Fine Feathered Friend

When we moved into the place we've been living for almost three years, one of the extra-added bonus bits was this crow who showed up and hung out with us.

He was a peculiar and spectacular crow -- big, bold, and smart (as crows are wont to be). Peculiar enough for me to be able to identify him easily by his behavior, even when he showed up with other crows (more on this later).

I can't remember if it was me or my Beloved who dubbed him "Jacob". It was one of those things where that was just his name, you know? As if it came out of thin air.

Jacob visited us nearly every day for the last three years. He (and later, his various families) would arrive on the wire outside the kitchen window each morning, and my Beloved or I would take the previous day's leftovers out to the big stump where we had placed a big water platter for his bathing and drinking pleasure. We took out the things that couldn't go into the garden compost -- bits of fish from last night's dinner, leftover bits of squishy cat food that Her Majesty couldn't be arsed to eat, slimy cheese (his favorite), etc..

My Beloved and Jacob were especially close. She's kind of Ms. Nature-Girl, and has a way with critters and plants. She would sit out, writing in her journal, and always had a pocket with a few cat-kibbles in it, which she would periodically fling out to Jacob, who would venture amazingly close to her (although he always remained very much a "wild" bird). His relationship with her was not a simple habituation to humans in general. He would be near (but not that near) to me. He would be less near other humans, even those who were at our house frequently.

The love affair between them progressed to the point where I started calling Jacob her boyfriend. Each morning, if she was up early (common), he would sit on the kitchen wire, right where he could watch her making her morning tea (and no doubt inspect any leftovers she might be preparing for him). If she wasn't up early, he would actually come to the skylight that looked in on our bed in a completely different part of the house (never at anyone else's skylight), and tap at the frame, then peer in to see if a sleepy head would lift from the pillow.

He would greet her with a ritual that crow-experts say is usually reserved between family-members in the crow clan -- he would sort of bow his head, clack his beak, and coo -- we called it his "Bowuh-Bowuh" sound.

The first Summer it was mostly just Jacob -- and his mate, which Beloved named Cee. When they brought their two fledglings (baby crows are big, but you can ID them as babies because of their bright pink mouths, blue eyes, and constant clamoring to have food rammed down their throats), we were delighted and honored. The four crows (later three -- one of the fledglings was lost) came daily, and the babies entertained us endlessly as they played with anything they came across. Tuft of grass? Play with it! Pebble? Play with it! Water platter? Attempt to balance on the edge of it and fall off!

The family hung around for the summer, Cee and the baby (Ink) left, but Jacob stayed on through the Winter, and appeared alone most of the time. The next Summer, he seemingly "fostered" another fledgling (crows do this, apparently -- uncles helping out families even when they don't have a brood of their own), who we called Farley.

Farley stuck with Jacob through the season, and this Summer, Jacob took on another fosterling who Beloved named Yi. Yi was a strange bird, still begging from Jacob long after s/he was bigger and had learned to eat for itself, and generally seemed a bit slow on the uptake. We could hear him/her begging from any available adult crow all through the neighborhood -- and if you've never heard a baby crow begging and being fed by an adult, it's sorta like this:

"Aaack. Aackkk. Aacck. aack-aack-aack-gargle-gargle-gargle-aack-gargle-aack."

All the while, flapping their wings in a rather comical fashion.

If he and his various clans did not show up immediately after sunrise, we would say: "Have you seen the crows today?" or "Jacob hasn't showed up today." If he arrived while I was sitting on the stoop in my PJs, having a first smoke of the day, I would call into Beloved: "Your crow-friends are here!" or "You have a/two/three/four crows."

Occasionally, he would be joined by a host of six or seven others. Inviting friends in for brunch, I suppose. They would be properly cautious of us (as Cee, Ink, Farley, and Yi always were) -- which meant that Jacob always got the pick of the leftovers, as he was always the first one to venture down as we walked away from the stump. He buzzed Beloved's head a couple of times, coming nearly close enough for a wing-brush.

