Crows snack on birdseed in the columnist’s yard. (ROGER ASCHBRENNER PHOTO)
When I see too many birds gathered in one place, I think of Tippi Hedren in the phone booth. “The Birds” and real-life bird experiences have left a mark. I remember childhood beach days at Reid State Park. An open cooler was a beacon to seagulls and it was hard to tell if they wanted to steal my PB&J or make an appetizer of my arm.
I’ve been pooped on by birds more than once and, contrary to the superstition, nothing good has ever come from it.
So, when my partner said he was putting up bird feeders, I let my love for him swell to push my bird ambivalence to the margins. I knew this day would come. He arrived complete with bird books, binoculars and a camera with a long lens. He can identify a bird, back-lit and flying away from him, with barely a glance. His morning alarm is recorded birdsong that rises in volume until he finally turns it off.
One feeder turned to two and then six. There are regular seed dispensers, one that holds syrup and another for fresh orange halves. I even helped him build birdhouses to complete the backyard BB&B (bird bed-and-breakfast).
Some days, the chirping, swirling chaos in the yard reminds me of a college frat party. I’m drawn to it. I’m curious but too intimidated to enjoy it. And there are more and more days when the birds are the gentle soundtrack to a lazy morning or chirpy work companions since my home is now my office. The birds are winning me over.
Cardinals are a defiant splash of color against the cold and snow. Round-tummied robins march across the lawn at the first sign of spring. They seem both hopeful and grumpy, like kindhearted curmudgeons. The ducks, forgetting their wings, march up the hill from the water, looking like little boats with fat feet. They hang out, eat the seeds the other birds scatter, and take naps on the lawn.
When the pair of Baltimore orioles who live on the other side of the street (yes, I even know where some birds nest) land on the orange, I scramble to take blurry pictures with my phone. I’ve started reading about how to encourage bluebirds to nest.
I’ve come a long way with the birds, but not all birds. I’ve struggled to come up with the tiniest bit of warmth for crows. Then I saw a video on social media juxtaposing a crow and a man. Spoiler alert: The crow comes out looking pretty good.
At the top of a split screen, a man is unsuccessfully trying to put his suitcase into the overhead compartment of an airplane. The compartment is long and narrow, running horizontal to the ground. The man is holding his suitcase vertically, trying over and over to violate laws of matter and eighth grade geometry, banging the long sides of his luggage against the compartment edges. Finally, a flight attendant directs him to turn it, so the shape of the suitcase matches the compartment space, and it slides right in.
At the bottom of the screen, a crow makes quick work of a kid’s toy, matching blocks of different shapes to slots of the same shapes. The crow picks up the triangle piece and places it perfectly in the triangle space. The star and the cross are quickly oriented and dropped properly.
Crows can solve complex problems that some human beings struggle with, and that made me think.
Why do I think bluebirds are magical but crows strike terror in my heart? Is it the luck of the draw? Bluebirds got the Disney marketing machine and crows got Halloween and dried husks in desolate fields? If I could readjust my bird ambivalence to invite every seed-loving creature into my backyard, could I not learn to appreciate the crow?
It’s hard to see a crow and not believe they have a direct link to dinosaurs. With beady, darting eyes, a pointy beak and sharp talons, they look like efficient killing machines. There’s a reason crows don’t make the cover of fundraising brochures, but puffins do.
But scientists say that crows can remember faces and distinguish one person from another. They remember kindness and have been known to drop off gifts. I wonder if they know my partner feeds them. I wonder if they can pick up on vibes, so they know that I often remind him when the feeders are empty.
I’ve watched crows flying in formation around a hawk, badgering it until it leaves the sky over the yard, and I’ve thought, “Yup, crows are mean.” But who am I to judge? It can’t be easy living outdoors year-round, and in this dry summer, when my lawn is a toasted-to-golden brown, resources must be scarce. The hawk is a problem, and crows use teamwork to solve it for themselves and everyone else. The backyard chatter across species continues without a blip. Anyone who ever went to a college rager knows that a raucous party benefits from capable bouncers.
The hours crows keep remain inconvenient and their “caw” as they plan breakfast will always be jarring. But now, I appreciate them. I’m glad they’re here and if there’s a possibility they could be smarter than me, I’d rather be on their good side.
So when the first fingers of sunrise creep over the horizon to poke the crows awake, I say a sleepy “Good morning” to them before rolling over and falling into blissful slumber, dreaming of a future when crows are sent in to handle rowdy airplane passengers and streamline the boarding process.
Erin O’Mara lives in Harpswell and serves on the Harpswell News Board of Directors.