Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No Caws For Complaint

I don't like to complain, but sometimes I do anyway.

More than one person has sent me a video of a sweet little girl who feeds crows and the crows respond by leaving her little trinkets as a thank-you. She's got hundreds of baubles and treasures by now. The whole thing is adorable.

All our crows ever leave us is alone. And we've been sucking up to them for years.

I know at least a half dozen people right here in town that have personal crows. We like crows too. We know how smart they are. We figured they're so smart they'll know how much we like them and appreciate all the little ways we try to make their lives more pleasant. We think they'll start to approach us on their own and ask if we maybe have an extra walnut, and tip their heads to the side and flare their rictal bristles at us as a sort of howdy-do. The relationship will progress, we'll give them fancy British names like Nelson and Chauncey and Percy, and ultimately they will converse with us in a form of English that is imperfect and yet still easier to understand than Matthew McConaughey. We will all sit around of an evening enjoying walnuts and beer as the sun goes down. We're grownups and have no need of a bunch of baubles; one or two would be fine.

But none of that has happened. We line up walnuts on the wall and they observe us and take them away just as soon as they're sure we're not looking, because they know that would give us too much satisfaction. It makes us feel like pimply seventh-graders who are trying too hard and still don't get to sit at the popular lunch table.

I don't know where we went wrong. I remember at one point I found their cawing sort of obnoxious and I went out to the yard and cranked my head up to the treetops and yelled HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! just so they could get an idea how annoying it was, but that was years ago, and I'm really sorry. But they may have pegged me for an asshole then and there, and passed the information down through the generations. I don't know. I've been real nice since then.

It's nesting season now and some of our crows have young'uns hopping around on the ground. That is what they have evolved to do: hop around on the ground for a few days before they're old enough to fly. I'm not sure how they get to the ground without getting all dented up but maybe they get just enough wind resistance from flapping their nubbins to cushion their landing. Their folks keep an eye on them and do their best to rout predators and scalawags, but it's not a perfect system as long as there are domestic cats around. The crows have been working on their strategy since the Cretaceous but domestic cats have been around here for a few hundred years tops, and this is true even if you've had a cat all your life and so did your Grandma--that's still not forever, sugar pie. Over a third of American households host a cat, and that's quite the uptick from zero.

So now we've got upwards of, let's say, fifteen cats per city block and fourteen of those are well-fed, subsidized, vaccinated, healthy, glossy little killing machines that are let out of the house so they don't get all mopey and also so they can shit in the neighbor's tomato bed instead of in the icky-poo litter box. Most people who let their cats out to terrorize wildlife are real softies, but their concern extends to only the one species. House cats are obscenely effective at killing wildlife. So I try to make my own garden a sanctuary by discouraging them. It's effective only inasmuch as all my neighbors' cats now blast out of the yard whenever they hear me turn the doorknob, but you know? I can't be turning my doorknob all day long.

Anyway, because it is that time of year, we have noticed that our crows occasionally make a particularly pointed racket, and when that happens, I go out and spot the crows and see exactly what direction they're racketing at, and then I go running and hollering in that direction and flush out the inevitable cat, and I have been hoping the crows are noticing which side I'm on and will henceforth reward me with their companionship and approval, but they haven't. So be it. I still wish them the best.

But when they're in full molt in August and have to slink out of the lunchroom all ratty-tatty, I plan to point and snicker.


Because I am an optimist at heart, I prefer to think of the following twenty seconds as a concert just for us, by our own personal, if recalcitrant, crow:





60 comments:

  1. I clicked on the video, only to get a message that "this video is private". The crows, apparently, aren't the only ones around here who are teases.

    I regularly follow the blog Canuck and I, which follows the activities of a crow and his human. Shawn's landlord's son rescued Canuck as a chick, and the crow ended up really taken with Shawn. He hangs out with him on a daily basis, even though he is not a pet. It's really cool to get this inside scoop into crow life.

