During this time of spring, when the birds are in full chorus, along with the frogs, I would like to share a very interesting story, which we first saw on the BBC news (story by Katy Sewall). Strangely enough though, it happens right in our own backyard!
Gabi's relationship with the neighborhood (Seattle) 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.
Inside a box are rows of small objects in clear plastic bags. One label reads: "Black table by feeder. 2:30 p.m. 09 Nov 2014." Inside is a broken light bulb. Another bag contains small pieces of brown glass worn smooth by the sea. "Beer colored glass," as Gabi describes it.
Each item is individually wrapped and categorized. Gabi pulls a black zip out of a labeled bag and holds it up. "We keep it in as good condition as we can," she says, before explaining this object is one of her favorites.
There's a miniature silver ball, a black button, a blue paper clip, a yellow bead, a faded black piece of foam, a blue Lego piece, and the list goes on. Many of them are scuffed and dirty. It is an odd assortment of objects for a little girl to treasure, but to Gabi these things are more valuable than gold. She holds up a pearl colored heart. It is her most-prized present. "It's showing me how much they love me."
"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 specializes in birds, particularly crows and ravens. Dr. M. was the one who responded to our Shaw 4-H birding group when they did their study on crows in 2012 (see Blogs May 29 & Aug. 27), which won them Best of Show at the county fair.
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 others signals."
The birds communicate by how they fly, how close they walk, and where they sit. The human learns their language and the crows learn their feeder's patterns and posture. They start to know and trust each other. Sometimes a crow leaves a gift.
But crow gifts are not guaranteed. "I can't say they always will (give presents)," Marzluff admits, having never received any gifts personally, "but I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people."