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  • Susan Gallagher

Capra's Corvid

My sister is the Queen of Christmas – the antithesis of a holiday humbug like me. She is keeper of family traditions and has inherited all of the heirloom ornaments. Her ceilings bear the scars of stuffing twelve foot tall trees into ten foot high rooms.

This is all just fine by me. If she’s cool with having to decorate every wall and window, and with lighting a Yankee sugarplum candle in every corner then hey, more power to her. At least I don’t have to live with her--anymore.

When we were kids I suffered all manner of Yuletide tortures, not the least of which was having to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” over and over and over again.

I can’t be the only one who believes that a little bit of Frank Capra goes a long way because today, network TV seems to have enacted a limit on the number of times they’ll air this holiday classic. Back in the 70s all you had to do was change the channel strategically, and you could watch the show 24/7 until well past December 25th. And that’s exactly what my sister did.

Having been traumatized this way as a child, I’ll rarely tune in anymore to see Clarence get his wings. But this year was different. Thanks to the miracle of Dish Network’s live TV rewind button, I decided to settle a nagging question, to find out for certain whether Uncle Billy’s pet bird was a raven or a crow.

A Google search taught me a few things: the bird was employed through Hollywood animal trainer Curly Twiford; he appeared in many other films, where he was alternately credited as “Jimmy the Raven” and “Jimmy the Crow” and, he was union.

Since Jimmy is now long gone, the only way to figure out what he was would be to look back on his screen appearances while considering the physical differences between ravens and crows. One of the best field marks in making this distinction is the shape of the tail; crows have a simple wedge-shaped tail, while ravens’ tails are diamond-shaped. Enter the live TV rewind button!

Our best view of the bird’s tail comes as Uncle Billy returns to the Building and Loan after having lost $8,000. Billy enters and is called over to the telephone (“Harry’s on the phone!”) As he crosses the room, the bird lands on his arm, opening wings and fanning tail to keep balance. A few frames after this...

... the diamond-shaped tail is clearly evident. I found the above picture online, and I don’t know how to find or link to screen captures to show you the exact frame. Not being able to see for yourself, I’ll understand if you don’t believe me.

But I’m not finished yet. Further proof of Jimmy’s identity comes courtesy of his co-star, Jimmy Stewart.

Here’s another picture I found online – two Jimmies in one screenshot.

Notice both actors are about the same distance from the camera. Let’s assume that means we can compare their sizes without having to worry about one being closer (and therefore appearing larger) than the other.

Now, let’s look at what we know, and what we don’t know:

We don’t know if Jimmy the Bird is a crow or a raven. We do know (according to most field guides) that crows measure about 17 inches from tip of beak to tip of tail. Ravens are larger, up to 24 inches from beak tip to tail. Remember, that's from tip of beak. It'll be important later.

We know that Jimmy the Human is 6’3” tall. This is according to multiple websites devoted to such things, all of which agree on our star’s height.

We can’t see all of Mr. Stewart, so his overall measurement can't be used. However, more online sources--again, all in agreement--tell us that on average, a person’s overall height is made up of 7.5 “head units”. That is to say, measure your head, multiply by 7.5, and you have, roughly, your height. (For what purpose, you might ask, would someone figure this kind of thing out? Simple: artists need to know so they can get our proportions correct when they paint or sculpt the human form.)

Time for some simple math: if Jimmy Stewart is 6’3” tall (75 inches) then his head, in inches, must measure 75 divided by 7.5 – or 10 inches.

Follow that? Okay. So we can all agree that Jimmy Stewart’s head is 10 inches tall. In this photo, the red line equals 10 inches. I had to guess a little under the hat.

So how many of these red lines does it take to measure the bird? Let’s see.

Here, Jimmy the Bird measures slightly less than two Jimmy the Human head units. Hmmmm... looks like about 17 inches, huh? But remember, we're supposed to go to the tip of the beak. We can't do that here very easily because the bird's head is down. But it looks as if we added the length of the bill, it would clearly put him at or a bit over 20 inches.

Jimmy is therefore (Ta Da!) a raven.

If you've stayed with me thus far, you're now probably thinking one of two things--maybe both:

A) this girl is brilliant!

B) this girl has way too much time on her hands.

That one you’ll have to figure out for yourself. Would it help if I told you my head is 8.5” tall?

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