making friends with crows

(photo by cheddar on flickr)

My guess is eggs, but my four-year-old Gwyneth thinks they probably like meat and Kenyon, my ten-year-old, says cheese.

But if you ask me, eggs, preferably hardboiled, might be the tidiest, surest, and cheapest way to a crow’s heart. This hypothesis is rooted in the time I saw a crew of crows marauding on a rooftop, gleefully filching eggs from the pigeons’ nests.  They worked as a team:  two crows would hold back the screeching pigeons while one grabbed the egg.  All my sentimental impulses were eclipsed by the thought, Huh. What a bunch of smarties.

Since then, I’ve read all kinds of reports about how crows are a lot more intelligent than anyone thought, that they use tools, understand machines and can even perform simple jobs if given the proper training. (See http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/joshua_klein_on_the_intelligence_of_crows.html). But even before I knew all that, since I was a child, I have admired crows for their stark silhouette, the way they play chicken with oncoming cars, and that cagey strut down the middle of the street.  They have such terrible elegance, like a hobo wearing a top hat or a tap dancing prizefighter, and a little part of me has always wanted to know more about them, probably the same part that likes loud, thumping music and flirts with ideas like train hopping or getting a tattoo—of a crow, perhaps—or challenging someone to arm wrestle, things I’ll probably never do but still cling to as the last vestiges of a more daring, quixotic existence.

A couple months ago, I was driving Gwyn to preschool and we came across a murder of crows cawing riotously from a tree.  It was the beginning of the school year and Gwyn wasn’t in any rush to get there– she still felt like a stranger in her classroom and had been dragging her heels all morning, so I pulled over to the curb to watch the birds.  As we sat there, I told her everything I knew about them. When I was done, she asked, “Could we make friends with crows?”

I said, “You could make friends with anything. You’re really good at making friends.” But even after she did make friends at school, the idea stuck, and the more I thought about it, the more excited I became.

So Kenyon, Gwyneth and I decided to form a team.  Kenyon is our scientist:  We will do research in the library and she’ll use this study as her 5th grade science experiment.  Gwyn is our cheerleader; she is thoroughly convinced that someday soon, a crow will be sleeping at the foot of her bed.  I guess I’m the venture capitalist or maybe the manager, but I’ll just be happy if we can just catch the birds’ attention.

OUR FIRST ATTEMPT AT CONTACT:

We heard a noisy group cawing outside and ran to grab some shoes.  Of course I was unprepared for this first foray into friendship with crows: I stood in the kitchen vacillating between the expensive prima donna gouda (I mean after all, we weren’t friends yet) and a wilted head of lettuce (or would that be just insulting?).  Finally, I grabbed three slices of bread and we rushed outside, stumbling over each other’s feet.

There were three of them sitting on top of the telephone pole.  “Caw, caw!”  I called up to them in my friendliest voice.

“CAW! CAW! CAW!” screamed the girls as we rushed to the foot of the pole, brandishing bread.  The birds promptly flew off.  Who knew those big toughies would be so skittish? We left the bread at the foot of the pole.

It was still there the next day.

OUR SECOND ATTEMPT:

Several days passed before we saw those crows again.  We had plenty of time for team meetings and decided that something must have been lacking in the menu or approach, or perhaps it was just going to take more time.  I boiled eggs in preparation.

One morning, I kissed Kenyon at the door before she walked to the bus stop.  I had retreated from the cold back into the warm kitchen and my cup of hot tea when she burst back in the house, yelling that the crows were across the street.  I pulled some clothes on over my nightgown, grabbed three eggs, and ran outside.

It was early morning and the pavement was cold as ice.  I waved to all the kids and parents at the bus stop; they watched me walk across the road in my bare feet, nightgown trailing from under my sweater.  I got to the telephone pole, looked at the three eggs in my hands, and didn’t know what to do.  Surely, a crow knows how to get into an egg?  I mean, they’re not four-year-olds, right?  Or if they are, their crow mom will help them?  Just in case, I peeled the shells from two but left the third intact.  I arranged them in a neat pile in the middle of the sidewalk. “Caw, caw!”  I crooned, and backed away.