    I, too, try to suck up to the crows, but they just look at me as if I am pathetic (I am!) I wear black most of the time, I caw to them when I see them, and I put corn out for them. But do they ever ask me to sit at their lunch table, or even crib from my answers during a test? No. They do not.

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    1. Gaah! Fixed it. I spent an hour and a half trying to cut it from a minute and a half to twenty seconds. (And I don't remember how I actually succeeded.) But then somehow it wasn't public. Now it is.

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    2. PS I do like the "wearing black all the time." Nice touch.

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  2. Video does not play. Probably just caws anyway?

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    1. NOO! It's really cool! I fixed it so you can see it now.

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    2. Thanks. Enjoyed it just becaws.

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  3. A cousin in Springfield has a flower garden in front of his house that the neighbor cats used as a litter box. He solved it by putting charged mouse traps around and covering them with a thin layer of dirt.

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  4. Aww... I love Matthew McConaughey's voice and accent. I suppose he's nutty, but I do love listening to him speak. And I love crows; we have some very noisy ones around us and it's a treat to listen to them communicate with each other.

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    1. I'm with you with the crows, but most people find them annoying too.

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  5. I had a couple of ravens many years ago that were smarter and more thoughtful than most people I know. Their vocalizations were just amazing. Maybe It's time I make friends with one of our local crows.

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    1. Do it and report back. I'm clueless.

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  6. Corvids rock! At the zoo I work at, there was a crow named Winston who was hugely popular with the guests. His favorite phrases were "Oh boy!" and "Oh my God, how are you?".

    On occasion, he would escape his outdoor summer enclosure by flying directly at the face of some poor, newly-hired, usually teenaged seasonal staff member, cawing madly. When they inevitably ducked, he flew out the door past them. Even though we would warn them, Winston knew he could buffalo the new keepers, and earn a day out on the town.

    We always got him back. His occasional forays into the surrounding suburbs were the stuff of legend, and frequent area visitors to the zoo knew him well. During one of his most memorable jaunts, he crashed the backyard birthday party of a five year old girl. The parents called us up and let us know Winston's whereabouts. We arrived to find him standing in the middle of the girl's birthday cake, gleefully consuming large beakfuls of frosting and strawberry filling while merrily croaking "Oh my God, how are you?!" over and over again. The little girl probably needed therapy after the Hitchcock-esque destruction of her birthday cake, but that remains my favorite memory of Winston to this day. I loved that bird.

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    1. Hilarious - thank you for this story!!

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    2. Oh wow, what a wonderful story!

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    3. I'm pooped. Lisa, will you write my next blog post?

      Also: WINSTON! See? Has to be a proper British name.

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    4. Thank you for sharing this memory of him. He will live on through the stories told about him. He sounds like a very special being.

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  7. The crows here, which before this summer I looked on with benevolence and took great care not to bother in any way, have turned their backs on me. I started putting feeders out in late spring after a late snowstorm, and all the other birds are coming to visit, but after one visit the crows avoid our yard, except to gather in one tall evergreen and hoot and holler. I wonder if they are laughing their crow-laugh at something I've done.

    That video is amazing. Are you sure he didn't just swallow some food the wrong way??

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    1. I've been lucky with my crow videos lately, haven't I?

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    2. Perhaps that's their "gift" to you.

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    3. Maybe they didn't care for the food, and that is their version of Yelp?

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  8. I have two or three crows that come by regularly for peanuts. So far they have given me f%ck all in return. In the winter they come in HUGE numbers when/if there is snow on the ground - but still they do not thank me. A person could get seriously discouraged.

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    1. I think this is meant to be a life lesson about the Giving being more important than the Receiving.

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  9. I adore the corvid family. And thoroughly enjoyed Chuckles serenading you.

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    1. Could've been he was just a little cheesed off, we can't tell.

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  10. There was our own crow, and I discovered he was the watch crow. I'd step out, he would squawk which led to a choir of crows. Lots of crow droppings.

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    1. Think of it as the royal fanfare! Da-dada-TAAAAH!

