Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
AFTER the heavy shut-in winter period, the first spring day sets my being all ajump to be out and away across the hills and the fields, to be refreshed by the gladness of the new sunshine and brought out of my winter sleep with the other creatures of Nature.
One morning early, when spring was not yet old, the call came to me and I was up and afield with the sun. I was eager to be out among the wild folk, and see their joy in the good weather and their calmness and rest in the sunlit woods.
Were you ever in a hurry to get to the woods? I was that morning, but I didn't want to seem too anxious to myself, so I sauntered down the path and struck off through the rows of corn toward the dark grove hemming them in. I was not at home, and the charm of a strange land was with me.
The green corn-field lay in the hollow with the big woods all around. Just at the corner of the field, between the tall pines and the rustling corn blades, I picked up a young Crow (Corvus americanus) with his wing hurt. Surmising that there were others somewhere near, I began a hunt and found two more little black fellows in a nest in an old pine. It was a real crow home, with the rough sticks piled hastily in the crotch of the old storm-broken pine. But looks were deceptive, for built into that rough foundation was a closely woven warm nest. Here, between the forest and the fallow land, the provident parents had had an eye for a snug home, with an easy living close by, but the gun of an angry farmer had made orphans of the young birds.
The crow is a peculiar piece of birdhood. His jetty color surely was not given him for protection, so perhaps his wits were. Crow wit isn't very deep, but it is certainly always ready for use. He is suspicious and always sees a trap in the simplest thing, yet his curiosity can't let it alone. He is always up and stirring for mischief. Let a simple owl appear, and this black villain will heap a load of never-suspected crimes upon the foolish night-bird, and call all of his neighbors to the trial, in which he himself renders judgment. Then, after thus aiding public justice, he will turn around and steal anything that strikes his fancy, whether he needs it or not. He needs it—just because—that's all! How can he help being a thief? He can't help crow nature. Besides, he is such a cheerful bandit, with a gentle, self-confident way of taking things from under your very nose. There is ever a hopeful, expectant expression on his face, and, even when he is caught, he puts on a don't-care look and immediately hunts up more trouble.
The crow walks the earth as if he belonged there. In fact, everything that he touches belongs to him. Other birds drop down and snatch food from the ground, but Master Crow walks about and takes his choice as if it were all put there for his selection. It isn't impudence; it's a spirit of community rights with man.
We made a home out of a dry-goods box for the three little waifs, and they seemed happy in their adoption. It was interesting to watch them play. When they were little fellows and couldn't fly much and had to help themselves along with their wings, they would gather about the old splitting-block in the back yard and chase each other around and around. Sometimes they hopped over the block, chippering and cawing all the time as if they really understood and enjoyed it. It looked like real baby play.
They had another game which seemed to bring out all the humor in their bird natures, though you never would have guessed it by their faces. They would get a piece of paper, or something light, and all climb up on the block, and one of them would drop it off. The other two would make a dive for it as it fluttered down, and one of them would get it. It was his turn then, so they stalked slowly back and again took their places on the block. And so the game went. They were only little chicks and often it took three or four tries for them to get over the big block. Finally, they would make such a racket that old Jack, the dog, would interfere and pitch into them as if he were going to eat them alive, and then they would scatter and do something else. As they grew older, baby ways were forgotten. Crow craft took the place of amusement, and they were stealing and hiding things instead of playing.
The three little crows lived with us for several weeks. One night there came on a cold snap late in the season, and in the morning we found two of the birds dead in the box. The cripple was left.
After the two crows were gone the one that was left seemed to have a closer companionship with us. He was alone and a cripple; he needed our care and we gave it. He was a joy and a sorrow at the same time—a joy to watch his quick, bright ways, but a sorrow to have any dealings with him.
When Jack Crow was little he would sit up and beg us to feed him, his wings fluttering and his bill stuck straight up so you could see nothing but a hole in his head. And all the while he was caw-awing at us. We fed him everything. Fish-worms, berries, and soaked corn were the main part of his diet. He was particularly fond of hominy.
The weather continued cold and we were afraid the young crow would get chilled and die, so one night we put him to bed with old Jack, our dog, and after that we could never get them apart. Jack Crow made a regular den out of the kennel, and it seemed to me that old Jack was consenting to lawlessness in the community when he allowed his black companion to bring in his booty and store it away.
was all "jug-handle" love between the two Jacks. Jack Crow
clung to the old dog for warmth and safety. His was a politic
friendship. But it was different with old Jack. His dog fidelity told
him to protect the little black bird, and that was enough for him.
There was no such faith in the crow's creed. He took toll from friend
and foe. A dinner call for "Jack" brought both. Two dishes
were set out and each knew his place, but Jack Crow had a short
memory. He left his own dish and stood close to the dog's plate,
watching him eat. He seemed to measure every bite old Jack took, and
every now and then, when the dog stopped gobbling to take a breath,
he snatched a chunk and scuttled off as fast as his lame wing would
let him. Old Jack's wrathful growls were his only consolation, for
the crow perched just out of reach and ate his stolen bit or stowed
it away in some conspicuous corner. The dog's grievances were soon
forgotten, and the crow went tagging him all around the yard,
hitching along as fast as he could and jabbering in an excited,
The children, the dog, and the crow were boon companions. In summer they went blackberrying together. When they started out the crow always rode on some one's shoulder, but when they came back he was in a much bigger hurry to get home than the rest and flew on ahead. When they arrived they found him skirmishing for something to eat or up to some of his tricks.
