I was recently asked why I liked crows. It’s kind of a long story. I didn’t always like crows. When I was a child, my mother would throw stale bread to the birds—who actually ate it, unlike our upscale birds, who require wild bird seeds or avian sunflower seeds. I can still see my mom throwing the bread onto the grass. This homely picture was tainted by a dark enemy who would swoop in, scattering finches, sparrows, and chickadees, and calmly eat all the bread, much to the frustration of my mother. This is when I learned to dislike crows.
In the ensuing years, I have heard many stories of crow misdeeds, including eating baby birds, small birds, and eggs. I even witnessed some of this behavior personally. For me, it was suspicions confirmed: crows were the bullies, the outlaws, the bad guys.
Then one day we were out in the park and we heard some godawful squawking. Looking for the source of the raucous noise, we spotted a half-dead oak tree with a fairly large creature in its branches. About a dozen crows, in an amazing display of aerial acrobatics, were dive-bombing what looked like a bobcat. Reacting to the attack, the bobcat unfurled its tail … and we were looking at a face-off between a group of crows and a mountain lion. The hair on my arms stood on end, and I felt my scalp tighten. Still fascinated, we watched as the relentless crows caused the invader to turn tail and run, and since it was headed in our direction, we ran too. But as we drove out of the park, I marveled at the crows’ cooperative and dangerous display of protecting the nest of one of their own.
Another time, on a walk in the neighborhood, we saw an injured crow in the street. To the side, several crows were making distressed sounds and dashing out into the traffic to somehow protect their fallen mate. More crows were arriving as we retraced our steps to call a wild bird rescue organization. When we returned, all of the crows were gone. I like to think the fallen bird, encouraged by its mates, somehow reached safety.
So my attitude started to change. I read a book about these surprisingly intelligent creatures. Early spring arrived, and love was in the air. Our neighbor’s scraggly and leafless sycamore provided a front-row seat to the courtship of a pair of crows. I watched as they sat together, groomed each other, and gently touched beaks. Courtship was followed by construction of an elaborate nest. Now there were some helpers on the scene—probably last year’s offspring. Pieces of the dormant sycamore were broken off and carried to the building site in a shaggy Washingtonian palm tree. This endeavor seemed to take weeks. When it was finished, the only part of the nest visible was a shadowy outline of one of the soon-to-be parents moving about.
A few days later, I was in the garden when I heard shrieking noises from the nest. One of the crows flew out of the nest, but the painful noise continued. I was certain the female was laying an egg. If you have ever been in labor, you know why I know. This was repeated at intervals over a few days.
It was an unusually wet spring this year. During the ensuing weeks, at least two crows kept guard. I watched as these stalwart birds perched in the thin, topmost branches of the sycamore with rain dripping from their beaks. Occasionally, they would shake and fluff their fathers and leave only when a replacement was coming on duty. At dusk, they would fly off toward the west, only to return in the early morning. Eventually the nest became quiet, and there was no traffic around the palm, but then, on one of the now leafy branches of the sycamore tree, I spotted a parent and a relentless teenage crow shrieking to be fed—and fed it was.
It is now almost June, and while there are many crows in the neighborhood, there remains one very special beauty. In a defunct solar fountain with water in its center, this crow comes to drink and sometimes stow items in the water or washes them. One day I bought unsalted pistachios by mistake. So we put out a few of these nuts in the dry part of the crow’s fountain, only to observe that these weren’t the easiest nuts to crack, although this bird was tenacious. Today when I came back from a walk, I noticed a pistachio shell in a rough depression in the sidewalk. It was just the right size to stabilize a tough nut so that beak and claw could do their work.
So there are a lot of reasons why I love crows. Not only do I feel honored to witness the intimate lives of these intelligent creatures, but I feel humbled as well—and somehow enhanced. Crows have been redeemed, in my mind, simply by getting to know them.