In defense on her beloved crows

A small flock of crows invades my yard like a pack of noisy black ninjas on not-so-secret missions.

Some of the corvids perch on the cedar poles atop my hogwire fence. Others strut across the wet green grass.

They holler back and forth to one another, sending the parrots into paroxysms.

Gaia, my African Grey parrot, presses close to the window, screaming with delight. I do a little crowing too.

"Crows! Crows! Our crows are here!"

Gaia's feathers are puffed up. Her wings set in pre-flight stance, she hops up and down like an excited toddler.

"Woooh! Whooosh!" she says.

Goose, the little yellow cockatiel, is not so thrilled. Goose thinks it's his job to protect me. He flaps around anxiously, offering the flock distress call. Urging me to stay safe and inside.

"Eeeep! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepp!" Goose cries.

Translation: Please don't go out there among them. Again.

But I am already headed out the door. Peanuts in hand. Sing-song greeting on my lips.

"Hey crows! Hi crows! Hello crows!"

I want them to know they're welcome here. But my beloved neighbor has been rushing the fence, hollering at my noisy pals when I'm not watching. Or when she thinks I'm not watching. She's at it again.

"Bad crows! Shoo!" neighbor Jan yells, waving her arms wildly.

The crows swoop off. Silhouettes of midnight slice between tree branches bedecked with vivid orange and gold leaves. Mocking her with their caws. Marking her as the mean lady. For crows recognize faces, and they remember who is naughty and who is nice.

I tell Jan she must to leave my crows in peace. At least when they're on my property.

"I love my crows," I say.

The murdering nest raiders are scaring off the smaller birds that gather at my feeders, she insists.

I look over at the host of chickadees, goldfinches and sparrows and smile. Then I remind Jan how many times we've seen her beloved bald eagles, osprey and herons pluck little ducklings from the river. Or worse.

"Crows have an undeserved bad rep. It's a bad rap," I say.

Crows generally mate for life. They live in tight-knit family groups of two to 15 birds. One of the babies from the first clutch usually hangs around to help the parents baby-sit the next batch. As cold weather approaches, they congregate in larger groups. The ever-increasing number of crows making up the "murder" that performs these daily fly-overs is partly why Goose and Gaia are so excited.

Like parrots, crows have an evolved language that includes alarm, feeding, rallying, recall and fight calls. They also rank up there at the top of the avian intelligence scale. Not only are they smart enough to build/use tools to access food, they can problem-solve on the fly, studies show.

Rogue River crows are lucky to have an abundant supply of walnuts, which are now dropping like manna from neighboring trees. Iridescent wings glint in the fall sunlight as the crows swoop high over the highway — then it's "Bombs away!" Gravity, asphalt and passing motorists. The holy trinity of walnut consumption. It's a dangerous and nimble dance as the crows play chicken with the passing cars. Somehow they manage to pluck the sweet nut meats without becoming road kill.

None of this impresses Jan, who remains stubbornly anti-corvid. But she agrees to stop hollering at my would-be black-winged buddies. She heads back inside.

Hopeful, I look up at the poplar trees. A few crows are peeking back. Displaying the peanuts in my open hand, I carefully lay the treats out on the picnic table down by the river. The crows certainly don't need my paltry goober pea offering. But I'm hoping they're amenable to a little bribery. And sing the second stanza of my daily welcome.

"Hey crows! Here crows! Yum crows!"

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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