By Charlie Mitchell
I fear I’m a foe of crows. It’s a mistake, which I can explain, although last time I checked crows – though very smart birds – don’t read newspapers.
Now there is real news to write about – dawn of a new fiscal year in Mississippi, seismic Supreme Court decisions and Anderson Cooper’s dating preferences – but a crow story is what I’ve got.
It started on a Saturday.
The building where I work is not at all busy in the summer. It has, along one side, a wide, windowed gallery and steps leading to the sidewalk.
At midmorning I was walking down the inside hall and looked out the windows, responding to a caw-caphony I heard coming from the porch.
Three crows were at it – big time.
Feathers were flying.
Fight! Fight! Fight!
I don’t know what one crow had cawed to the others – “Yo mama lays rotten eggs?” – but the talons were out.
Watching crows at war was new to me, but I didn’t linger. Unlike some folks in the U.S. State Department, I can recognize when my interests are not at stake, which they weren’t. So I moved on.
Anyway, later in the day, there remained a single crow on the porch, perched on the top step and gazing out rather sheepishly. (Don’t ask me what a sheepish crow looks like. I’m a journalist. Just trust me.) The crow’s eyes were fixed on a light pole about 30 yards away. Atop the pole were two crows. I figured they were the same two who had whipped the porch crow and were daring it to take flight, lest another whipping commence.
“Interesting,” I thought to myself. And I went home.
Sunday morning the crow was still there. Monday, too.
It has been hot in Mississippi.
So I figured the crow had to be thirsty.
I found a used McDonald’s coffee cup in a trash bin. (A few passersby appeared curious as to why an old man wearing a tie was digging in a garbage can and then peeling a cup down to the approximate depth of a crow’s beak, but none stopped to ask, so I didn’t volunteer anything.) I filled the modifed cup from the drinking fountain and took it to the porch.
Trying to get the water as close to the bird as possible afforded me the opportunity for an inspection. No visible injuries. No obvious distress. Several times the bird squatted, bending its knees (?) as if preparing to launch into flight, but held back. Still looking sheepish. (Trust me.)
Tuesday is when the miscommunication occurred. I was taking the freshly filled water cup back outside when the porch crow and the pole crows were having a conversation. It sounded harsh, but all crow sounds are less than melodic. Upon reflection, I think these pole crows were not the ones who beat up the porch crow. I think they were saying, “Hey. C’mon. Let’s go. What’s wrong with you?”
And the porch crow was saying, “I’d love to, but something’s wrong with my wings. I can’t seem to fly, uh ….”
Then, sharply: “Look out! There’s a human walking toward you!”
“Don’t worry. He’s bringing me water.”
“You can’t trust them! Back into the corner! Quick! We’ll get rid of him!” (That exceeds my quota of exclamation marks for the year, but the crows were pretty animated.)
Then the pole crows came after me with everything they had, flying straight at me and veering off at the last moment, calling me every name in the bird lexicon of abusive terms.
Tippi Hedren came to mind.
I fear this will not end well for the porch crow. I am concerned. Another human is apparently also concerned as a Dorito (regular, not spicy) was left by the water cup overnight. The crow’s friends are concerned. At this writing, my friend is fading.
In the big picture, Oxford can lose a crow. It won’t cause a ripple in the cosmos or anything. There are plenty.
But crows not only have exceptional vision and memories, they also carry grudges. They talk to other crows. They even teach their offspring how to recognize specific individuals as threats. (See, e.g., “The Crow Paradox” on YouTube.)
What this all means is that I have been branded.
I have been dealt an injustice in the avian world that could last for generations.
I must think of something to make amends.
It won’t be easy.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.