Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Little-Buddy Project


Dave has little buddies all over the place. Almost anything has little-buddy potential, and being technically alive isn't even a requirement. So at some point he's likely to address anything from Pootie to an interesting bug to a massive bricklayer as "my little buddy," and responses vary. Not everyone is as responsive as Pootie. There are days Dave doesn't even get an antenna-wave out of it.

But we both thought we might be able to develop more of a relationship with a crow. We had three or four that lived in the big Doug fir next door, and we set about making little buddies out of them. Crows are smart. If a crow can count on you for a cracked walnut, a crow is going to remember you favorably. "Hi there," we sang out, while placing a walnut in plain sight. The general goal was to have one or more of our crows approach us and say "hi there" to us--they're good mimics--and we'd give them walnuts. It seems like good luck to have a crow or two in your corner, in case there's trouble.

They grew to know us, all right, but they were cagey about it. A crow would perch on the wire, I'd come out with a walnut and say "hi there," place the nut on the wall, and the crow would studiously look the other direction until I backed off. Then he'd pop down for the walnut as soon as it could be reasonably construed as his idea. "I have some important business to conduct," the crow would think, "and I'll just grab this nut here while I'm on the way, because I'm an efficient person." Crows are proud. Still, we had a notion they would come around eventually.

After a bit I thought we could improve on "hi there" as a signal, especially if we wanted to hear it back from the crow. "How about if we say HEY! WALNUT BOY! That would be cool," I suggested, but then I thought about it some more. "Unless they can't pronounce W's. Can crows pronounce W's?"

"They can say 'caw,'" Dave pointed out.

Or we could start offering them filberts.

Some assembly required.
At any rate, although our crows were willing to accept our walnuts promptly as long as we didn't stand too close, we hadn't made much progress on the little-buddy project. And then they went away. They were just gone. Ours, anyway; there were plenty of other crows flying over.

Last week we went on a walk and I found a large dark feather. Two blocks later I found another one, and then more and more. They were all over the place. We appeared to be tracking a naked crow, and nudity is the kind of thing that would knock a lot of the swagger out of a crow. We began to examine the crows more carefully. They all looked like shit. Their tails had gaps. Their breasts were motley and ratty.  They seemed even less willing than usual to launch from the lawn, but they still had the swagger working. They were like the dude at the party who plucks at the sprung threads in his tweed jacket and explains that he'd been in line for Department Head but didn't want to sell his soul to the tenure track.

Crows gotta molt sometime; everyone does. Birds have to change their suits once a year at a minimum. A lot of the birds at the feeder looked like shit too. It happens. The crow gave me the once-over and studiously turned his head to the side. Whatever, dude. "You look like shit," I told him, in all sympathy.

At least I know where our crows are. They do know us after all, and they're proud. They'll be back once they spruce up. Dave will walk out into the back yard one day soon and a crow will land on the wall and say "you look like shit." And Dave will give him a walnut.

31 comments:

  1. I love crows so much! Years ago, my husband and I were hiking in a nature preserve, when I heard someone yelling "hello" to us over and over. Curious, I wondered who this aggressively friendly person might be and followed his voice. We stumbled upon the place where the center kept birds that could not be released into the wild because of injuries, and it was a crow calling to us. (I suppose we were lucky that it wasn't a serial killer!) I've been smitten with crows ever since. Keep us posted on Project My Little Buddy.

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    1. Any day you don't meet a serial killer is a good day. The crow is just a bonus.

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  2. Back when I was in college, I spent my summers as a State Park Naturalist. A girl gave me the Grackle she'd raised and had named Smitty. He was so tame that he rode to the park with me every morning on my shoulder (yes, I kept the car windows closed). Then he'd fly along with us as I led groups on nature hikes. Toward the end of the summer, a flock of Grackles landed in the field adjacent to the little travel travel I lived in and that was the last I ever saw of Smitty. All these decades later - and hundreds of miles away, I still wonder if every Grackle I see might be Smitty's descendent.

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    1. Smitty the Grackle! I would love to have a shoulder grackle. Maybe a constipated one

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  3. Crow 1 to Crow 2: "Watch this! If I leave a feather or two out for them I can get some humans to be my little buddies!"

    Crow 2: "Only if you don't stand too close. They're flighty."

    Seriously, I've been noticing loose feathers lying here and there all over the city. I wondered if we had an exploding-bird problem. Glad to hear they're just molting.

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    1. At least they have the good sense to molt gradually. Some kinds of birds are flightless for a few weeks during wardrobe changes.

