PBS // 2010 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // February 12th, 2011
Birds with an attitude.
In many ways, we have Hitchcock to thank for deepening our fear of birds, their collective consciousness and malevolent, scheming ways. Throughout literature and popular culture, crows in particular have developed a really bad reputation. It's hard to compile a list of scary sounds without adding a crow's dark appearance and unique, piercing call to that list. It's amazing how little we know about crows, aside from their regular appearances in scary movies, their ominous reputation for being evil and associated with generally bad things, especially around Halloween.
I've never been much of a bird person, and to be honest, I've often considered them to be fairly low on the intelligence scale, suiting the expression "bird-brained" just fine. I was amazed by just how little I knew about birds and crows in particular. As I learned from A Murder of Crows, based on relatively recent research by ornithologists from around the world, crows are now regarded as one of the more intelligent animal species in the world, comparable to only elephants and chimpanzees in their ability to use tools; there's one particular experiment that blew my mind, so I won't spoil it for you.
The feature's title, A Murder of Crows, has nothing to do with homicide, but rather refers to the name given to a grouping of these animals, similar to a pride of lions or a gaggle of geese. Crows exhibit an amazing multi-generational family bond that involves as many as 250 specific sounds and calls they use to communicate with one another. Their group bond is so strong that researchers have seen behaviors that are best described as mourning when a member of the group is killed. While the expression "elephants never forget" is common and familiar, it's fascinating to learn that crows can remember locations, specific incidents and even individual faces for as long as two years.
A Murder of Crows includes an odd feature I've never seen before called "play with video description." Obviously developed for people who are visually impaired, this feature chimes in here and there with a male voice essentially describing what is showing onscreen at the time. While it's an interesting feature, it occasionally comes into conflict with the program's narration. Canadian writer and broadcaster Nora Young keeps viewers engaged with pleasant narration that supports fascinating research and amazing footage. The 1080i image is solid and clear throughout, displaying beautiful color and suitably inky blacks, but the program would have benefitted from a higher resolution 1080p presentation. The audio presentation is perfectly balanced between narration, music, environmental sounds and other elements, delivering a pleasantly immersive surround experience, especially for a documentary like this.
A Murder of Crows takes a close look at these fascinating creatures and I guarantee you'll leave the experience with a new appreciation for these fine feathered friends.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* PBS Nature