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Any day with a crow in it is full of promise. - Candace Savage, "Crows - Encounters With the Wise Guys"
This page was updated October 26, 2006. The joy continues!
Here is a true crow story, with some photos and words to sketch a rough portrait of what I have seen at a bus stop near Seattle. Below the pictures, the story continues as a diary; something wondrous happens almost every day. I wish I could get a photo of each moment, but for now, the following will have to do.
It began in September 2005 with one crow in a tree.
He watched as I ate a cookie on my way to the bus stop.
He flew from tree branch to sign as I walked along,
and I got the idea that he wanted a bite. Of course
I shared. The next day, he was back again.
Soon there were more crows, swooping down to join me as
I walked along.
Knowing the crows would be there, I began to bring breadcrumbs
especially for them. Eventually, I learned that it is easier to give
them sunflower seeds. They like the ones without shells best.
Dry cat food is now a favorite.
They started to wait for me as I left my building. Even when
I moved to another building, they managed to find me.
This guy is my favorite. He flies past me so I can almost
feel the tips of his wings. Here he poses for the camera,
a foot away. When a wild bird trusts you, you feel honored.
There are some crows that join me as I walk from my building,
but others wait for me at the bus stop. They know exactly
which sign I will stand by.
Occasionally, I have forgotten to bring anything. Here two
crows apparently discuss this terrible situation.
A third crow flew down to join them that day. They told him what
was going on and - you don't have to believe this, but it's
true - he looked right at me and rattled his beak in such a
way that I knew it could only be a nasty raspberry. Since then,
I have remembered to bring them treats every day!
They are bold in letting me know they want more,
but they have a way of thanking me, too. I wonder if
they miss me when I'm not there as much as I miss them?
March 15, 2006
The usual crowd gathered at the bus stop after work and confirmed my idea that they like dry cat food best of all the things I've brought. They greedily gobbled the cat food kibbles and carefully ignored some bread I'd tossed in with it. I suppose some crows snuck back later, but the lonely little pile of crumbs was still lying there as I climbed aboard the bus.
Afterward, they all flew onto high perches, some to clean their beaks and others to sit quietly. I watched as one couple sat on a tree branch and affectionately cuddled together. I'd read birds kiss, and sure enough, that had to be what they were doing. After all, it's spring.
April 4, 2006
Some days there are only three or four crows that follow me to the bus stop. This afternoon, I didn't see any. But as I sat on the bus, I noticed a loner perched on the bus sign with what I will describe as a puzzled look on his face. (I admit I am anthropomorphizing here.) The bus driver assured me he wouldn't leave for a few more minutes, and so I kindly climbed out to leave a portion of cat food for the lone beggar.
April 5, 2006
There are many changes taking place as spring arrives.
- more light
Occasionally a crow will now meet me at the bus stop in the morning. The first time this happened took me by surprise. I was walking along and I heard a sound in my ear like the snap of fresh, wet laundry, and Mr. Fancy Pants sailed by to land near me. Mr. Fancy Pants is distinguished by the exceedingly fluffy feathers on his legs.
This morning a crow couple greeted me. While I was putting cat food down, one landed near me and as I straightened up, I was nearly eyeball-to-eyeball with him. What a thrill to see he understood I wouldn't hurt him.
- more food
To my dismay, I see fewer crows. And sometimes when I do, they are absorbed in stalking the wet grass to see what juicy tidbits might be found there.
Fewer birds means smaller crowds gathering to eat my handouts. Unfortunately, this also seems to mean they like each other less. The first food fight took place as Mr. Fancy Pants (who appears to be the oldest; he certainly is the biggest and greediest) spread his wings to maintain his favored spot among the kibble selection.
- more activity
Since when I do see them, their beaks are invariably filled with sticks or moss, I believe the crows are busy getting their nests ready. (More about nests in the April 9 entry, below.)
An amusing moment occurred when a crow landed on a branch near where I was walking. I saw he had a very large clump of moss in his beak. You could see the wheels turning in his brain: Continue with nest-building duties or go for the goodies? For the first year or two a crow does not mate but acts as assistant at the nest of a breeding pair. I suspect this crow was such an apprentice. Hunger won out, and the clump of moss lay abandoned.
April 9, 2006
Today is all about nests. (See more on May 14.)
For several years I thought this mass of twigs, leaves, and
paper garbage had blown into the tree near my home in
Kent and gotten stuck. After all, if it was a bird's nest, it
would be tidy, dainty, a wonder of nature. (Look at the
picture book "Birds Build Nests" by Yvonne Winer and
marvel at the spun, woven, and tailored nests perfected
by various bird species, as illustrated by Tony Oliver.)
But it turns out this is the way crows build nests. While
leaves are still forming on trees, look up into the branch
skeletons and you will see lumps of twigs that are indeed
nests. Long ago, I've read, poor peasants used to gather
fallen firewood under crows' nests, knowing the crows
would haphazardly rebuild their nests and more wood
would eventually fall to the ground.
I figured the nest was abandoned since it seemed in poor
shape. But as I took photographs, two crows landed nearby,
squawking. I am looking forward to watching - from a
discreet distance - to see how this crow family develops.
Another thing about crows is that they like a view. Nests are often
built high, with the best view of a particular area. No wonder the
high lookout on ships is called a crow's-nest. Homeowners along
Lake Washington pay good money to see what these crows
enjoy for free.
This Lake Washington nest is tidier than the one by my home
in Kent. But you can still tell that it belongs to a crow.
April 14, 2006
I would like to film crows in flight, although no camera could create the stirring feeling that comes only in the reality of the moment. Today, I wished I had a video camera to film Mr. Fancy Pants gliding past me, landing across the street, and, after carefully looking both ways, hopping across. A car came by, sending him back to his side. But then he hopped powerfully across - no dainty bird steps here - and stood looking at me hopefully. Of course he got his edible reward.
