For a whole year and a half, I have tried to attract birds to my garden. I put up a birdbath, and grieved when no bird came to drink. I put up a bird feeder, and watched the squirrels hang upside down, feeding at leisure on what had promised to be a squirrel-repelling gizmo. And then this spring, just as the Pandemic began to ease, a single crow swooped onto my bird bath.
I was thrilled. I love crows. They are smart, social, observant, cunning. And black. They warn other birds and animals of peril. They caw at illicit movement in the forest; attack or deflect a hawk. But what my crow was doing baffled me. Sometimes it drank the cool, clean water, but without tilting its head to swallow, as most birds do. Apparently, it could swallow without tossing the water back in its throat. Sometimes, it bounced around the edge of the bath, dunking its beak and head. What in the world was it doing? When I cleaned the water, I found a tiny bone and a tuft of gray fur swirling in the water.
The crow had come to wash its food! I watched in admiration. It’s not that they kill for meat. but they’ll eat carrion, and my crow appeared now several times a day to shake and wash the dirt off her food. Sometimes, afterwards, she washed her gleaming black feathers in a delighted spray of glistening waterdrops.
A few days later a second crow appeared. Evidently, my crow had brought her mate. And a few days after that, a whole murder of crows settled on my birdbath, four or five, all flapping, cawing, scolding, socializing on the edge together and taking over the place.
It was hilarious—a parody of my idealized St. Francis image of pretty little bluebirds flitting about. These were rascally, raucous juvenile delinquents, taking over the local swimming pool, terrifying the little kids.
And then something extraordinary happened.
The next morning, no crows came.
Instead a cardinal appeared, a swallow, some nuthatches, two American goldfinches, and woodpeckers. Birds were flitting and flying at the feeder, dipping to the birdbath, disappearing into the woods, skimming smoothly away. But no crows. No cawing, noisy marauders , no gunslingers, strutting on the fence.
I miss my crows!
But I wonder about them, too. Why did they go? They were like angels, leading the little wood birds to my garden, to the clean water in the birdbath and to a feeder that had attracted only squirrels for the past year or more. You’ll think I’m nuts, perhaps, but angels come in many forms. They play hide and seek with us poor humans. Now you see them, now you don’t. Sometimes they are even dark forces, posing as disaster, yet bringing hope and change…the shadows which remind us that behind the dark, the Shadow, is the light. Experience has taught me that both are important, each in their own way.
© Sophy Burnham, 2021.