June 7, 2020

eating crow

As I write this, 20-30 crows are in the trees surrounding our back yard, cawing and making a big racket. The sun is going down and they have stopped their evening commute to their roost miles away. What could keep them from moving on? They are intelligent and communal creatures. I have been intrigued by their daily rituals and obvious intelligence for years. Every morning I see them flying, often in pairs, sometimes alone, west towards Ballard and the Salish Sea. Come evening, I see them commute east back to their roost again. But what has caused them to stop as a group tonight?

I woke up this morning to the sound of crows cawing on our back fence, which was unusual. Usually when we hear raucous noise from crows, they are harassing an eagle or hawk flying by. But not this time. The cawing continued, so Jamie and I looked out our bedroom window. We saw two crows up in trees and one more down in the shrubs of our back yard. The others were talking to the lower one. We then understood that it is a young crow, just fledged, but so recently fledged that maybe it didn’t know it could actually fly. We watched a long while at its attempts to call up bravery. It looked to me like it was so deep in the shrubs that it couldn't stretch its wings. After another few hours, I decided to take it into my hands and help. We know that crows remember faces; so I put on a mask and my white coat, that I never wear at home, wore a big hat and white gloves, as a disguise. Then I made my way around the back side, grabbed the fledgling and brought it out in the open. I put it on the raised bed, hoping it could take off from there. The parent crows went crazy, diving, cawing, and I ran back into the house.

Then I realized that maybe my attempt at helping was not such a good idea after all. It made a feeble attempt at flying and ended up back in the shrubs again. Damn. Maybe it came from the giant poplar next door and really is too young to fly. Maybe I actually put the young one in more danger. At this moment, it is further back, still monitored closely by the parent crows, who aren’t going anywhere, cawing, and keeping track, it is getting dark and will be more vulnerable to cats and raccoons. I can’t save it.

And I am reminded that hubris gets us all in trouble. Some of the most hurtful things I have done in my life are when I try to save someone. Yes, sometimes I really can save people, but that is when they actually ask for help. So often, I want to help, I think I know what will help, and so I try, without really getting input, without really understanding, without being asked, and things do not go well. I think we all do this at times, and then we get surprised and dismayed, when they are not only not grateful but irritated with us.

The news of the Black Lives Protests have taken attention away from the Pandemic, understandably so. For the moment, in many places the urgency has slowed, for the first day in weeks, New York City recorded 0 deaths from COVID-19. Places are opening up and people are returning to work and life. We know this is not the end of it, infections and deaths will rise again, but for the moment we can take a breather and rest. Many of us live in places where people are still skeptical of masks and social distancing. I still suggest protecting yourself from infection with masks, hand washing, physical distancing, especially if you have risks. But take a lesson from me and my crow friends today, we can’t always save people from choices they make.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, and remember safe six.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.

https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/crows-might-pose-a-challenge-or-two-but-their-intelligence-and-humanlike-complexity-resonate-with-seattle-like-nowhere-else/

https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/oh-to-be-a-crow-smart-as-all-get-out-and-still-able-to-get-out/

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/how-to-properly-wear-a-face-mask-to-slow-the-spread-of-coronavirus/