The gift of a special bond

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa

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(resident crow / Julie Cook / 2015)

My husband grew up in a small west Georgia town during the 1950s. It was a wonderful time and place in which to relish in the joy and innocence of youth. He often fondly recalls a rather peculiar friendship he formed with a most unusual individual during this particular youthful time of his life.
It wasn’t exactly the sort of friendship one would imagine for a young boy.
It was a friendship and bond forged with a crow.

My husband was a boy who loved being outdoors. The freedom to roam through the woods, wade in and out of creeks and climb up and down trees were all simply vital components of his life and this magical time of innocence of which he never gave a second thought. Leaving home at sun up and not returning until the sun had long set was a common occurrence.

Sadly for a generation of children today the desire to venture out, as often as previous generations had, is no longer as alluring. And as today’s adults, we simply don’t feel good about allowing our kids to “take off,” going to parts unknown as our parents had with us. Much to our sorrow, the world is no longer safe.

It was during this exuberant time of childhood exploration and adventure that my husband found and subsequently took into his care a young fledgling crow that had fallen from a nest. Caring for the young bird, feeding it cereal, keeping it safe and interacting with it daily as only a young boy would with a new found, albeit odd, friend, the baby crow thrived.

Each morning, as he walked to school, his new friend / pet would flitter along over head. As my husband ventured into his school and up to his classroom, the crow would fly to the exact classroom’s open window, flying into the classroom over to my husband’s desk where he’d grab the pencil always sitting on the desk before flying back out the window and eventually home with the pencil. The teacher telling my husband that he would have to keep the crow at home because he was becoming too much of a distraction.

Always marveling at his tale, I was sweetly reminded of his story this week when I read an endearing story on the BBC about a young girl in Washington State who has befriend several crows. .
I hope you’ll enjoy the story as much as I did. . .

The girl who gets gifts from birds
By Katy Sewall
Seattle

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(Gabi)

Lots of people love the birds in their garden, but it’s rare for that affection to be reciprocated. One young girl in Seattle is luckier than most. She feeds the crows in her garden – and they bring her gifts in return.

Eight-year-old Gabi Mann sets a bead storage container on the dining room table, and clicks the lid open. This is her most precious collection.

“You may take a few close looks,” she says, “but don’t touch.” It’s a warning she’s most likely practised on her younger brother. She laughs after saying it though. She is happy for the audience.

Inside the box are rows of small objects in clear plastic bags. One label reads: “Black table by feeder. 2:30 p.m. 09 Nov 2014.” Inside is a broken light bulb. Another bag contains small pieces of brown glass worn smooth by the sea. “Beer coloured glass,” as Gabi describes it.

Each item is individually wrapped and categorised. Gabi pulls a black zip out of a labelled bag and holds it up. “We keep it in as good condition as we can,” she says, before explaining this object is one of her favourites.

There’s a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip, a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold.

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(Gifts given by the crows)

She didn’t gather this collection. Each item was a gift – given to her by crows.

She holds up a pearl coloured heart. It is her most-prized present. “It’s showing me how much they love me.”

If you want to form a bond with a crow, be consistent in rewarding them”
John Marzluff
Prof of wildlife science
Gabi’s relationship with the neighbourhood crows began accidentally in 2011. She was four years old, and prone to dropping food. She’d get out of the car, and a chicken nugget would tumble off her lap. A crow would rush in to recover it. Soon, the crows were watching for her, hoping for another bite.

As she got older, she rewarded their attention, by sharing her packed lunch on the way to the bus stop. Her brother joined in. Soon, crows were lining up in the afternoon to greet Gabi’s bus, hoping for another feeding session.

Gabi’s mother Lisa didn’t mind that crows consumed most of the school lunches she packed. “I like that they love the animals and are willing to share,” she says, while admitting she never noticed crows until her daughter took an interest in them. “It was a kind of transformation. I never thought about birds.”

In 2013, Gabi and Lisa started offering food as a daily ritual, rather than dropping scraps from time to time.

Each morning, they fill the backyard birdbath with fresh water and cover bird-feeder platforms with peanuts. Gabi throws handfuls of dog food into the grass. As they work, crows assemble on the telephone lines, calling loudly to them.

