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  • Writer's pictureLisa Cox

It Takes a Murder

Whether or not you like crows, they are smart and fascinating birds. Last spring a pair nested in a tall aging spruce tree in front of the home office. One of the hatchlings fell or was blown from the nest, and died. Another broke a wing upon fledging, and wandered around a couple days in the vicinity with the parents cawing protectively whenever someone came near, then was discovered dead underneath a bush in the front yard. What happened to the others, I do not know. Perhaps there were only two, though American crows tend to lay 3-6 eggs at a time.

This year the nesting pair returned, as crows tend to do, and we rooted for them! I would call up as they flew over with nesting materials, or then when they began bringing food to their young, sending hope. Then one day a chick appeared in the front yard, hopping around and squawking, climbing up onto rocks, spreading black wings and flitting off to the ground. It was not clear whether this young one had purposely fledged the nest, but it was clear there was some learning to do. Baby crows have blue eyes for the first couple months after hatching, and I named this one Lil Blue Eyes.

In the unseasonably hot afternoon, I found the young bird perched in a bush in the front yard and brought out some cool water. The chick opened a wide beak and let me pour the water in from my hand. The parents, however, did not seem impressed with my behavior, and cawed chaotically high overhead in the spruce. But we talk often in shamanic practice of getting permission to help, and this young one was clearly saying, "I'm thirsty, and yes, please give me cool water."

Before leaving later in the afternoon I cut up a leftover piece of steak into small pieces and brought it out to set on a stump in the neighbor's yard where Lil Blue Eyes was hopping and practicing flying. An adult crow in a tree nearby began to caw, and soon there was a cacaphony of crow caws in the trees overhead. I took my leave and glancing behind me saw one of the crows zip down from a tree and grab a piece of the steak.

It is said that adults will care for young who are grounded this way, but also that if parents have other little ones in the nest to care for, they may not feed the fledgling. This is where the murder comes into play.

For the next several days, as Lil Blue Eyes continued to practice- and survived the nights!- every time anyone walked into the yard, an entire crow community, or murder, would begin to caw loud warnings. A couple, most likely the parents, would perch in trees just above the height of an average human, and suddenly take off, flying directly in front of the face. But I continued to keep a full bowl of fresh water near the bush of Lil Blue Eyes's particular preference and to put small cuts of meat out on various rocks for the young crow.

I observed as adult crows grabbed the meat and brought it to Lil Blue Eyes, and then one afternoon another young crow, who quickly became Sister Brother Crow, appeared and perched on the bush next to Lil Blue Eyes. Not long after, both were flying across the street and up onto the neighbor's fence. Meanwhile, the murder continued to patrol and warn.

Then it was time to fly for a work trip. As we loaded suitcases into the car, I noticed there was less cawing around the area, though a couple crows could still be heard. Six days later, we returned, and the neighborhood had quieted considerably. However, on my way in the next day, a young crow hopped across the street in front of me, forcing me to slow, and then flew up onto a fence. Lil Blue Eyes? I like to think so. I turned the corner to the office, and as I was walking up the drive, a crow flew overhead, lit in a tree and began to caw down to me. I called up, "You're welcome, and I am so happy all is well." Lil Blue Eyes has a distinctive young squawk, which I have heard off and on in the neighborhood since.

Whether or not you like crows, they are smart and fascinating birds. And sometimes it takes a murder to help one succeed.

I can't wait to see what next year brings!

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