True Story: How My Feathered Foes Became a Backyard Family

True Story: How My Feathered Foes Became a Backyard Family

I'd planned to spend my weekend in the sun, potting flowers and sprucing things up outdoors. But that was before the Pair of Crows, as my husband and I began to call them in a menacing tone. Out of nowhere, the avian interlopers had set up base camp in our backyard. And talk about angry birds. These two were ready to bust out beaks and claws.

We first discovered our feathered foes when we let our dog Quatchi out on Friday morning. It was early, and the ruckus the birds made echoed through our still-waking neighborhood. My husband and I joked about what the crows might portend. We figured they'd go away soon. But, no.

Until now, the crows had been a minor inconvenience, an amusement even. But they were getting louder and more aggressive, and probably annoying my neighbors nearly as much as us with the incessant noise. I admit I got a little desperate. I mean, I've seen "The Birds." Maybe these two crows had a lot of friends. And I certainly wasn't about to kill one.

I'd already considered the possibility of a nest and baby crows. But when I peered up through the branches of our big Doug fir, I couldn't see any evidence of either, even as the birds were throwing a huge fit above me.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, I looked out the kitchen window to see Quatchi, ears perked and tail wagging hard, staring at something on the ground. He barked in a crescendoing duet with the two increasingly distressed crows. I went to explore and found a small coal-black bird nestled in the weeds and grasses. Its eyes were milky, and it stayed perfectly still as my dog inched towards it. Only when Quatchi touched his nose to its head did it wobble away. I grabbed the dog and locked him inside and came back with my camera.

Here he (she?) is! Let's go with he since my husband named him Jon Snow. Isn't he sweet? It never occurred to me that the young'un would be hanging out on the ground, growing and gaining strength as his parents guarded him from above. The second I saw this little creature I forgave the crows for all their clamor. I had no idea what to do, if anything, so I called Animal Control.

"It's that time of the year!," said the chipper lady who answered. "We're being inundated with calls about this very matter!"

She suggested I move the fledgling in a box to a better (read: NIMBY) spot. I live on a busy street, so my enclosed backyard is actually one of the safest places around for it. Would the crows follow me if I just drove slowly from Phinney Ridge to Discovery Park?

I wasn't worried about my dog killing Jon Snow, either. Quatchi's a curious but gentle golden retriever.  I was concerned about the baby crow being scared to death from his attention, though. "And remember, wildlife just sometimes don't make it," the lady reassured me. Not really what I wanted to hear, but true.

To be honest, I've never been much of a bird person. Or, more aptly, I was a put-a-bird-on-it girl, long before the trend hit its Portlandia apex, and I enjoy birds from a binocular-friendly distance. The little ones that flit around my yard are adorable. But I also have a healthy respect for birds, and by healthy I mean slightly fear-based. They're basically living dinosaurs.

And crows are particularly intelligent. They can remember their foes' faces, according to fascinating research by the University of Washington. (Seattle has a large crow population.)  Mom and Pop Crow in my backyard definitely know my face (and despise it!). But crows are also extremely social and live in families. They teach their offspring the ways of the world. 

I was not about to disturb that process. I want Jon Snow to thrive and fly up to the trees and beyond with his family. Like many neighbors, the crows are kind of annoying. But they're beneficial too — they eat loads of small garden pests like caterpillars and other insects. No neighbor has ever offered to do that for me!

I wish they'd chosen another backyard. There are only so many sunny days in Seattle, and I still can't do any gardening out there. (Take your time, wee Jon Snow!)  But I'm also grateful that I got to see this little bit of nature unfold up close. I really had no understanding of how birds transformed from just hatched to soaring through the air. It's pretty amazing.

The experience has also reinforced my desire to create a beautiful backyard garden that attracts lots of bees, butterflies, and yes, birds. They are welcome here any time, even if they refuse to use their inside voices. 

Image: Tippi Hedren in the Birds via The Telegraph. If you've never heard about what Hitchcock put Hedren through for the making of this movie, it's method acting to the max.

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