I’VE LEARNED MORE about crows in the last 24 hours than I ever imagined.

And all because I woke up on a recent morning to find a dead crow in our backyard.

He was lovely, really, splayed out on the snow under the hemlock tree, belly down and beak up, looking like an airplane that had done a nose dive and landed, tail in the air.

It was cold — very cold — and the bird was frozen.

Could it have died of the cold?

It must have been sick, I concluded.

Later in the day, I ventured out, climbing over tall snowbanks, Hannaford grocery bag in hand and donning plastic gloves, and retrieved the bird.

Its svelte black feathers were tinted blue on its back side and looked iridescent in the sunlight.

The beak was open, as were the crow’s eyes.

I picked up the carcass and placed it in the bag, tied it up and carried it back to the house for disposal.

The crow’s presence piquing my curiosity, I Googled crows, dead crows, Maine crows and crow symbolism.

What does it mean to see a dead crow?

What symbolism is associated with crows?

How long do they live?

I had heard crows are intelligent creatures that flock and travel together as in a “murder of crows.”

They are smart about checking the territory around carrion before zeroing in on it to feed. They also are said to lead predators such as coyotes to a dead animal so that the coyotes may puncture the carcass, allowing both crow and coyote to eat.

In Waterville this time of year, we see swarms of crows flying overhead, particularly in the northern part of the city near Elm Plaza off Main Street and around Interstate 95.

As day turns to dusk, it is common to see so many crows flying in that area that the sky seems to darken prematurely.

As I perused the Internet, I found all sorts of references to the common crow which, according to a Vermont Fish & Wildlife fact sheet, is a Corvus brachyrhynchos, of the Corvidae family, which includes the raven, blue jay and magpie. Crows have loud and raucous calls and eat everything from agricultural crops to insects and worms, eggs and berries.

“The crow is a curious bird and is known to carry off and hide bright, shiny objects,” the fact sheet says. It also says crows often travel and feed in large groups and while doing so, one or two may stand guard while others eat, and the guards will warn the larger flock if danger lurks.

I even found stories about how humans have befriended and fed crows, and the crows, in return, brought them gifts of small, shiny objects such as earrings and key chains.

Doug Hitchcox, a staff naturalist with Maine Audubon, notes that some well-known and observable roosts in Maine include the one in the north end of Waterville, at Portland’s Back Cove and Payson Park and the area around City Hall in Brewer.

Aside from carrying practical facts and figures concerning crows, the internet is rife with more intangible statistics.

Crows have long been associated, for instance, with mystery and magic.

While many believe that seeing a crow is a harbinger of death, others say the presence of a dead crow means the end of bad things and the beginning of all things new and good.

I like that rationale.

There are also websites claiming crows symbolize change, intelligence, prophecy or strength.

Whenever I see a crow flapping its wings and cawing loudly at our cat, I think of Edgar Allan Poe and his poem, “The Raven,” a dark and terrifying piece we recited over and over as children with the goal of scaring ourselves to death.

I also think of the expression about having to eat crow, which means to be embarrassed by being wrong about something and having to eat your own words, so to speak.

And of course, one talks about something being a mile away as the crow flies, meaning it is the straightest, shortest distance between two points.

One thing I did not ascertain in my research is just why we might find a dead, frozen crow in our backyard in early January, so I posed the question to Hitchcox of Maine Audubon.

A thoughtful, knowledgeable resource, Hitchcox offered several possible reasons for the bird’s death, including age, sickness, disease — or it could have been struck by a vehicle. Since crows eat garbage and carrion often found beside or on roads, it makes sense that it could have been hit by a car. The crow also could have flown into a tree or building, according to Hitchcox, who said hundreds of millions of birds per year collide with buildings and sometimes they die instantly or become dazed and fly off with internal injuries and then perish.

“A tough thing for birds is having hollow bones, so unwanted physical contact can be a death sentence,” Hitchcox said.

Another possibility is that the crow ate poison intended for rodents. As for the bird’s possibly being diseased, Hitchcox noted that if one sees several dead crows, it would be a good idea to contact the Centers for Disease Control.

“My general rule is, once is bizarre, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a pattern,” he said. “It’s certainly the kind of thing to keep an eye on. If you start seeing a pattern, it’s worth investigating.”

The one thing I didn’t know about crows, and that I find interesting, is that there is an actual hunting season in Maine for crows. There are no bag limits and the crow hunting season for most of the state starts Jan. 22 and continues through March 31.

Do people literally eat crow? Remember the nursery rhyme, “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” about 24 blackbirds baked in a pie? I guess I always thought one ate them only in fairy tales.

Though there may be myriad reasons my poor crow expired, I prefer to think its backyard presence carries an auspicious symbolism: that the worst is behind us and the best is yet to come.

During this new year, especially, we can use such a hopeful sign.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.