Animals: They were here first
Birds Bearing Gifts
We share this planet with millions of birds. Magnificent winged creatures who swoop in and out of our lives. From an urban dwellers standpoint, I can look out my office window and see a variety of birds, from the ubiquitous pigeons to common crows. There’s a buddleia bush on the adjacent property to my building. Every morning a chorus of small finches share the thicket of woven branches with robins, starlings, and hummingbirds. Beyond the buddleia, two pine trees anchor the parking lot where I had the magical privilege of seeing a great golden eagle alight on a thick branch one day. I watched for several minutes as it turned its head one side to the other, looking for some tasty morsel on the ground below, then it took off, with its great wings spread wide, flying over my window, its golden torso glowing in the sun.
On all the other ordinary days, however, the branches of the pines are usually populated with crows, screeching loudly, and I assume that they do this to compete with the din of the freeway traffic one block away or the ever-present passing sirens or simply to annoy the seagulls circling above who scream back, adding intensity to the frenzy of this urban chaos that we share.
Yet, out of this chaos comes a certain grace between the birds and the people. The BBC News Magazine ran a story a few weeks ago about a little girl in Seattle who began noticing the crows in her neighborhood. She shared bits from her lunch box and the crows began to share little gifts with her. Here’s an excerpt from this remarkable story that shows how wild creatures respond to human care and attention.
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. 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 specialises in birds, particularly crows and ravens.
[...] 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."
[...] 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.
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."
After this article ran, readers wrote in with stories of their own interactions with birds. Here’s one where the gift from the crow was not your usual odd object, but that of giving its time and energy to help a human with gardening chores!
Edna King, Pfaffing, Bavaria, Germany: About 12 years ago when I was tending the vegetables in the garden, a very nosy and very big crow started to hang about. I called him Jakob and gave him some bread and cat food. Jakob soon came regularly for his meals and for "observing" me, as I like to describe it. When I finished weeding, I had the habit of tearing the bits very small. One day, I removed some bad leaves from the zucchini plant, Jakob ran as fast as he could towards me, ripped these leaves with his beak and his claws to tiny bits. He stomped on the shreds and croaked while doing this and he continued doing so with every leaf I pulled out. On some days he worked like a shredder. So my gift from Jakob was his help. It was a wonderful and also very hilarious gift.
Here’s a link to the story of Betty the Crow as told on T.E.D. by Joshua Klein, whose presentation is full of hilarious crow stunts. Betty the Crow is famous for creating a tool from a wire so she could grab her food which was out of reach in the bottom of a jar. There’s a video within the TED talk that shows how she does it!
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