Covid Corvids

I can thank (and blame) the Kafkaesque, slow-boiling frog of a year that was 2020-2021 for many new habits and obsessions. A few are good, like running so that I don’t lose my everloving mind, but honestly running might be the only good one. They mostly fall into a more embarrassing category best labeled Weird, Bad, and/or of Questionable Value. One such oddity is my newfound and devout love of crows.

In the still rare chance that I talk to an actual live in-person human — and not an imaginary voice in my head or a dream-version of an old friend — I am now highly likely to ramble on incessantly about the many underappreciated talents of corvids. (Yes, this is the technical term for crows, ravens, magpies, jays, and most intelligent large-ish birds that eat garbage.) Did you know that crows can recognize faces? Did you know they can mimic human speech? Google “crow says hello” and omfg it will blow your mind. Did you know they can be trained to pick up litter? Did you know if you feed one for a long time, like years, and it bonds with you, it will bring you shiny presents? Did you know they actually — seriously no joke — can teach their young across generations to do things like avoid the mean man in the weird mask who keeps trapping them?

This last one was an actual experiment conducted by real scientists in, where else, Washington state: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2011.0957

I suppose my obsession with crows has a lot to do with my recent move to Seattle. They are everywhere here, and they are always watching you. The extra wonderful thing is that in the (again still rare) event that I find another human willing to talk to me, and I start rambling about crows to fill the awkward silence because oh my GOD we are all so awkward about talking right now — with myself falling at the very extreme end of this inability to have a normal conversation — this other person who also lives in Seattle will usually join right in: “Oh yeah. I have a three who visit every day for peanuts. I named them Peter, Paul, and Mary. Peter can be pretty cranky, and he does this thing where he takes all the peanuts and hides them, and then Mary is all, where are the peanuts? And then she…” etc. etc.

Crows mate for life, and usually a mated pair will have a fully grown fledgling living with them for about a year. This is why many Seattleites have groups of three waiting for peanuts daily on their back decks. Did you know crows will visit for food at the same time everyday? And they follow their “humans” around to learn their habits? Sometimes Mr. Peanut finds me when I’m out for a run and follows me from telephone pole to telephone pole, and it is not at all creepy. If I’m too slow with his breakfast, he goes from window to window watching me and yelling. Again, very sweet and not at all terrifying.

Didn’t I mention my friend Mr. Peanut? I’ve been feeding Mr. and Mrs. Peanut peanuts and old catfood for about six months now, and they totally love me. I can tell. I am not anthropomorphizing at all. This one time there was an eagle in a tree near our house, and the whole murder was dive-bombing him, because eagles eat crow eggs and chicks. Majestic jerks. Mr. Peanut flew over to our yard and cawed at me from a tree and then flew back to dive-bombing. I think he was warning me, because see? He loves me. At least I’m pretty sure it was Mr. or Mrs. Peanut. It’s really hard to tell crows apart to be completely honest.

I’m actually sitting on my back deck with a bag of catfood hoping he will visit right now. (Mrs. Peanut hasn’t visited in a while, because it’s nesting season.) We were away for a few days, and he stopped visiting. I am trying not to worry. He probably just found a human with better food, like hot dogs. I wonder if I have any hot dogs in the fridge?

In all seriousness though, I would never ever feed a crow or a raven a hot dog. Foods high in sodium are really unhealthy for them, even though they love things like McDonald’s french fries. If someone out there is feeding MY Mr. Peanut a burger and fries right now, I will have his head, honest to Betsey.

Where did I learn all these useful things, so very very useful, like never feed hot dogs to corvids, you horrible human? It’s possible that I might have joined a corvid enthusiasts’ Facebook group. It is highly quirky, as is to be expected.

Now one last very important thing: If you are interested in having your very own Russell Crowe, Mr. Peanut, Huginn and Muginn, etc.: for your neighbors’ sake, I would not recommend scattering large amounts of peanuts and catfood all over your yard. You will attract the whole murder plus a rat army, and your neighbors will (understandably) murder you. Crows are loud and messy and not particularly respectful of personal property.

What you want is just one or a small family who have learned to recognize your face as the pleasant peanut-having human who says “Hello hello! Caw caw!” like the sane person she is, and then I’d recommend giving them just a few treats. They will ask for more. They are assertive. In fact this is when they sometimes get extra cute, if you can call it that. They might start making infantile cooing/gurgling attempts at human speech or imitate a woodpecker just for the hell of it, and that kind of thing. See? They are neat. Also those peanuts had better be unsalted unless you’re a total monster.

What does any of this have to do with the purported purpose of this website? The Anatomy of Melanchoy read-along project? I’ve been feeling pretty melancholic this past year, as has virtually everyone, I’m pretty sure? I don’t know though. I haven’t really been talking to anyone about much except crows and how I have nothing to talk about anymore. For what it’s worth, my Covid corvids have been an endearingly noisy distraction. I highly recommend them.

Tippi Hedren with her co-star Buddy the raven, photographed for a promotional piece on The Birds (1962) published in Look Magazine, Dec. 4, 1962. Legend goes that Hedren adopted him as a pet.

This post is part of a long, tedious, and very illustrated read-along of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. More info here and follow along on Facebook here. Illustrations posted via devon_isadevon on Instagram.

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