(There is a lovely video clip of Gabi feeding birds in her garden–please follow this link to the original article in order to be able to see the video
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31604026)

It was after they adopted this routine that the gifts started appearing.

The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray; an earring, a hinge, a polished rock. There wasn’t a pattern. Gifts showed up sporadically – anything shiny and small enough to fit in a crow’s mouth.

One time it was a tiny piece of metal with the word “best” printed on it. “I don’t know if they still have the part that says ‘friend’,” Gabi laughs, amused by the thought of a crow wearing a matching necklace.

When you see Gabi’s collection, it’s hard not to wish for gift-giving crows of your own.

“If you want to form a bond with a crow, be consistent in rewarding them,” advises John Marzluff, professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. He specializes in birds, particularly crows and ravens.

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(Crow on feeder)

What food is best? “A few peanuts in the shell,” he says. “It’s a high-energy food… and it makes noise when you throw it on the ground, so they hear it and they quickly habituate to your routine.”

Marzluff, and his colleague Mark Miller, did a study of crows and the people who feed them. They found that crows and people form a very personal relationship. “There’s definitely a two-way communication going on there,” Marzluff says. “They understand each other’s signals.”

The birds communicate by how they fly, how close they walk, and where they sit. The human learns their language and the crows learn their feeder’s patterns and posture. They start to know and trust each other. Sometimes a crow leaves a gift.

But crow gifts are not guaranteed. “I can’t say they always will (give presents),” Marzluff admits, having never received any gifts personally, “but I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people.”

Not all crows deliver shiny objects either. Sometimes they give the kind of presents “they would give to their mate”, says Marzluff. “Courtship feeding, for example. So some people, their presents are dead baby birds that the crow brings in.”

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(Crows at the birdbath)

Gabi has been given some icky objects. Her mother threw out a rotting crab claw, for example.

Gabi points out a heavily rusted screw she prefers not to touch. It’s labelled “Third Favorite.” Asking her why an untouchable object is in the favourites, she answers, “You don’t’ see a crow carrying around a screw that much. Unless it’s trying to build its house.”

Lisa, Gabi’s mom, regularly photographs the crows and charts their behaviour and interactions. Her most amazing gift came just a few weeks ago, when she lost a lens cap in a nearby alley while photographing a bald eagle as it circled over the neighbourhood.

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(Gabi with Lisa)

She didn’t even have to look for it. It was sitting on the edge of the birdbath.

Had the crows returned it? Lisa logged on to her computer and pulled up their bird-cam. There was the crow she suspected. “You can see it bringing it into the yard. Walks it to the birdbath and actually spends time rinsing this lens cap.”

“I’m sure that it was intentional,” she smiles. “They watch us all the time. I’m sure they knew I dropped it. I’m sure they decided they wanted to return it.”

Writer and broadcaster Katy Sewall is co-host of The BitterSweet Life podcast.” She’s been a journalist and radio professional for 12 years.

7 comments on “The gift of a special bond

  1. lljostes says:

    Those were two cool stories, Julie! Thank you for sharing them this Sunday morning! Blessings on your day! Laura

  2. Julie, this is fascinating. I saw a Nature special on PBS recently about crows and I know they are super intelligent. They can remember faces, etc.
    When my mother was a child growing up, I believe crows were feared in her family. To this day, if many of them show up in my mother’s yard at once, she says that someone has died. And usually someone has.
    I love birds and don’t see many crows in my yard. They never come to my feeder that I notice. I’ll have to pay a bit more attention.
    Thanks for the fascinating stories.
    xo Joanne

  3. Lynda says:

    What a beautiful post about the interaction of God’s creatures – human and birds. There is so much to learn from other species of creation. Blessings.

  4. David says:

    I read that story on the BBC website Julie (I have the BBC News as my home page). I have had a few cheeky birds in the garden, but none quite as tame as this. My friend had a blackbird that would come in through his back door and follow him around the kitchen! I am very envious of Gregory and his crow.

    Blessings! David

  5. What an amazing and wonderful story! And you told it so well! Oh how I do love reading your tales, my friend. Love, N ❤ 🙂

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