#31 Corby & Coffee, a tag team
March 31st, 2015
My friend Juanita recently gave me a book about ravens. The gift was in honour of Corby, a feathered friend who we both still miss and still talk about with smiles and affection…
It happened this way.
I was driving and my son was in the passenger’s seat, coming up the road toward my sardine can called a house, and then my son was suddenly yelling, “Stop the car, stop the car!”
The car wasn’t fully stopped and he had the door open and was running. A very large black and white feral tom cat streaked away and my son bent down and picked up …something… He brought it back to the car. A baby bird, just about the ugliest thing I had seen. Hardly any feathers, it looked like a potbellied purplish ball with blue, blue eyes. Then it opened its mouth, exposing the bright red gaping maw, and it made the most pathetic croaking noise.
Couldn’t see any sort of nest and couldn’t spot any adult birds, just that utterly pathetic ball of skin. My son looked at the bases of the fir trees, couldn’t find any evidence of birds, which is to try to politely suggest he didn’t find any poop or any coughed-up pellets of rejected bone, fur, or shells.
So we took it home. If we left it, there was no doubt at all, it would be lunch.
Well. For the next few days I thought maybe we’d have all been better off if it had become lunch. Looking after an infant crow is a time consuming and incredibly stinky occupation. She (I have no proof of sex or gender, I just decided this was a she) was completely unafraid of us, of the dog, she had no survival skills at all. And she didn’t know how to peck up food. All she knew how to do was open that red gaping maw, make sad sounds, and, of course, let fly with a whitish paste.
I tried dropping food into the maw. She didn’t know how to swallow. However, a bit of experimentation taught me that my little finger was exactly the size needed to shove food down her throat. To be on the safe side I cut my fingernail as short as was comfortable.
I didn’t give her a name at first because I had no reason at all to believe this sad scrap was going to survive. If they don’t have a name when they die it doesn’t hurt quite so much.
Well, she flat-out refused to die. I tried Google but it wasn’t much help although it was good to learn you mustn’t give them dairy products because it makes them …yep…poop. Projectile pooping, in fact. I didn’t want to try to give her any water to drink in case I drowned her. So I soaked hamburger in water before making little soggy meatballs to push down her throat. There was no risk of over feeding her; when she was full she shut her maw, closed her eyes, turned her head so her beak was pointing down her spine, and she went to sleep. For about two and a half hours, and then the sad sound started and it was time for another go.
I called her Corby. She didn’t care if the light was on or off, as soon as it got dark outside, Corby went to sleep. Unlike human infants she did not waken squalling every few hours, she slept until morning light returned. Of course, in the springtime that can be uncomfortably early but I learned very quickly to do what Corby did, when she went to sleep for the night, so did I.
She grew feathers. She started moving around in her cat travel cage. She pooped more and more. She stepped in her own poop, she sat in her own poop, she became a smeared and stinky little thing so into the bathroom with her, fill a basin with tepid water and lower her into it.
Joy. Sheer unrestrained joy. She splashed her wings, she bobbed her head into it, then shook droplets, and she started making a brand new noise. Corby loved her bath. That was a relief because the bigger she got the more she ate, the more she ate the more she pooped, the more she pooped the more she needed another bath.
Corby began pecking and pushing at the wire grill sides of the cat travel cage. When I opened the door to bring her out to feed her she jumped into my hand and then tried to run across the top of my desk. Obviously, she felt she had outgrown the cat travel cage. So out came the dog travel cage but a few days later, now feathered and with just a few crazy-looking bits of down sticking in all directions, Corby let it be known she wanted down and out.
By the time she had been with me for a month, Corby was in her cage only at night. The rest of the time she walked and hopped around the house. Slipper, the calico cat, had no idea what in hell she was supposed to do about this thing. And that was odd because Slipper certainly knew what to do about birds! Yum yum said Slipper. The first time she made a move toward Corby I snarled “mine”. And that was that. No more threat from Slipper.
Corby ate hamburger, raw fish, shelled prawns, and cat kibble soaked in water. Corby had three or four baths a day. Corby explored every room in the house and in every room she left evidence of her visit, which is as nice a way as I can find to say she pooped on everything. Her eyes were still blue, she was still a baby, but she looked more and more like the crows which had taken to flying around my sardine can.
I’m slow. It was my granddaughter Emily, about three years old at the time, who said “Them’s her mommy and daddy.”
