My fenced yard hosts fewer birds than it did 10 or even five years ago. Then I was visited daily by many robins, sometimes starlings, periodically by a cloud of cedar waxwings, and a steady fly-over of crows that watched for the dogs to finish gnawing on a bone or crunching a chunk of dried bread.
Once the dogs left their favourite dining area (each dog has staked out a patch where they take their bones or crusts to eat safe from pilfering by the other) the crows would arrive to clean up crumbs too small for the dogs to collect from the grass, or to carry off a bone to some distant place where they could strip it of any gristle or marrow in peace.
A couple crows learned to watch for my husband driving our pickup out of the yard. While I opened the gate for him to leave, they waited, teetering on the telephone wire overhead.
As soon as I closed the gate behind the truck, the crows flew down to strut about for crumbs.
They had figured out invariably I gave each dog a snack.
Crows can’t read, but they can tell a garbage can from a recycling can. On a recent garbage day, I watched as one flew down to circle my neighbour’s garbage can three times, head cocked to one side, hunting for a weak spot that would let it raid the can’s contents.
Three summers ago, I first noted a lone crow searching for worms or insects among the dandelions and moss in one corner of my yard.
One wing drooped, obviously injured. No matter how it tried to fit the feathers back in formation, the wing tip dragged along the ground. Rising to a tree was a struggle. Any breeze destroyed its balance.
Throughout the summer it stayed close by, alone. My yard is cat free. Both dogs studiously ignore crows. I feared it would freeze come winter, but no. Next spring I saw it foraging alone in a driveway, no sentry.
I appreciate crows’ scavenging ways that tidy up messy spots, even have a soft spot for them when they are in trouble not of their own making. But when they turn cannibalistic, my sympathy ends.
For many seasons, a squirrel daily visited my pine tree silhouetted against the north sky as I ate meals.
I watched him scamper along the top branch of a cedar and leap over to the pine. From there he would descend to the fence, run along, and eventually climb down to gather cones from the ground behind my greenhouse.
Last fall I poured stale walnut pieces into the depression atop a fencepost. Curious, he came very close to check me out and later ate some of the nuts.
Over the winter, I rarely saw him.
Last week he leaped from cedar to pine, a smaller squirrel following him. What happened next was unexpected.
A crow began pursuing both squirrels from limb to limb cornering the smaller rodent. The crow flew off with it. The older squirrel chirped frantically, tail flicking.
The crow returned and began mewing, as though gloating. I tried to shoo it off; it paid me no mind.
The squirrel made a break for the cedar, found his way blocked by the crow, ran down the pine to the fence, concluded he would be even more exposed atop the boards, zipped back up into the cedar and that was it. The crow flew off with a second warm snack.
Haven’t seen a crow or squirrel since.
Claudette Sandecki keenly observes nature’s goings on from her backyard in Thornhill, B.C.