When she set out to write about the crow — the black sheep of the avian world — the naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt didn’t relish the task. “I never meant to watch crows especially,” she admits in her curiously personal and thought-provoking meditation, “Crow Planet.” “Whenever I ask someone about chickadees or robins or flickers or other common birds . . . the response is almost always lackluster, noncommittal or at best blandly cheerful.” Crows, however, sometimes elicit raves (“They are so intelligent! And beautiful!”), but far more often insults (“loud,” “poopy,” “evil,” “menacingly bold,” “harbingers of death”). Haupt knew the dark history that fed this distaste. During the plague years in medieval Europe, crows “scavenged the bodies lying uncovered in the streets.” In 1666, she writes, after the great fire of London, so many crows descended on the victims that Charles II ordered a campaign against them to calm a horrified populace. And yet, as she trained her binoculars on the familiar but spooky creatures in her yard, Haupt found aspects of the corvid family that argued for more respect.

more from Liesl Schillinger at the NYT here.