Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My Crows

Number 3 Wireless, by now dear readers, must be familiar to you. We lived amongst 48 families close to the country and yet really somewhat the same as a city block in Winnipeg. The difference was the 48 families living there were complimented by The Manitoba Teachers Normal School. I do not know the enrollment there but it did impact our lives.

The elements of living were made more interesting by having a small town of people learning their trade.

Libraries were not close except for the Normal School and I don’t know, nor ever did know, about the use of the Normal School’s library. Many of us went to the Mulvey School in downtown Winnipeg and sometimes we could go to a Library not too far away. I mention this only as getting information in those days was not easy or always accessible, especially for a kid. You will soon see why I needed that information.

With this in mind, I spent half a day in the woods close to our apartments. The kinds of woods I refer to were Maple, Oak, Willow, Birch and others. I spotted a large Oak tree with a good size nest in it. Upon investigating, I discovered some baby crows. I climbed up the tree to check out the nest. There were five baby crows but no sign of the parents. I watched the baby crows for a few minutes in their nest. Looking down from the tree I spotted two large crows lying on the ground. It appeared they had been shot. I hung around for about an hour and stayed a safe distance from the tree. Time went by and still no sign of other crows coming near the nest.

I decided they needed rescuing. I went home, found a cardboard box, and lined it with some grass and dry dirt. I went back to the Oak tree. The nest was undisturbed and by this time, there wasn’t any noise coming from the nest. I climbed the tree and there were still five baby crows. They began making a noise as soon as I looked in on them. It puzzled me why the nest hadn’t been disturbed but I wasted no time in getting them into the cardboard box.

I don’t know how old they were but they had feathers. I knew they couldn’t fly yet because of the way they stayed in the nest as I picked them up one at a time.

I soon reached home and shared my catch with my Mother. I asked if I could raise them up until they could be on their own. To my astonishment, she said I could. She cautioned me that I would have to build a pen to keep them in and it would have to be completely covered with chicken wire so cats and dogs couldn’t bother them.

I got to work immediately. I found some old chicken wire at a near by farm and talked the owner into giving me some. He also said I could have some old lumber if it would help. In a couple of days I had that pen built. It was not craftsmanship in the least, but it had six posts buried about foot in a half in the ground with a height of around six feet. The nails also came from the farmer. He said the used lumber had some nails in it and I could pull them out and straighten them for use. He also gave me some wire staples that sure came in handy.

I fastened a door of sorts, using some bailing wire to hang it. I had some rope which I used to keep the door shut. I made a sort of nest that was lined with grass and twigs and other plants so it would be warm at night.

I was ready but then needed to decide what to feed these baby crows. I knew that crows would eat just about anything. I dug up worms, and took a long ride on my bike when I learned there was a spill of corn along side the railroad track. It turned out to be true but I had to work at it to fill the flour sack I had brought.

Most of the corn had been picked up but with careful work - about two hours, I think - I got enough to last a while.

I soon found out that getting water to the baby crows was not easy and getting them to swallow it was even harder. I started dipping small pieces of bread in milk and those little crows went for it. I fed them bugs, pieces of apples I had scrounged from friends, and any kind of scraps I could dig up. Their appetites were insatiable, for no matter what I fed them, they wanted more.

Somehow I got them to the point where they were hopping around the cage. I soon put limbs across the cage so they could hop up on the lower ones. The bigger they got the more noise they made. Soon they were flying up to the higher limbs in place and just pecking at everything they could find.

I now had to be careful before I opened the door of the cage, as they were pretty quick to want out. Soon they were pretty big and, to my amazement, the five crows were still alive.

I finally heard from the neighbors. One guy said: “Look kid, I appreciate what you are doing to save them birds but they are so darn noisey we are all getting tired of them. It is time to let them go.”

It was just like he slapped me in the face. “Let them go?” I thought! I talked to my Mother and she said it was the right thing to do. I had questions. What if they can’t fly right and the cats and dogs get them? I have been feeding them for several months so will they know how to get their own food? “What if this” and “what if that” questions went through my mind.

My Mother, who had little patience, said: “I don’t want to hear any more about this, so get it done.”

I stalled for a few days and finally opened the cage door. I watched the crows go outside. They hopped around and flew several short distances and seemed to call to each other. Pretty soon they were flying around and sitting on top of the cage. Still, I had feed them at night when they were all in the cage. I would lock them in for the night.

I noticed that their flights were longer and their coming back to the cage dropped off as soon as I quit giving them food. One day I watched them fly off and they were gone for several hours. Soon they took off and showed up occasionally and then one or two and then none at all. I don’t know if they could forge for their own feed or if they were just got leary of being around that cage.

In the end they were gone.

I recalled the fun I had when they were helpless and squawked and competed for the food I was feeding them. I remember the bread and milk and the noises they made when I was feeding them. Their antics with each other and how their sizes were about equal except for one that seemed tougher and tiny bit bigger.

When they flew off and didn’t come back for a several hours, I fretted over their safety. But in the end, watching them fly around and getting stronger and flying farther each day gave me satisfaction.

No pun intended here but I had nothing to crow about for it was the right thing to do. How I managed to keep them alive for the time I did was probably one for the books.

I soon scrapped the cage and sat down one day to look at the spot where the cage had sat. I smiled at how clumsy looking it had been, although serviceable. I almost laughed out loud when I thought of what I went through.

I heard a voice and when I turned around, there was my Dad. He rarely spoke to me and I was mostly afraid of him. He just looked at me and said: “You can’t keep birds like that in a cage; it just isn’t a good idea.” He then tussled my hair and went inside. It was a rare moment when I had real contact with my Dad. I often wished that had been different but it was what it was.

Much of the time I had felt like those crows and felt penned in and decided it wasn’t a very good idea for a human being either. In those days a nice day at home was when Mom and Dad weren’t fighting. When they were fighting, I left as quickly as I could and went for long walks. Perhaps that is why I had such endurance in those years because the walks were frequent and staying away from home always seemed like a good idea.

Raising those crows gave me some satisfaction and, to this day, I see crows and have a fondness for them. Crows are moochers, scavengers and a bird wise to the traps and dangers around them. Many crows don’t live for more than a year and after the first year they are pretty cagey. Since they mostly have their young only once during the year it is a wonder they are as numerous as they are. Robins can have several nests during the year but they have a higher mortality rate.

Finally, I would like to have three cheers for the crows -- city dwellers, country dwellers, and survivors in a sometimes-toxic world. Now that’s something to crow about!


1 comment:

  1. I love reading your stories. It makes me miss my Dad, who was such a good storyteller too. I'm a loyal reader for sure! Thanks for sharing yourself like this.