Compassion of crows

My daily walk starts along the small lagoon that lies between my condominium and a lakeside beach. Whatever the weather, the watery border brightens my day. At the very least, reflections dance on the water, but usually there are also ducks. Migrations bring flocks of wigeons whose distinct coloring adds a bright spot to winter’s grey.

Cawing crow

Crow cawing to catch my attention

Two days ago I set out to do my errands, my old leather pack on my back and camera around my neck. I had just rounded a corner of the lagoon when a crow began dive bombing me. Another woman was walking well ahead of me, but for some reason the crow ignored her.

A pair of crows hang out in the weeping willow across the lagoon. I assumed the dive bomber was warning me away from hatchlings so kept walking, happy to be part of some avian drama.

An hour later I walked back the same way. As I neared the corner, the crow began flying at me again. I stopped. The crow flew to a roof and stopped. I started. The crow dived.

I snapped a couple pictures of the crow, puzzling over the insistent behavior. Then I saw the reason for the frantic diving. It wasn’t hatchlings.

Hunched quietly on the sidewalk was a dying crow. Dull feathers, dull eyes, completely motionless. I’ve spent enough time on a farm to recognize the signs of approaching death. No wonder the crow was frantic to chase me away. The dying bird was likely a mate.

Saying a quiet blessing for the dying bird, I walked on. Again the healthy crow dived at me. I stopped. The crow flew to a roof and perched. I walked around the corner. The crow dived again. Only when I turned back did the crow stop. It perched on a rail and cawed.

Once again I breathed a wish, only this time it was not only for the dying bird but also for the frantic mate. I must have been a disappointment for the diver, who had finally made me understand he (or she?) wanted help. But this time, when I began walking back toward my door, the diver was quiet.

It was one of those grey moments, when no decision seems the right one. Give the dying bird a quick end? Leave it to die?

I chose the latter, knowing my quiet blessing was useless to both birds.

The incident haunts me. Crows are sassy and bold. There is a reason the aggregate noun is a “murder” of crows. They prey on the eggs and young of smaller birds we humans consider more worthy. They wreak havoc in farm fields. They strip bait from fishers’ nets and lines.

That’s the usual view, which looks at crows in terms of our benefits and values. In fact, crows are intelligent birds with highly developed social organizations. They are funny and clever. They are tool users. They hang out around humans because we are useful to them.

So by way of apology and thanks to crows, I’d like to share two videos. The first is about a crow who befriended an orphan kitten. The second is Joseph Klein’s observations on how brilliantly crows have adapted to urban life.

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3 comments for “Compassion of crows

  1. Tess
    June 19, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Hello CAthryn:

    I love popping in to your blogs and checking on what goodies you have found this time…. I have always loved crows!! Jodi has a lovely story about a crow they raised after he fell out of the nest. When she tells it, it is hysterical, mostly because Joe the Crow never learned how to land… He would land on the car and slide down the roof, or crash into the side of the house to get back on the ground.

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