, , , , , , ,

A True Story by David Kitz *

If you asked me if I like birds, without hesitation I would answer, “Yes.” If you asked me if I like crows, the quick answer would be, “Not so much.”

I suppose it’s their voice that irritates me the most. They can’t seem to hit the right note. It’s their early morning cawing that drives me insane. There’s nothing quite as irritating as a crow’s relentless caw near your window, as you try to get that well-earned hour of extra sleep on a Saturday morning.

I’m convinced someone should invent a beak muzzle for crows. For humane treatment, the muzzle should be designed to allow crows to peck their food and eat normally, but it would be instantly activated the moment they tried to caw.

Surely with all the recent improvements in technology such a device is possible. With the right marketing team, I’m sure the millions of these devices would be sold. For a moment think about the sales a beak muzzle commercial during the Super Bowl could generate!

And consider the prestige. The inventor of a beak muzzle for crows would undoubtedly be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace—auditory peace—Saturday morning peace. Can there be a higher honor?

But a few years back I had a dramatic change of heart about crows.

It all started on a lazy Saturday afternoon in the summer. I was sitting in my living room watching a different flock of squawky birds—the Toronto Blue Jays. As I recall, those birds were in a tense match with their rivals the Yankees.

Suddenly, “KA-BANG!”

The whole house shook. My wife came running into the living room shouting, “What happened?”

After a moment of stunned silence I replied, “I have no idea.”

“Well, something hit the house,” she insisted.

“I think it hit the front window,” I offered.

Together we rushed over to our living room picture window. The window itself looked fine. But there on our front lawn lay a crumpled heap of black feathers.

I slipped on my shoes and headed out for a closer look. Sure enough, it was a big crow. The afflicted bird didn’t struggle to escape as I approached. He was in no condition to do so. His left wing rested in a splayed-wide state on the grass, while the other wing was tilted up awkwardly, but held close to the body.  His head and neck were skewed grotesquely to one side.

I crouched down for a better look. That’s when our eyes met.

Until that moment in my mind I had been saying, “Oh good, I’ll be rid of one of these pesky nuisances. And if he isn’t dead, out of mercy I’ll finish him off and bury him in the backyard.”

But his eyes said something quite different. He was still alive, and he clearly fixed his right eye on me. At the same time, his beak hung open as he frantically gasped for air. With each gulp he seemed to be saying, “Mercy! Mercy! I didn’t mean to collide with your window. Mercy!”    

We communed eye to eye like that for a few seconds. Then I repented of my murderous thoughts. I said a silent prayer of good health for my hapless feathered friend, stood up and walked back into the house. 

I discussed the state of my fallen comrade with Karen. After considering all the options, we both agreed it was best to leave the crow exactly where he was. Perhaps, he was just winded and would recover—a rather unlikely prospect I thought. But there was no harm in waiting.

I resumed watching those other birds—the Blue Jays. After a particularly tense inning of play, I got up to check on the casualty in the front yard. He was gone. The crow was completely gone. I walked out to the spot where he once lay to confirm his disappearance. I looked around the area. No sign of him.

As I re-entered our home, I had a smile on my face. I felt strangely happy that the bird had made good his escape without any intervention on my part.

I considered this event to be unusual, but not particularly impactful—except for the crow. And it certainly didn’t change my opinion about crows. But the story doesn’t end there.

About ten days later, early in the morning I found myself standing on my front lawn at about the same place where my fallen friend had landed. I was deep in thought—not about crows and their place in the world—but rather I was considering that great esoteric question common to man. Can I put off cutting the lawn for another day, or in the great scheme of things should I tackle this chore today?

Suddenly a crow interrupted my contemplation. He fluttered down from a large maple in my neighbor’s yard and landed on the front porch. From there he scooted closer onto the driveway. Then from there this audacious crow walked over to me on my front lawn.

I had never been approached by a crow before. I felt quite uncertain how I should respond. To be blunt, I was thunderstruck.

He on the other hand seemed completely at ease. He stopped about a meter from me. Then he looked me over as only a crow can do, cocking his head, first to one side, then the other. For a second time our eyes met. That’s when he began to speak, not with his squawky annoying voice, but with his eyes. Here’s what I heard him say—mind to mind:

“Sorry for dive bombing your house the other day. That was dumb of me.

Your mercy is appreciated. Thanks for praying for me.

As you can see, I’m fine now.”

And with that said, he turned abruptly, flapped his wings a few times and ascended to his lofty perch in my neighbor’s maple tree.

close up photo of a crow

Photo by Darvin Riego de Dios on Pexels.com

As for me, I returned to my house, a humble man.

Since that day I’ve thought a good deal about my interaction with that crow. Skeptics might well doubt the truth of my account. Can I prove that the crow that walked up to me was the same crow that collided with my window? No, I can’t. I can’t distinguish one crow from another. I can’t even tell if the crow I encountered was male or female. But I do know that researchers have found that crows have keen skills of human recognition and recall. Furthermore, I’ve read and heard countless stories that highlight the intelligence of these birds.

Accuse me of putting words in a bird’s beak if you like, but I believe that bird descended to my level and walked over to me with the express purpose of communicating with me in the best way he (or she) could. And he succeeded in his mission.

The Gospel of Luke records the account of Jesus healing ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19), but only one returned to give thanks. I showed mercy to just one crow, and he returned to express thanks. Which is the superior species?

About 5:30 this morning I awoke to the cawing of a crow. And you know something? For me that bird hit all the right notes.

I appreciate getting love notes—thank you notes—even from a crow.

* An earlier version of this story was published in A Taste of Hot Apple Cider.