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  11. Live traps. For the cats, not the crows. Then take them to an animal shelter. I know it's not the cats' fault that their humans are idiots, but it's not the birds' fault, either, and I'm on the birds' side.

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    1. I am also. And I have lots of tips for new cat owners to keep them wanting to be inside (they involve water). Dudes, don't let your little pythons loose in the Everglades!

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    2. Murr, I would read that list of tips, and I'm an OLD cat owner (in more ways than one). We have one guy who is getting seriously restless inside, and he's never known anything else. I know I'm not giving him enough to do, and I'm always open for activities ... pretty please? If I make crow sounds??

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    3. Oh dear! Dave's in charge of activities, and he plays with his cat pretty often. I'm worse. I'm good for the lap-sit and the petting, but I'm not real active unless the cat can be persuaded to fetch, which Tater did as a young'un, but no more. Well. So my tips are all aversion therapy. I station someone outside with a hose set on Jet Spray and I leave the door a bit ajar. When the cat pokes a nose out, and then takes that first step, she gets the hose. (It must appear to come from God.) It doesn't take too long for her to get less curious about the outside. Now, Larry got patio privileges after she was about ten or so. She was permitted to go out as long as she didn't set a foot outside the patio. We reinforced this with a water pistol at first but after not too long she was completely reliable. And we only let her out when we were out. Tater is now pushing eleven and is getting her first chance at the patio. She's not QUITE as biddable as Larry was but she's pretty compliant so far. She's on probation.

      But this might explain why our crows are not completely smitten with us.

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    4. Well, they ARE mighty smart, and they've probably been watching ...

      Re cat activities: please mail Dave. Will pay postage.

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  12. When I worked at a scrapyard, sorry, re-purposing centre, the local Rooks would sit atop the lamp posts that surrounded the site and vocalise away to each other. I now realise that it was probably just different ways of saying "Where's the shiny baubles?"

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    1. Aw man, I have heard of rooks, but I'm not really sure what they look like. Here I come, Google!

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    2. Counter-intuitively, at least from the title, the best book I've found about rooks is called 'Crow Country' by Mark Cocker. Well worth a read.

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  13. All those HEY HEY HEY's may have been forgotten but the molting season pointing and snickering is your downfall. They know you're mocking them, so, no baubles for you.
    I'm "sort of" friends with a pair of crows that live here, they follow along, tree to tree as I walk through the complex and chatter at me as I try to caw back at them. They play on the ground in front of me sometimes, but vanish into thin air when I have the camera with me. Once I walked part way home from the cinema and a pair of crows followed, cawing as they flew from tree to tree until I came to a busy main road. Then they went back home while I waited for a bus. I've never tried feeding them though, there are way too many cats around here that might appreciate a feathered lunch.

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    1. Seems like your heart is in the right place, anyway. I don't know how successful cats are with crows. Our crows certainly object to cats during nesting season but I'm not sure they're real worried about themselves.

      Some day I hope (and even expect) outdoor cats will be as passe as loose dogs that get to poop everywhere. Which was the norm for a very long time. It's just going to be an education process.

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  14. All they ever leave me are bird droppings! They used to bring chicken (from KFC?) and ash it in my pond and clog the filter, so had to place a screen over the top to keep them out!

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    1. That's a whole different kind of complaint, that there.

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  15. Replies
    1. They probably follow YOU in the house.

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  16. I'd love to be a gifter of goodies to fun birds but if I hang more than a thistle seed feeder I just get asshole Bluejays that chase away all the little guys.

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    1. I have a scrub jay that attends me when I'm weeding in case I unearth one of those red larvae he really likes. So I kind of liked the guys until last year when one of them jetted off to the treetops with my brand new fledgling nuthatch.

