, yes and no.

It was only one pair that made it here, and they bred a few times, hatching normal raven chicks, except that the first pair of nestlings never learned how to fly, being that their parents had no wings, and so couldn't teach them. Subsequently the later (inbred) generations not only never learned to fly, but their wings, over the course of more than three centuries of inbreeding and nonuse, became nothing more than feathered stumps. Because flying was unknown to them, they had evolved away the means necessary for it.

In return though, the birds developed very strong legs, a loud screech and ready willingness to fight. Most of these birds are able to jump upwards of four to five feet vertically, and the inability to flee unpleasant situations leads them to be unafraid of most confrontations. In short, they are a major pain in the ass here on the island.

As flightless birds go, only an ostrich has a meaner disposition, but with an ostrich the anger comes only if provoked. The walking crows seem to spend every waking moment hopping around, pissed off at the world. But flightless, and about the size and shape of a football, make them an attractive target to those whom they chose to display their wrath. Retaliation, in the form of a swift kick, is what has led to the thinning of the population, and the subsequent protection laws.

This may be an island, but it isn't always paradise.

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