I almost said no, I almost … but it was possible, they had seen my son pick up the fallen baby, they saw their infant put in a red car, they probably followed the car to my place and they undoubtedly could hear the noise their child was making. Because Corby was incredibly noisy. She babbled the way human toddlers babble. She made comment on everything and she certainly let me know when she wanted food, food, always more food.
At least she had learned to peck it up herself so I no longer had to push my finger down her throat! I could put hamburger balls on a saucer and set it in front of her, then she would peck it up while I tried to convince the dogs that no, they couldn’t go over and swipe some.
But the pooping was problematic. And then one day I saw Corby standing in front of the sliding glass door hopping up and down. With every hop up she flapped. Not much and not well but increments are important. I took Corby out to the side yard and tossed her up in the air. She screeched. I caught her. Gently. Of course gently. Then I threw her up in the air again.
The neighbours seemed to think it was far more entertaining than whatever was on TV. One of the neighbours called Corby “num num” because, he said, that was the sound she made when she started pecking up her food.
It took three days of hilarity in the side yard before Corby put the hopping, the tossing and the flapping together. Just all of a sudden there she was, not falling down for me to catch her but up on the roof of my shed. Hurray. I think. Except she didn’t know how to get down off the roof. For a few minutes it looked as if I was going to have to go get a ladder, never a good idea. And then Emily was, again, proven correct. Adult crows, two of them, landed on the roof and there was a huge conversation, and then, so help me GAWD, they showed Corby how to flutter down off the roof and land on the lawn.
Corby ran to me. I picked her up. Adult crows perched in the trees and screamed bloody murder. Other crows came and joined the chorus. So, pretending I knew exactly what they were saying, I tossed Corby up in the air again. She flew to the tree. The chorus became a cacophony!
Spring had become summer, but I could leave my door open because Corby was learning to fly, and let’s not forget the family hanging around the sardine can, they could help babysit. Corby needed a fair bit of coaxing before she would leave the deck but at least a significant amount of the poop was no longer landing in the house.
So one day I’m proof reading and Corby saunters in through the open door, goes to the dog dish and helps herself to a noogie of kibble. Oh, good, maybe the meal chores will slacken off. I went back to proof reading and a while later there was Corby, getting another noogie. Great! I had never wanted to keep her confined or make her a “pet” or deprive her of her innate crowdom. My jaw might not have actually dropped but I’m sure my eyes widened…half a dozen crows are at the dog food bowl, beaking up noogies. Corby had invited the family home for lunch. I could just about hear her “Hey, I know where there’s some real good stuff. Lots of real good stuff. Come see.”
Juanita came over every day to visit with Corby and she always brought a treat of some kind. One day, Corby followed Juanita home. Juanita is married to Roy, and he plays excellent guitar. Corby was fascinated. She would sit outside as close to where Roy was playing as she could get on the porch railing, atop the open door, on the windowsill peering through the glass, and she swayed. I don’t care if you don’t believe it, I have witnesses, both Roy and Juanita saw that little crow swaying in time to the music Roy was playing.
Corby would pick a flower from my garden, fly over to Juanita’s place and give the flower to her. Sometimes she picked a flower at Juanita’s and brought it home to me. She had a little dinky toy black car she would carry in her beak, go over to Juanita’s and push it along the porch railing with her beak. When she got to the end of the railing she turned around and shoved it back again.
When my granddaughters took off on their bikes (with training wheels of course) and were zipping along the street there was Corby flying just above them, all three of them shrieking with glee. When the girls went down the slide at the playground, so did Corby. I had to put newspapers over the back of the couch because when the girls were watching Dora the Explorer, Corby would sit there and watch, too. And, of course, poop. The girls would be snacking on chips or popcorn or something supremely unhealthy and quite easily and naturally just reach up and give some to the crow who would make her num num sound and snack with them. When we went for walks she would come with us, sometimes flying, sometimes riding on my shoulder, or my head, sometimes even walking alongside.
When she first arrived she had an obvious eye infection and, with boric powder in water, lots of daubing and bathing and liberal application of ophthalmic ointment, I saved one eye. The other just kind of withered up and, eventually, seemed to vanish. Corby was a one-eyed crow. Then she came home one day with a broken leg, dangling by a mere shred of skin. I tried to “set” the leg. All that did was make her holler with pain. So I snipped the skin and the one-eyed crow became a one and a half-legged survivor.