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  17. May I submit my very favorite crow poem by the late great Lucia Perillo:

    The Crows Start Demanding Royalties

    Of all the birds, they are the ones
    who mind their being armless most:
    witness how, when they walk, their heads jerk
    back and forth like rifle bolts.
    How they heave their shoulders into each stride
    as if they hoped that by some chance
    new bones there would come popping out
    with a boxing glove on the end of each.
    Little Elvises, the hairdo slicked
    with too much grease, they convene on my lawn
    to strategize for their class-action suit.
    Flight they would trade in a New York minute
    for a black muscle car and a fist on the shift
    at any stale green light. But here in my yard
    by the Jack-in-the-Box Dumpster
    they can only fossick in the grass for remnants
    of the world’s stale buns. And this
    despite all the crow poems that have been written
    because men like to see themselves as crows
    (the head-jerk performed in the rearview mirror,
    the dark brow commanding the rainy weather).
    So I think I know how they must feel:
    ripped off, shook down, taken to the cleaners.
    What they’d like to do now is smash a phone against a wall.
    But they can’t, so each one flies to a bare branch and screams.

    Lucia Perillo
    From Luck is Luck 2005

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  18. Crows are nervous and flee if I so much as move by the window. Except this year. I have three that seem bolder and now they are very racketty and I think they may be fledging young 'uns. Was just thinking of what to use to entice them...

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    1. They like walnuts and peanuts. They don't necessarily love ME.

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  19. Leash training cats pretty much solves everything. Cats don't get bored and pee all over your house, wildlife knows exactly how close they can come to taunt your cat without getting killed. Everyone wins! My guy waits cheerfully every day while I harness him up. We seldom get more than 300 feet from our door on our "walks" but that's not the point. Google adventure cats. It's a whole thing now. Cheers!

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    1. We should try that. We do have Tater at an age she is allowed out on the patio with us, because she'll respond when we whistle her back. Never tried a leash. We did meet someone many blocks away who has an Abyssinian that follows her and her dog for BLOCKS.

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    2. We have indoor cats but have a backdoor with a pet door that leads to a little "run" we built made of rough wood and pet screen. The structure sits on the back stoop. Our cats see the action outside, enjoy the fresh air, and they use the wood as a scratching post (that and a favorite chair). This outside-ness helps their attitudes immensely and their enclosure protects the wildlife from them. (We're happy not using the back door.) Kim in PA

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    3. I've wondered if a catio might take a bit of the obstrepory out of an indoor cat. Good to know.

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  20. Um, were those normal Crow noises that I heard in the video clip? Really? Gosh, now I understand how you sometimes think that they could eventually learn some rudimentary version of English.....

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    1. Crows are well-known mimics. That's why we always yell "Hey Walnut Boy!" when we put out walnuts. We want that to be what they say to us.

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  21. For one glorious summer I fed steak bones to the local crows. My mom was in the habit of cutting the raw meat off the bones and then throwing the meaty bones away. I thought that was wasteful and that the crows might like them. They did and would pick them up and fly off with them. Some time after the practice started, the neighbor who lived behind my mom asked why the crows were accumulating a pile of steak bones behind her pool. They also were bringing other skeletal bits and pieces in from around the neighborhood. Anyway, by the time she noticed that I had already left the familial roost and set up housekeeping and crow feeding elsewhere. Those were good times.

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    1. My goodness! They made an ossuary! That's ossum!

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  22. My late husband shot at our resident crows with a slingshot for many years. The crows did not move to other parts since they had staked out this patch of land eons ago. And besides there was no hope that the champ was ever going to even graze one of these stalwarts. They continued to make pig slop out of the bird bath and bring in dead baby birds to marinate in the slop. They loathed the shooter and, by association, me. Now, I think myself a top notch bird person and would never purposely harm a single feather on these black beauties. So now the sharpshooter has gone on (six and a half years already, give me a break) to whatever reward was waiting for him and I am left with a family of crows who set off the alarm whenever I dare to set foot in their front or back yard. I have discussed the situation (think begged and pleaded) with them but they are not ready to forgive. I would like to get this misunderstanding cleared up before I shuffle off to join the sharpshooter, wherever he may be. But alas prospects don't look good. P.S I don't feed them as they would only add it to the slop they already made.

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