Crows are nesting in our backyard! Three paces from the deck. You can’t see them and they like it that way. They are comfortable with Charles and with me. Clearly, we live in their extended family territory. We are longtime neighbours. But they were not too happy when our adult son Eli showed up. They stood on branches here and there. Yelling, they tried to confuse him. So he wouldn’t figure out the nest site.
Their spot, says Charles, is “perfect.” It’s “in a tall, bent over cedar. Well-hidden in a thicket. With a clear flight path in and out.”
Parent Crows are Working Hard (May 7-10)
Mom is on the eggs. She rarely leaves, unless cousins call “emergency!” Then she flies off to help defend another crow’s nest.
Dad returns home after foraging. He approaches the nest. He says, “Here’s your food!” with some deep trills. Mom says, “Thank you” with some throaty gurgles. They hang out for a bit. Then he flies up to the house roof to survey the area. If it looks safe and quiet, he heads off for some more food.
We think we see three babies. Here’s a stock photo of baby crows. But it’s the best we can do. Our iPhones can’t see into the nest.
Crows Under Attack (May 12)
We come home and hear a big group of crows screaming. We rush to the backyard. There is a giant RAVEN! Standing right in the yard. Clearly hoping to eat some baby crows for dinner.
What should I do? It takes less than a second, but I think it through. First, I remember Professor Wolff, refugee and mentor. Forty years ago, he scolded me for not running off a hunting cat. Paralyzed bystanders like you make genocide possible. That’s what he meant. Then, I assess the situation. I am 65 inches tall. The raven is 24 inches tall. I can do this!
So I chase the raven out of the yard. It takes cover in the bushes. Immediately six crows dive-bomb it. But it doesn’t back down. Battle rages in the thicket! All we can hear is caw caw caw croaaa caw caw croaa caw caw croaa caw!
Night falls, and the battle winds down. But we worry about our babies!
At dawn, there’s more commotion. Still, Mom’s in the nest. Dad and extended family are patrolling. All seems peaceful. But only two babies are left.
What Do Crows Symbolize? (May 18)
“What’s new this week?” My psycho-therapist asks. “Did I tell you about the crows?” She shakes her head, so I update her. She’s a Jungian therapist, interested in dreams, symbols, and myths. So, she asks, “What do crows symbolize for you?”
Symbolize? They are themselves. “Um?” I say. “Well, um, crows are in the Bible. A crow scouts for Noah on the ark. Ravens feed Elijah the prophet.” She likes that. Or so I think. “But what do crows mean to YOU?” she asks. Oh. “They remind me that consciousness is greater than we know.”
Baby Crows: Who Will Live and Who Will Die? (May 22-24)
On Tuesday morning Baby #2 hops down from the nest. But by nightfall, it is dead. During the night someone eats it. Next morning, it is just a pile of feathers on the deck. Baby feathers, not fully preened. Two fierce cousins guard the remains. These crows do not know me. They will not let me step out the back door.
On Thursday morning Baby #3 hops down. On Friday morning, it is still very much alive. It hides in the tall grass. Baby walks a bit, grooms a bit. Curious, I approach. Parent Crows are hidden in nearby trees. They let me get about a metre (3 feet) away. Then, with gentle caws, they warn me: That’s close enough!
The nest is now empty. A new phase begins.
Baby Crows are Smart and So are Adult Cats (May 26-28)
Baby Crow pops up from the tall grass to play and preen. But at the slightest unfamiliar sound or a quiet word from Parents, it takes cover. Later, it toddles off to relax under a patch of leafy ground cover.
Koi-Cat is out this morning too. Sniffing around the yard, to learn who had visited in the night. But he gets a bit too close to hidden Baby Crow! Parent Crow flies down to issue a stern warning — shrieking at about 75% intensity.
Koi-cat looks, thinks, and takes cover under a wooden sawhorse. There he stays until Crow’s shrieking subsides. Then, under Parent Crow’s calm but watchful gaze, Koi walks slowly out of the yard.
Later, I overhear some lessons in crow etiquette. Deep in the hedge, Parent shows Baby how to call for its cousins. If you need help, parent teaches, just say“CAW!” So, Baby says, “caw.” No, says Parent, like this,“CAW!” And Baby replies, “caw!”
Next morning, Charles puts a peanut on the sawhorse. “Friends!” he calls, “Peanut!” This is now a daily routine. Parent Crow shows up. But an oblivious Koi-cat is too close. Crow shouts, “Get out of my way!” Koi-cat steps politely inside the back door. Crow takes its peanut. Then Koi steps back out.
Crows and Humans On Patrol (May 30)
Apparently I am now a trusted member of the crow patrol. Here I sit relaxing on the deck. Parent Crow lands nearby, on a tall pole and yells. “Do something, Laura!” But what? So I look and I listen. Finally, I hear something deep in the bushes. The familiar trill of Nemesis-cat. Nemesis isn’t his real name, of course. But Charles literally broke bones tripping over him one summer. So, we call him Nemesis.“Do something, Laura!” says Parent Crow. So I roar. And I roar again. Parent Crow calms down. Nemesis-cat rustles off, as quietly as he can. Charles gives Parent Crow a peanut.
Crows Bring Their Baby to Meet Us (June 5)
We haven’t seen our crow friends for a few days. We worry. But right on cue, just as we worry, crows show up. Here’s Daddy Crow, landing on the post to ask for a peanut. He calls out. And one second later, Mommy Crow tries to land on the same spot. She bumps him off. But he doesn’t scold; he just waits nearby. Something’s up. They’re excited. Perched on the fence, watching, is a SMALLER VERSION OF THEMSELVES!
They’ve brought their baby to meet us. “These people are your friends. Your allies against predators. Stop by anytime. They’ll give you a peanut.”
Photo credits: Charles Kaplan; Melanie Piazza, discoverwildcare.org; Laura Duhan-Kaplan. Video credit: Charles Kaplan.