The leap from wondering how to relate to creatures with dot-like eyes on the sides of their heads to starting to see birds as thinking, feeling beings who were not only paying attention to my every move but were reading my thoughts as well was probably a gradual process. Certain examples come to mind.
Back in the apartment, a mourning dove started coming to the window often, and he was different from the rest. Doves are usually silent, but he made little kvetching noises as he fed. In retrospect I realize he was not well. Around this time, the windows were wide open and when something startled the doves, they would all fly into the room, turn around at the wall and fly back out with acute precision. On one of these flights, the little dove in question did not make it; instead, he landed on the floor and crawled under the radiator. I realized with a bit of panic that I would have to pick him up and put him out, and I had never held a bird before. Not knowing what to expect, I got down on my knees and reached for him. He edged away but really didn’t put up much resistance and soon I was holding a soft, fluffy beating heart that weighed barely a few ounces.
I put him on the window sill and he sat there, undoubtedly terrified. The standard mourning dove defense is to sit so still to blend into the background and you won’t notice them. But that wasn’t going to work; he had to leave. I sort of shoed him off the ledge, he flew home, and I named him Fidel.
The weather turned colder and one day Fidel came inside and started walking around across the floor. I asked him where he was going but he pretty much ignored me as if he knew all along what he was up to. Soon he had wandered out into the hallway. I thought to myself, I can’t have a wild bird walking around in my apartment! I sat still for a while, calling him. until I finally got up and found him sitting in the bathroom by the radiator where it was quite warm. When I tried to get him to come out, he flew up to the shower curtain rod and looked down at me. I did not have a net and I was not going to chase him around the apartment. I went back into the room and sat down at the piano, thinking if I started playing, he might come back out on his own. I played a while, nothing happened. I started calling him, Fidel, Fidel, come back out, you can’t stay in there. After a while, Fidel came walking back into the room. I kept telling him he had to leave. I hated to kick him out, but I had no capacity to care for wild birds. And one thing I liked about entertaining the wild birds was that they always went home at night. Somehow I convinced Fidel it was time to go home and he left. I know he didn’t understand my words, but he heard my thoughts.
Later on, I was gone for a weekend and came up the back stairs to find a dove, dead, outside on top of the back door frame. I knew it had to be Fidel. Poor bird was probably trying to come back in where it was warm. He had decided my apartment was a safe place. I felt terrible to lose him.
Not feeling quite like Dr. Doolittle, I began to accept that the birds at least paid attention when I talked to them, even if I wasn’t sure we were exactly conversing. It still seemed to be a one-way conversation.
Then I wanted to get to know Elvis the Crow better. He had sat in the elm tree out on the street facing the window for at least half a year, watching birds come and go, before that one day when he finally came to the window and hovered for a peanut. Crows are very cautious creatures, but once they make decisions, they stick. I told my friend Robin about the crow and she said her sister had a crow named Ernie she fed all the time, and that she had seen crows take pancakes and stack them up in neat little piles before taking off with them. She also talked of scrambled eggs and pizza and I said I’m not going to put all that food out for a crow. She thought a minute and said, they love hot dogs.
Hot dogs? Really. Well, I supposed I could buy a pound of hot dogs and cut them up and see what happened. The day I came home from the store with the hot dogs, I looked out my kitchen window and Elvis was sitting on the roof peak directly across, staring at me. Maybe a crow’s stares are special because they have larger, rounder eyes that look more like a mammalian eye that I can relate to. But somehow I knew immediately that Elvis was telling me, I know you have hot dogs. The communication now was going both ways. I was getting this information from him, and he was telling me he knew what I was up to. The question then was, where to put hot dogs. I didn’t want to put them on the window sill. I thought smelly, messy, and what if the other birds knock them down to the ground? My neighbors were pretty tolerant but this would never fly.
So I thought to put a few hot dogs, cut up, on the back porch steps leading up to my apartment. Within minutes, Elvis showed up. Eventually he was bringing his mate, Elvira, too. The starlings caught wind of it as well, but they were messy eaters, unfortunately. The crows quickly removed their booty to stash elsewhere, so the hot dogs were gone and no longer my problem!
Elvis and I became fast friends. Some time after Elvira started showing up with him, one morning, about 100 crows flew over my roof. I had the feeling Elvis had invited them to check out his neighborhood. He had carved out his territory, and one of the highlights was the lady who played music in the window and put hot dogs out on the porch. About a year later Elvis and Elvira showed up with Elfin, their first offspring. That was pretty exciting stuff. I had my own crow family. And I have been fascinated by crows ever since. More crow stories to come.