Crows in Australia go Vrark. Or so I hear. I keep writing about crows, and given the international nature of WordPress, it’s natural to get a global perspective. I heard this Vrark description from two sources. Both are bloggers who live in Melbourne. In a conversation with David W Don contrasting my small-town experience living in Gettysburg, he wrote “My son and I both live in Melbourne, but he’s over a half hour away.”

“Oh, you live in Melbourne? Do you know Bruce from the Vinyl Connection?”

“Yes, he’s my cousin.”

“Hmmm, who is small town now?”

Incidentally, the crows I grew up with all say Caw Caw.

David Sedaris has a bit in his story Six to Eight Black Men about how people in various countries differently interpret a rooster call.

When I’m traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. “What do your roosters say?” is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark “vow vow” and both the frog and the duck say “quack,” the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty “kik-a-ricki.” Greek roosters crow “kiri-a- kee,” and in France they scream “coco-rico,” which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says “cock-a-doodle-doo,” my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.

I’ve loved this passage since I first heard it at a reading twenty years ago. When Sedaris read Six to Eight Black Men, I hit one of those laughing jags where you can’t stop. It’s like syphoning a swimming pool with a firehose. Once it starts, it becomes a force all its own. The laughter pours out pulling the next wave of laughter behind it, and so on. It continues long past the joy that created it. By the end it hurts.

The idea that animal onomatopoeias are subjective doesn’t surprise me. Who ever decided a cat says meow? My cat says mao, like Mao Zedong, except when he thinks I’m intentionally starving him. Then he just lets out a pathetic, little mew. Ducks don’t quack and frogs don’t ribbit. Somewhere along the way someone lazily assigned those words to the sound they thought they heard. Why wouldn’t they sound different in other countries where speech patterns vary? But until now, it never occurred to me that it might be the animals in other countries speaking a “different language” than their American kin.

When Susan and I moved in together, we rented an apartment in a high-rise building in a park-like section of Washington, DC. The building façade made a concave right angle at our apartment. Our floor plan, as well as those apartments above and below us were “L” shaped. You could look out our bedroom window and see into our living room. In the twenty minutes we spent looking at our apartment before signing the lease, we didn’t notice how that cavity amplified sounds.

The first morning we awoke at sunrise to what sounded like one hundred barking dogs directly outside our window. Crows! A flock—a murder—of crows lived in the tall trees behind our building. Every morning they greeted the sun, singing to anyone, everyone, who would listen. Two years later, as West Nile Virus swept through the DC crow population, we most commonly saw them lying in the roadside gutter, face pressed to the macadam, their beaks opening and closing, not making a sound.

When I graduated college, my girlfriend bought me a small stuffed animal—a crow with a mortuary tag identifying him as Calvin. He wore a pink cowboy hat that nicely complimented his yellow feet. When you shook him up and down, he talked. A mechanism inside of him made an errp noise. Calvin sounded nothing like a crow, but he channeled a pretty good frog.

Stacked on a table in my basement, we have several of those see-through plastic bins with snap on lids. We call them memory boxes. These contain daycare artwork and picture books and some of my favorite outfits that my kids wore. They contain fifty-year-old report cards, a stein from a German beer tasting at the Brickskeller, a baseball from a Washington Senators game, dolls, Hotwheels, and costume jewelry. They even house a set of plastic coins commemorating the Munich Olympics.

Calvin lives in one of these bins. His voice box broke decades ago. Like the DC crows with West Nile, he silently endures his fate. He rides out eternity entirely forgotten by all save that one guy who strangely can’t stop writing about crows.

19 thoughts on “Crows

  1. Nice piece Jeff
    (and thanks for the mention).
    The origin of the modern Australian Crow call:-
    In March 1975, popular TV entertainer Graham Kennedy mocked an advertisement for Cedel hair products on live TV by adding an ‘F’ to the ‘Aaark’ crow call that he routinely used jokingly when doing live to air TV advertisements. Many in the Community were shocked by the sound and Graham was banned from live TV by the
    Australian Broadcasting Control Board.
    Australian crows changed their call to Vrark in protest at the punishment of Graham by the broadcasting authority.

    (I made this last bit up).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Cor! The sound of a crow from New Zealand, perhaps? Or British vernacular for god?

    Very enjoyable, Jeff. And thanks for the shoutout from cosy lil’ Melbourne. With a mere 5 million inhabitants, you are bound to run into a cousin every other day.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hey I know the Brickskeller too! I like that image sucking out the water from a swimming pool. And the idea of languages projected on animals, that’s cool. Any shout out to Sedaris is always welcome too. He’s like a lady bug, always good luck it seems. And why on earth we came up with that notion? I’ve grown to dislike lady bugs now that I think of it.


  4. I love Crows! We don’t have many pigeons in my San Diego satellite city, but we have many, many Crows. They are actually super intelligent! They can recognize individual human faces, and they have great memories, so do NOT make one angry, or you risk being dive bombed every time you step outside.
    It IS pretty interesting how our different human speech patterns affect the way we interpret/describe animal sounds.
    For the record, my cat says mrao. Maybe it’s a SoCal dialect😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • We don’t have too many crows here either. The birds we get most excited about hanging around the house are owls and hawks. A few weeks ago, something killed an opossum in my back yard and for a week, we had a vulture visiting every day. I think for your cat to talk with the proper SoCal dialect it would need to say “OMG, like, mrao”. Hope you’re doing well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • OMG! That totally made me LOL!
        It’s a Rollercoaster ride with my health the past month or so. The ankle thing is back🙄 Then the pain clinic couldn’t get the meds to refill my Intrathecal Pain Pump, so it completely went dry, with an annoying alarm going off every 10 minutes for 4 days. I’ve never been so happy to have hearing loss! I could only hear it when the house was quiet, which is very rare😂
        The pump got refilled yesterday, and I’ve already had my primary fax a referral to a new clinic because this isn’t the first time there’s been an issue with my meds.

        I seem destined to live a Soap Opera/Reality TV show life, though I’d prefer not to🤷🏼‍♀️ I guess one positive is, I never, ever get bored!😂😂

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been on a bit of a Sedaris binge since I saw him read a few weeks ago. My teenage son went to see him with me. He said he didn’t think Sedaris’ stories would be anywhere near as funny to read because he loved the delivery the most.


  5. There will always be crow material. Murders of crows but parliaments of owls. I feel like someone was a bit biased when they came up with that stuff… I’m going to start asking the rooster question everywhere from now on…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Caw versus vrark | davidwdon

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