Anyway -- Jacob has been part of our daily existence for nearly three turns of the year. My beloved and I are now considering a move, and Jacob was one of our shared concerns -- if we moved across town, would he find and follow us? If not, would the new residents of this house honor him, or shoo him away (or worse).

This last Tuesday, Jacob was acting very strangely. He perched at the edge of a bird-bath under the Magnolia tree for an hour or so, very still, peering down at his own reflection in the water. We were concerned, because the neighbors have a new black kitty who is young and a voracious hunter (he catches hummingbirds, and makes it look very, very easy), and we worried that the cat might attack Jacob, who appeared ill or, at the very least, not his usual self. However, Black Kitty snoozed away nearby under the hardy fuschia, and left Jacob unmolested as he scried the bird-bath.

The next day, Jacob showed up for his morning meal, but he was on the ground most of the morning (a dangerous place in terms of our local feline population, and unusual for the usually cagey Jacob). He then flew to a low branch of our huge Rhodedendron bush and stayed there, mostly still, throughout the day. We kept the neighbor kitty inside (neighbors are gone on vacation, and Black Kitty is fending for himself with a cat-door and someone dropping in to feed him), and watched over Jacob off and on during the day, wondering if he'd been poisoned or was ill.

Then, around evening time, he fell from his perch, and as my Beloved sat nearby, he died. After he fell, he lifted his head a few times, stretched his wings in his death-throes, and then quietly folded himself up small and passed out of his body.

We cried together and buried him in the garden. We had considered letting him return to the earth on his own, but on the off-chance that he had been poisoned or ill rather than possibly old, we didn't want to take the chance that a local animal would consume his carcass.

His body, though looking much smaller in death, was sleek and beautiful. He had left us many of these magnificent feathers in his annual molts, but seeing them in place, how they interlaced and overlaid one another, and finally getting to look at his talons up close was sad and amazing.

Next morning, Yi and Farley showed up as usual. It was odd that they hadn't been with him here during the two days of his illness -- although perhaps that's not odd for crows -- but we were glad to see them (both have always been far less engaged with us than Jacob was, but they still seem to know where to get a good breakfast).

The other thing that we thought odd was that Jacob seemed to come here deliberately to let us know he was departing. We struggled somewhat with whether he was asking for help, or just letting us know, but we both came to the conclusion that it was best to let the wild thing be wild.

I'm glad that I knew him. I'm honored that he came so close.

I loved a crow. He's not a crow anymore.

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:34 PM  


Anonymous said... September 13, 2008 at 6:43 AM  

What a sweet story, and what a sad ending. I am glad you got to experience something so rare and wonderful as to have a crow as a friend, and I am sorry for your loss of that friend.

ouyangdan said... September 13, 2008 at 1:28 PM  

Sorry for yours and Beloved's loss. It's strange how we make attachments w/ wild creatures. I often argue w/ people who tell me animals have no emotional sense beyond hunger and fear, and stories like your prove my case. Trust. Jacob trusted.

Thank-you for sharing.

I can light a candle to Jacob today.

pidomon said... September 13, 2008 at 6:54 PM  

What a great tale.
I am sorry for your loss but happy for what Jacob brought to you and your Beloved.

tata said... September 14, 2008 at 8:15 PM  

He trusted you and came to you to die. This is a great gift, lovey. Blessings upon you.

Not Hannah said... September 15, 2008 at 5:35 AM  

What a lovely gift you were given. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Anonymous said... September 18, 2008 at 10:03 PM  


Anita said... September 22, 2008 at 10:59 PM  

PD, This is such a lovely story for which I thank you very much. It has a significance for me beyond its beauty because of two very dear friends and an unusual blog entry of theirs in July about crows. I hope you can find time to read it and, perhaps, a bit about their bringing young Henry home.

Since that post, I've read about crows and collected crow images. I treasure the addition of your story to my small file centering on the symbolism of crows in blogs of love.

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