Jack Crow's wings were never clipped. He stayed with us of his own free will. He never entirely severed his relations with his own kind, for he used to go out in the corn-field with the flocks of tramp crows that came to forage. We expected to see them resent his company, since it generally seems to be the case that wild crows hate a crow that is tame and lives with man, and they treat him as a traitor to the race. But if Jack got such treatment we never knew it.
We were always afraid when the men went out in the field to shoot crows that they would kill our pet. So we watched the proceeding with anxiety. Once or twice, when they scared up the flocks of birds, old Jack was along, and Jack Crow saved his own life by flying out of the flock and lighting on the dog's back. All through the summer and fall, when he was young and growing strong, he went out in the corn-field at will, but dusk always brought him home.
Is it strange that there should be bird friendships? Isn't it natural and necessary that the wild creatures who brave the outdoor hardships should need the encouragement and backing of their fellows? Perhaps in the days of their prosperity, in the joyous, sunny nesting time, they forget their friends and past favors; but it is only for a time, and the ingratitude isn't very deep. Besides, they are all busy with household cares and don't miss each other. But in the fall when family duties are over, and parents and young are ready to begin their travels to the southland, they remember that company makes the cold nights a little less cheerless and shortens the miles of flight.
There are very few of our common birds that do not flock some time in the year. Some, like the water birds, both of the coast and the inland, live together all the time —the gulls, cormorants, pelicans, and terns. And many of the land birds prefer to live together in colonies, such as the swallows, blackbirds, and crows.
The crows are very clannish at all times of the year. When the season of home-building comes they sometimes select a site and several pair will nest in a locality. Of course, they may not be very neighborly at this time, but they like to have the assurance of their kind close by.
When the crows begin to flock the farmer feels that winter is already at hand. When the first chill winds heralded the winter, and the little corn-field in the hollow was but a patch of sear stalks, the black foragers of the summer came trooping in to the shelter of the thick pines.
In hundreds they came, and blackened the sky as they passed, to alight in the skirts of the woods and turn their shade to ebon. The small flocks for miles around seemed to collect to form one great winter camp in the old pine forest.
In the daytime they departed for the few meagre feeding-grounds that had been hunted up over the country. A big flock usually took the lead, sailing straight in a dense mass, and followed by a few scattering small flocks, while far in the rear came the stragglers who had forgotten to start on time.
Sometimes great numbers of them lined the old rail fence. In the fall an old rail fence and a crow belong to each other. There was a change in their attitude now. They were not bubbling over with life as a few months ago. Even curiosity was dulled. They had put on the mood of another season. They sat with heads hunched down between their pointed shoulders, and they sat for long spells. There was something ominous in their quiet. Winter meant something worse for the crows out there in the cold than it did for the farmer and his pet crow in his snug nest with the old dog at home.
Jack Crow weathered the winter in happiness. In the yard there was an old half dead apple tree where he used to sit and jeer at the dog, when he had been nipping some dinner. But the dog wasn't the only one who scolded the little torment. This old apple tree was the crow's favorite den, and here he stored his treasures. He retreated here for safety and, perched on a limb out of reach, he would cock his head on one side and listen gravely to the powerless threats sent up to him. We never could teach him to talk, and it was well for Jack he couldn't lest he might have told many of his sins we never discovered.
Bright-colored objects and things that glittered seemed to attract him. Although he couldn't string his treasures and wear them around his neck like an Indian, he never lost the enthusiasm of a collector. A thimble was missed in the house and the children were accused of misplacing it. It was not found till a year later. When the old apple tree was cut down, up in a hole in the fork were found the thimble, a teaspoon, and a lot of broken glass and other trinkets. The finding of Jack's storehouse cleared up many little troubles for the children.
There used to be a current notion, which probably was well founded, that crows would rob hens' nests. Jack Crow's farmer-father said that if he ever got to robbing nests he would have to be killed. But he never did. He kept his thieving to the more petty, annoying thefts around the house. But he lived up to crow character every bit and never let the grass grow under his feet. When he could sneak into the summer kitchen he would hop on a chair, and then upon the table, and snatch things when he thought no one was looking. Stealing was pure delight to him.
A crow likes company as a chicken does. But he can't be placed in the same class with chickens. What a sputtering in the barn-yard when the crows flew over! But the chickens were friendly to Jack, for in winter he ran around with them, picking up extras beside what he got from the table. Jack considered everything a gain.
He stayed with the family the whole of one year. Early the next spring when the crows first began to come he would flap off down the corn rows with them, getting acquainted perhaps. At night he would come back to the house if the children and old Jack did not hunt him up before. Gradually he got to staying out nights, and finally he would be gone for two or three days at a time. At last he didn't come back at all. We never knew whether he was taken back into crow fellowship, or whether he departed to a new land to begin life over and live as a thoroughbred crow should.
After he left, the children often took old Jack and went down in the corn-field to look for Jack Crow. They scared up all the flocks they could find, but never again did they see Jack Crow fly out from the swarm of black wings that fluttered up into the pine trees on the skirts of the field.
THE CROW FAMILY
This is a large family, including jays and magpies. The Crow is everywhere known because of the black coat. This family has no musical ability, as the voice is either hoarse or harsh. The crow walks firmly and easily on the ground while the jay hops. The crow is about a foot and a half long; he lives on small mammals, cutworms, grain, fruit, and the eggs and young of other birds.
American Crow (Corvus Americanus): Male, plumage, glossy black with purplish tinge; bill and feet black. Female, less brilliant. Lives throughout the United States, summer and winter. Nest, generally in evergreen trees, a platform of rough sticks lined with bark, weeds, and leaves. Eggs, four to six, greenish, spotted with brown.