Hungry Crows

By Jamie Lutton

I notice that when I walk to work all these years , months, and days that I am the only person, or one of the few people, who does not have headphones on.  I listen to the spring birdsong, which I cannot identify except for the crows, and it is delicious. But nearly everyone else is in another world. They might as well not be on the same sidewalk as I am, or even outside. They could be in a car, shut off as much as they are, not in the damp morning world. The morning birdsong is delicious, even though I am ignorant as to what I am hearing. I can tell it is birds courting, and singing their love to each other, or a challenge to rivals, or merely  to announce that they are, here we are, hello, hello.

There are definitely fewer crows about.

They must be living on more stuff than garbage; insects, worms, etc. must be more available now. When I throw them a dog biscuit, the crows who grab them are usually full enough  that they fly away with the treat and hide it, rather than consume it on the spot.  When a crow hides a biscuit, and he is on the ground, on dirt, sometimes he stuffs it into the dirt, and grabs a bit of grass or weed and covers it up, first making sure he is not being watched. I also see them flying off with them right away, and coming back for more. They then do not seem very hungry. I expect that the gutters around my route are full of dog biscuits.

The crows stalk about, very confidently, as if the ground was their world, when they are on the ground. This is particularity noticeable when no people are about, in the side streets.  They walk rather like human people do, in that manner,  as lords of the earth, radiating confidence as they stalk about.

The hungry crow will pin down a treat with a claw to the ground, then stab it with his beak to break it up, and quickly eat the fragments up.  I chose  dog treats (orange, and they are cheese flavored: they look like heavy squarish Cheetos) because they were too large and solid for pigeons to be interested; but they are meaty and tasty; and the crows eat them readily; they recognize them as food.

I think they think the treats are Cheetos at first glance; customers have told me that they give Cheetos to crows all the time. 

 Some crows just visit me and keep an eye on me. This morning, my elevator did not come for a while, and I was standing about on the open landing seven flights up.   A crow flew over to a nearby tree, cawing as he flew, roosted there to check me out.   He cawed and cawed, and stared at me. I think he was from the North nest, the nest just to the left of my apartment building. I put out two treats on my balcony, and got in the elevator.  Then, I rode the elevator back up, to see it the treats were taken (or to remove the evidence, so I would not get in trouble with my neighbors).  The crow was not interested; he was just checking on me, the treats were still there. He flew overhead, cawing, but did not come down to greet me.  So, the crows are not as hungry as they were in January and February, or perhaps the North nest crows is intimidated by the South nest crows, and do not want to get any closer to me for fear of getting chased.

In December, January, February, when it was 40 degrees out, with a wind chill factor of about 20,  and rain coming down, the crows on my route were awfully glad to see me.  I would have fifty or sixty crows caw and caw, dive at me, flying over my head, perching on the telephone wires and trees, staring at me, begging treats from me, while we all got cold and rained on.  I was running a regular crow soup kitchen. There was an edge to their begging, then, of real sharp hunger; I felt it. They would get much closer to me, right up to a foot from me on the ground, and even closer if I put the treats on a wall or other high up surface. They nearly brushed against my fingers, as I stretched them out to put treats down.   They would fight openly with each other to get the treats first, scuffling on the ground, shoving each other in the air.

Some of the older, slower, rumpled looking crows did not make it through the winter; one day, they just would not show up to greet me one morning. I have never (yet) seen a dead crow on my route; I see dead pigeons all the time. I think crows slink off to a rooftop to die, to be nearer the sky.