She came back here every night, came inside, and slept in the dog travel cage. Summer moved on to autumn, I had to close the door. Corby would go to the sliding glass door and peck peck peck at it. Obediently, I’d open the door, she’d come inside, she always gave me a happy greeting, fluttered up to my shoulder, pressed her head against mine, made soft little uhrr uhrr sounds and then, courtesies satisfied, went to the dog dish for noogies.
Every now and again my son would stand up on a chair and liberate the lighters Corby had stolen and hidden in the rain gutter. Sometimes we’d be getting short of spoons and he’d check the gutter for them. When we got snow Corby went up on the roof of the sardine can and then ski’ed down the skylight. When she’d ski’ed off all the snow on my skylight she went over to Juanita’s to ski down hers.
And every afternoon she watched cartoons with the granddaughters. She discovered that the cat got fed up on the counter where the dogs couldn’t steal her kibble. Corby liked cat kibble even more than dog noogies. She’d fill her throat pouch and her beak with cat kibble, then go to the door and peck peck at it until I opened it and she went out. In no time flat there would be huge celebrations out in the driveway as Corby shared with the rest of the rellies. That’s when I started tossing dog nougies out for the wild rellies, winter can’t be easy for them.
In the spring Corby came home with the most bedraggled, miserable, pathetic looking reject of a crow you could ever imagine. I called him “Coffee” because he coughed and coughed and coughed until he would lose his balance and fall over. So I took a couple of antibiotic pills, crushed them up, mixed them with a bit of water, then mixed that with some hamburger and put it out where coffee could get at it. I also put out a thing of drinking water with some antibiotic in it. No measuring, no careful consideration of size and weight and…in less than a week Coffee had stopped coughing, and by the end of the month he was fine. So now I had two crows who thought this was home although thank Gawd Coffee was willing to spend the night outside in a roosting tree.
We’d go to the playground and I’d push the girls on the swings. Corby sat on the crossbar and watched. One day she fluttered down, landed on Joan’s head, and had a ride on the swing herself. Often she’d go from one little black-haired head to the other, riding the swing. She thought it great fun to perch on the hood or the roof of the car when we drove to Sharma’s store for ice cream and she very happily ate the points off the bottom of the cone, but the ice cream itself was always a puzzle to her.
Ah, but fries! Corby knew what to do with fries. So did Coffee. And the wild rellies [relatives].
Corby wasn’t keen to spend the night in the house any more. She didn’t really want to sit in a roosting tree with Coffee but she didn’t really want to be in the house, either. So my son fixed a box for her and fastened it to a support post on the porch. I got up one night and there she was, in her box-nest with Coffee sitting beside her.
She teased the dogs, she visited the neighbours, she would play a form of tag with Juanita’s rescue-pigeon “Taxi”. We often watched them doing aerial stunts and tricks, copying each other, trying to out-do each other, but Coffee wasn’t going to get involved in any game which involved a mere pigeon, he’d watch, and make a strange growling sound in his throat.
Corby was fine with out cat but Lord in Heaven help any other cat who came near the place, Corby would scream, Coffee would screech and wild rellies by the score would swoop in to put the run on the intruder. If a sea gull tried to swipe food, same thing, loud protestations and then in came Satan’s Choice to put the run on the gull.
And one day Corby didn’t come home. My one-eyed one-legged flying marvel headed off in the morning, with Coffee, she came home for food a couple of times, and then she flew off and I never saw her again. I tried to make myself believe she and Coffee found a tree to call home and…. but there was a crow killer lived in town at the time, he amused himself by shooting crows and it would have been easy to shoot Corby, she’d have walked right up to him, fixed him with her one good eye and would have been talking to him when he fired.
And yet I still see her. It’s easy, I just look over at the playground. The swings there might be hanging empty but what I see is two little black-haired black-eyed sisters laughing freely while a one eyed one legged bird rode first on one head then on the other. I can blink and see her riding above them as they zotted off on their bikes. And I see her when I take a handful of dog noogies out and toss them on the roof for the wild rellies.
I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, poop and noise included. Sometimes I look at the wash basin in the bathroom and I can see a crow having a bath, splashing and cavorting and making happy noises.
Gotta go…the wild rellies have arrived…time to go throw dog kibble for them.