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Sunday, May 1, 2011

How to get a strange crow to see you

by Jamie Lutton

I have not written about crows, or anything else, for over a month. My time at the computer got co-opted by actual work, so I am writing this on my day off at a xerox shop, to report the latest about the local crows.

They have mostly gotten too busy to visit with me. As April progressed, I have seen fewer and fewer crows in the morning; they must be getting food from other sources.  The South and North nest birds do not drop by as I walk to work, save for one bird from the South nest, who I think is the same bird who kept me company as I walked to work for years. This is a real break from the routine I had expected; they used to visit me every day without fail at 8 am when I left my apartment. I still see a few near the coffee stand, and a few near work, but they are mostly vanished.  About 80% of them have gone off and are busy with other matters.

There is a red finch pair nesting on my balcony. I try not to disturb them, but the male bird sings to me every morning, and I peek out my curtains to watch them build their nest in my sunscreen, which I never unroll. This is the third year they have come back.  The song of the male bird is particluarily beautiful. I put out some unsalted sunflower seeds, and he ate a few yesterday. I don't know if this is their favorite food, but it went over well. I am looking forward to the babies hatching soon.

I walked to my doctor today, for a mammogram, some mile or so away at Virgina Mason. I crossed into territory where  I was not known by any crow. For fun, I tried to figure out how to get the attention of the crows I saw. I figured out a pretty good method that I will pass on here. When I saw a crow or two in a tree across the street, I would stop and stare at them. They would notice me staring at them and look back at me. This I would do for a minute or so, then I would reach into my bag, and get out some dog biscuits, and drop them at my feet. Then, the crows would immediately fly across the street, and roost overhead. I would drop a few more, and walk away. When I left, the birds would fly down and take the treats.  The whole trick was, to make eye contact.

I did this on the way to the doctors. Then I met a crow on the way back and did the same thing.  The crow I met then came right down to me. Throwing a treat only works when they know what you have, usually. When you are on a street where there are cafes, they are used to food falling from human hands all the time. That, and the eye contact makes the connection.
        
I see crows all the time this spring flying up high in straight lines, on some mysterious errand. They do not have time to roost and visit.  I am always looking up to try to spot them when I hear their cries.  They just are not as visible as they were in the winter.

The skies are generally filled with other birds right now. I am going to try to learn all of their names. I can only name the pigeons (of course) the gulls and the crows. There are some small birds that flock that I think are sparrows, and I can identify the robins and the finches, but so many other little birds that  I see that I don't know the names of. They are ducking in and out the trees, especially in the more residential areas, flying fast and low.

When I was walking back from the doctor I saw a great group of pigeons and one gull mobbing a man who was throwing out scraps of bread. He did this for some time. I looked up and saw one crow watching the feeding, perched on the top of a building, silent. There was only bread, perhaps this is why he did not come down.

The ground was covered with pigeons of all descriptions, and one gull. As time passed, more gulls showed up, muscling out the pigeons.  The man who fed them looked a bit woebegone, with patchy, dyed long hair. But he was smiling at the pigeons.  I stayed back so I would not be bombed by pigeon and gull doo from the massive group that had shown up. And I checked; the crow held his spot, just observing the mob of other birds, holding back.

I surmise that the crows are busy courting and raising families, and not feeling the winter pressure to come up with food; so they are scarcer.  I am still looking around and waiting for them to show up. They still drop by work, right when I get there, to beg for dog biscuits. I had gotten in the habit of leaving some outside just as I got to work, on the railing. So, I have three to eight crows visit me and hang onto to wire overhead, waiting for me to go inside work, after I put the biscuits down. Then they elbow each other to grab them, and fly away.  I usually don't see them much for the rest of the day after that, nowadays.

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