I waved one last time as Kenyon was getting on the bus.  She grinned and blew kisses because that’s the kind of kid she is.  Who cares if I look like an escaped mental patient?  I’m her mother and, more importantly, it’s all in the name of science and in the interest of inter-species relations.

Later that day, the eggs were gone.

ENCOUNTER #3

So either we’re making some headway with the crows or someone (or something) else is starting to think that telephone pole is some kind of lucky charm, a portal between here and the bread-and-egg dimension.  But I’m fairly certain I’m not imagining that when I walked out of my house the other day, there atop the telephone pole was a medium-sized crow cawing right at me.  She looked me right in the eye and yelled for food—I’d know that tone of voice anywhere.  My kids were both at school and I was running late but I ran back for an egg before I left.

That was three days ago, and we haven’t seen or heard from them since.   Maybe one egg just wasn’t worth the crow’s effort?  Maybe feeding a bird eggs is bad karma.  Maybe we should go out and buy some meat, but that seems more like a can of worms.  Is it kosher to feed a bird a bird? If so, do I have to splurge for something fancy and free-range or would a tub of KFC suffice?  Wait—why in the world would I feed a wild creature something that I wouldn’t let my own kids eat?  No, no, no!  We really shouldn’t be messing with mother nature at all, this whole endeavor is rather short-sighted and narcissistic.  I mean, when Gwyn thinks that if she doesn’t feed the birds they might starve, well that’s just cute, but I’m an adult and I should know better by now. I should know not to meddle, shouldn’t I?

But then my inner teenager finally wakes up and rolls over. Blah blah blah, she sasses, using her hand as a puppet. (My inner teenager is a mouthy little bitch.) Can’t a person have a little fun?  And if the crow wants bird, then let her eat bird.  What’s it to you?

So, if the crows come by again then, as team manager, I’ll raise these questions.  We will engage in that philosophical discussion a bit further in.  For now, I have a half dozen boiled eggs and a big chunk of cheddar waiting in the fridge.

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About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.

8 comments

  1. Pingback: feeders (my 5th account of making friends with crows) « girl in the hat

  2. Love this. I want to give you a prize for using “murder of crows.” My parents’ street has lots of them and when my best friend slept over she would caw at them in the morning, and they always answered her. I was never able to produce a sufficiently communicative caw for the crows to want to respond.

    I would like to travel to the bread-and-egg dimension, particularly if there is also butter.

  3. When we adopted Graham, a cocker spaniel, I started a jogging routine because I was turning into an overweight middle aged male who couldn’t afford a mid life crises! Every day me and Graham would jog around the neighborhood and every day there was this murder of crows cawing at us every time we jogged by them. I swear it was like they were following us for a year, I never noticed them before Graham.

    11 months later Graham got sick and passed away. Sounds crazy but I think the crows came to look after him and take him on to the next life. Now whenever I see them I tell them to say hi to Graham for me.

    Always liked “The Crow” too (movie and graphic novel).

  4. I want to give you a prize too, though it’s a tad too soon in our relationship……perhaps in an hour or so, after I’ve finished going through all the tabs with randomly selected posts by you, of which this is the first one……and I just KNOW there was a reason for this….!
    Any friend of a crow is a friend of mine. I concur with each and every quality you have ascribed to the feisty feathered little beings.
    This post has raised my consciousness. I admit I never thought twice about feeding a bird bird parts. In my defense, the crows don’t seem to mind the entrails of chicken that I leave for them in a dish on the ledge of my balcony!
    I do a neat crow impersonation myself. In fact, the first time I cawed like one (to amuse my daughter when she was small) I impressed her so much she used to make me do it when we had visitors.

    • I’d love to hear that crow impersonation. I’ve tried one, but I can’t quite manage so instead I whistle at them (in my very strange tooth-whislte yoo-hoo way) so they’ll know I’m trying to communicate. Funny how comfortable one feels acting silly/crazy in front of animals, doing and saying things one would normally hide or keep to oneself. I’m so glad you liked this post!

  5. hey Anna, I’ve been reading your blog for some time and have wanted to check this series out. partly, because i like crows, and partly because i knew that in your hands, i’d find reasons to love them even more. thanks.

    might write a flash fiction on the history of crows–maybe you’d let me guest blog for that? just an idea.

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