Illustration by Irene Barnard
Just after my avian-centric previous post, B. and I began to notice a newcomer to our front yard: A small crow, almost a black shadow, dragging his badly broken wing at his left side like a tattered flag, venturing in search of shelter and food when we tried to approach him.
For those who still think of crows as pests, harbingers of doom or other ill omens – let me dispel those myths. They are wildly protective of each other, as is evidenced each time we see a murder of them (yes, that’s the collective noun!) swoop around and mob the magnificent red-shouldered hawks that sometimes menace their nests or territory, calling out and dive-bombing the much larger birds until they go elsewhere. They are recognized by scientists as some of the smartest creatures – not just birds – on earth.
Our backyard is fenced off, so we decided to try to corral him there, where he might be safer from street predators. B. cast a sheet over him for a calming effect, gently carrying him to the back. As we unwrapped the crow, he stared at us for a minute, unmoving, then hurled himself backward, hopping to and hiding in the radish patch, then behind our garage – farther away from us menacing humans. My bird whisperer B. set up protective shelters, put out nuts, organic popcorn, bread, and water, and we left him alone for the night. The next morning when we peeked out to check on him, he gamely perched on the back of a lawn chair, greeting his corvid friends and family.
After I called our local Sonoma County Bird Rescue Center, they strongly advised us to bring him in – citing the large number of birds they had helped, and their successful release back into the wild from where they came. We did so immediately, along with a dear friend who was visiting – again traumatizing the poor thing with that sheet while I drove as quickly as possible. The staff said he looked well overall, and that they would try to bring him back to our area after treatment. But when I called in the following days, they told me his injury was too severe and despite their best efforts, they were unable to save and had to humanely euthanize the crow. I was crushed, naively thinking that they could somehow preserve the wing, or even if not, that he could return here and we could care for and bond with him.
Our hearts were broken! How could it be? We only knew him for a few days – a few hours, really – and of course didn’t actually “know” him at all. I may be anthropomorphizing, and perhaps we can never truly know the mind of a crow, but when I looked into those wet black eyes, I felt that for a moment I had glimpsed the wild spirit at the center of his fierce, intelligent heart.