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  4. Crows are really scary to me because they are so smart. Look what they got you two doing when you go outside!

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    1. Oh you have no idea. Our neighbors discreetly pull the blinds when we come outside sometimes.

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  5. Dave might have more success if he formed a relationship with a Jay. I imagine in a week the Jay would be in the house, watching tv and asking for another beer.

    Filberts......my favorite nut. If Dave tosses me a few I'll be his little buddy.

    A question: do you know any professors at Chemeketa CC? Or the past owners of Amity Vinyards?

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    1. I don't think so. Not that it wouldn't be a good idea to have friends in the wine biz. Why?

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  6. We had a couple of ravens for about 8 years. I never tried hard to teach them our language, but I picked up some of theirs. Of course, they laughed at my accent.

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  7. Do the crows ever try to eat your garden? My father disliked crows for that reason. Since I don't have a garden, it's easy to like them, especially after seeing a documentary that showed how smart they are and how long they keep their offspring with them (over a year, if I remember correctly). Yesterday, for the first time ever, I saw two crows fighting off a third one as he tried to be the first to score a tidbit at the side of the road. Maybe the pickings are so slim in our town I should be putting out walnuts, too. Good luck with your project! Let us know what happens, eh?

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    1. Believe it or not, we don't even have any birds eating our blueberries. I don't know why. Crows not a problem at all. The only thing anyone complains about is the noise. For some reason I've come to like that though.

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  8. Crows are super, super clever. And, as jenny_o says, good parents. We have a bearded raven family who visit some days. Papa arrives, checks out the calibre of the munchies we provide and ensures the area is safe. Then, and only then, he does a secret crow signall and the rest of the family arrives. And we applaud. Not little buddies yet but we have hopes.

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    1. Go on out there when he's about and offer something special. They're gourmands.

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  9. I resent the birds, especially crows, who are smart. for not recognizing that I will do them no harm. I am pissed off at wildlife in general.

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  10. Before my parents threw me out, I used to put out the bones left over after my mom had trimmed off the raw meat (not sure why she did it, but there it is.) The crows would fly down, pick them up and drop down behind our back door neighbor's above ground pool and presumably feed on them there in privacy. One day she happened to ask me if crows were leaving huge piles of bones in our yard because she was finding tons in hers. She wasn't amused when I fessed up.

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    1. I, on the other hand, am amused. Did you use the pecked-over bones for personal study?

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    2. Nah, they were cut up steak bones. Haven't started that in the new house yet. Too poor for steak.

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  11. We have Mr. and Mrs. Corvus who drop by regularly. They are very cautious as only country crows with ample cornfields nearby can be. But after much deliberation, they drop down and stalk about until they sidle up to whatever I have put out and then lumber off into the woods like Lancaster bombers. I have tried talking crow to them. You know that ratchety noise they make when they are talking one on one with each other? They snicker when I try that one but I think I have detected faint admiration for my caw.

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    1. I LOVE the ratchety noise. I haven't attempted any of their language yet. I'm such an Amurrican.

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  12. Our crow learned to say "hello, crow!" which is how I always greeted him. It was quite plain and distinct.

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    1. Excellent! Now don't you wish you'd greeted them with "Hey, Walnut Boy?"

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  13. Read the Black Company series. You'll feel a little different about crows, at least for a little while.

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    1. Oh no! You mean I won't like them so much?

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  14. I never think of birds moulting, though I know they do it.
    I have a couple of crows living in trees near me, cheeky buggers. They know when I don't have the camera with me and come down to play, strut, dance just a couple of yards in front of me. If I do have the camera, they chatter but stay where I can't easily see them. I love them anyway. Crows and Ravens.

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    1. We watched three education birds close-up at the local Audubon Society headquarters--injured birds that couldn't be released. Three volunteers had a raven, a peregrine falcon, and a spotted owl on their wrists. And the raven was the most riveting. I wouldn't have believed it either.

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  15. One of my son's friends is a bit of a wildlife pet collector. They love her for some reason. A crow adopted her. The crow was very distinctive as it had one white spot. It went missing after being scared off by loud noises while she was camping many miles from home, and after several weeks returned to her home. Somehow, word of this got around, and she was visited by some gentlemen from some scary federal agency, who not so politely informed her that making a pet of a wild crow is a federal offense, with a punishment of a stiff (like $10,000 if I remember correctly) fine.
    Better be sure ol' Walnut Buddy won't snitch on you!!!

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    1. They can't be serious. I'm more worried our neighbor who hates birds is going to wreak some revenge on us.

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