Later, on a busier street, as I was waiting for the light to change to cross to my bus stop, I heard a pitter patter coming up the path behind me through a clump of trees. I was startled to see a crow emerge. Perhaps April 14 is Hop Everywhere Day for crows. I gave him a handful of kibble and watch with interest as he took a mouthful and walked to a nearby lawn. You never know where they are going to hide their treasures. I was amused to see he carefully covered it with a seed pod from a nearby tree. It might be there when he wants it; it might not.
Which of these seed pods hides the food cache?
May 2, 2006
It never ceases to thrill me when a crow barely misses me to fly past or allows me to stand near while he eats. This morning, Mr. Fancy Pants spied me getting off the bus, and first perched on a roof, then a sign, and finally landed on the corner by the light where I was standing. People now notice the crows following me and comment on it. They seem astonished, pointing it out to me in case I hadn't noticed it myself. This morning, Mr. Fancy Pants hopped beside me in the crosswalk and then jumped on a small stone wall to get his well-deserved treat.
I now habitually drop the kibble (which he actually eats in the morning, rather than hiding for later) and stand still rather than moving a few feet away. He hesitates only a moment before coming close. If I move suddenly, he is quick to get away, but otherwise he is touchingly trusting.
Meet Mr. Fancy Pants - slightly puffed up after chasing off wanna be eaters.
Mr. Fancy Pants fills his beak with kibble.
Later, at home, Moz finds leftover kibble, and asks:
Why are you taking this to work with you? It's mine!
May 3, 2006
Mr. Fancy Pants didn't greet me this morning, and I felt a little sad. But I understand they are all busy, so I just went on my merry way. But close to the door of the building where I work, a crow landed near me. I think it was the male of the couple that sometime ask appealingly for food. In any case, he got his kibble, and I watched his right foot to see what was on it. Recently at the bus stop, Mr. Fancy Pants chased off a small crow who had a growth on his left foot. I never saw him again, but it showed me that crows can be deformed. (I read that deformed crows can be lovingly accepted or horribly rejected by crow families; there are no predictable standards.)
This one with the odd-looking right foot turned out to be merely untidy. I suspect his nest is in the evergreen tree by the door, and this morning it appeared he had left hurriedly: it was a small dark grey feather stuck to his foot. How embarrassing!
The trees are filled with crows - oh, joy!
May 4, 2006
If anyone doubts birds have emotions, they must stop to listen. I walked out my building after work and did my usual sky-scan to see if any crows were around. I spotted two on the roof. Vain human that I am, I assumed they would swoop down, so I pulled out the kibble bag by way of preparation.
But then I realized one was talking to the other: a cawing-cooing that sounded odd to my ears after becoming accustomed to food noises (cawing in various pitches, disappointed raspberry-like beak scritching). They both ignored me, while the one continued in a variety of pitches that, the longer I listened, seemed more and more like a kind of love poem. It was beautiful.
May 5, 2006
Crows are indeed very busy as summer approaches. Only Mr. Fancy Pants hangs out with me now at the bus stop in the afternoon. The only crow, that is, since he fought off one or two others that dared to invade his territory. I tried to encourage sharing by putting kibble in two separate piles, but Mr. Fancy Pants managed to claim them both.
And of course he doesn't actually eat his treats, but flies off to hide them. Since this is often in newly mown grass or around landscaped shrubbery, you have to wonder what the gardeners think when they find the small stashes of cat food.
May 14, 2006
More about nests. (Also see April 9.)
I keep an eye on the nest by my Kent home hoping to see the happy
family. So far all I've noticed is the addition of some yellow police tape.
It can be seen for quite a distance and really brightens up the place.
To provide some perspective, here is a collection of bird nests
at the Audubon center in Sequim, Wash. I assume they are ones
found nearby. Unfortunately, these are not labeled, but if you
look closely, you will see most are neatly put together, if a bit
scraggly for wear.
Since it is so abundant in the Pacific Northwest, mud appears to be a common adhesive. Crows do not use mud.
Also in Sequim, here is a distant view of an eagle nest.
A closer view does not provide context, but the nest grows
each year and is huge. Like a crow's nest, the eagle gets a
vast view - this one overlooking the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
Note the eagle at the far left. Someday I will get a close-up
One last word . . . for this season at least. At present I am not working near where Mr. Fancy Pants and his pals hang out. Golly, I miss them!
I've seen lots of crows in my travels since May, but have not been able to develop a relationship with them. Time, persistence, kind curiosity, some food . . . these will earn you friendship with a crow. Keep some kibble in your pocket . . . you never know . . .
If you see my crows - perhaps high in a tree, watching for food - say hi for me!
October 26, 2006
I left the area for three months and wondered if my crows would remember me. I saw lots of crows while I traveled, but none that cared at all if I was in their territory or not.
The day I returned, I carried a bag of cat food to the bus stop in the afternoon, just in case. As I walked, I eyed the treetops, the sky, the lower branches . . . no crows. Crossing the street to the bus stop, I heard cawing. My heart soared! A lone crow flew down to meet me, obviously waiting for his handout. As I tossed a handful of kibble in his direction, suddenly I was in the midst of a fluttering swarm of crows.
Glorious, glorious crows!
I counted over a dozen, some looking young and new, some old and familiar, like Mr. Fancy Pants, who was definitely still in charge. Sadly, I ran out of food almost immediately. Still, the lot waited patiently, eyeing me expectantly. I promised them more tomorrow. Whether they understood me or not, I can't say, but they watched me carefully until I climbed on the bus.