Let's begin with an important scene in this short documentary by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson: A scientist (or at least I think he is a scientist—he sits in what looks like a lab) holds up two transparent receptacles that contain the brains of two types of birds. The brain in one container is huge and the one in the other is small. The huge brain, we are told, belonged to a crow, and the small one to a duck. The crow's brain, which is double the size of the duck's, helps to explain why urban corvids are so bloody clever, why they can use tools to get food or the wheels of cars to crack open nuts. Tokyo has 20,000 of these birds—small compared to the city's human population (13 million)—and their beaks appear to be larger or more bulky than the ones we find in Seattle. But crows over there make the same horrible noise as the ones here—that throaty, soul-crushing, beak-blasting call.

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