#5 Corby the Crow
March 11th, 2014
Did I ever tell you about Corby?
I was driving home from the store and my son Alex was in the passenger seat and suddenly he blurted “Oh, hell, stop mom!”
So I did. He jumped out of the car and ran toward this big evergreen tree. A feral cat streaked away. Alex came back with this purple ball of skin, an infant crow that was almost lunch for the feral cat.
Ugly? The English vocabulary cannot describe how ugly this infant was. No feathers to speak of, just this purpley wrinkled skin and a beak that was bigger than its head. No way we could get it up the tree to its nest.
So we brought it home…
Well, it took some ditzing around and some experimentation but we quickly learned this mite would open its beak and expose this bright red maw as soon as something passed in front of it… We got some water-soaked bread into its beak…and it sat there, with water soaked bread in its beak, didn’t even have the instinct to swallow…
Well, it took probably another ten or fifteen minutes for us to realize momma crow stuffs her beak down baby crow’s throat and regurgitates food…So, even if I was born without a beak… My baby finger was the right size so I poked the food down the infant’s throat…and she clattered her beak a couple of times, then opened it again, bright red throat showing. I guess it’s the target point for momma crow…
It became apparent this infant wasn’t going to thrive on water-soaked bread…so I shoved some hamburger down the maw… Again, she clattered her beak, then opened her mouth…so I gave her some more hamburger and then realized I had to stop moving my hand (or anything else) in front of her or she’d wind up bursting with too much food.
When no more food was forthcoming, she tucked her big beak under her almost non-existent wing and went to sleep. Every couple of hours we did the pavanne… In went the food at one end, and out came white shite at the other… We got her set up in a cat travel cage.
I didn’t really expect she’d survive the night but in the morning, first light, there came this incredible strange squawk from my writing room where the cat travel cage was sitting next to the computer… Squawk, squawk…quick, quick… find some food… I opened a can of tuna, soaked bread in the juice, got that in to her…by the end of the day she had consumed the entire can of tuna…
I thawed more hamburger…boiled eggs and squished them with a fork…her diet increased…she grew feathers… She was still as ugly as sin but she obviously knew who I was and she’d chitter chatter to me and, when she got hungry, she’d squawk and I’d leap up to accommodate her… When she was a baby her eyes were blue. But when she started jumping and flapping to build up her muscles for flight, her eyes turned to black.
With more feathers, Corby graduated from the cat travel cage to the house. Corby walked around the house as if she owned it. The cat was puzzled but cooperative; the dogs thought I was insane. But they seem to be of that opinion most of the time.
When the grand-babies came over, she ran to them, and, eventually, I had to put newspaper over the back of the sofa so she could sit up there (and shit) and watch TV with them…so help me gawd, she did. We shared sandwiches with her. Corby had learned how to beak up food so we no longer had to poke it down her throat.
The wild rellies knew she was there. One of the adult crows had followed the car back to the house but they made no attempt to swoop at me and peck my head or show any kind of vengeful behaviour. They’d sit on the peak of the greenhouse and caw-caw and Corby would squawk in reply…and then Corby started jumping. Jumping, jumping and flapping her wings. Jumping, flapping, jumping, flapping.
So, I’m not totally stupid. I took her out to the side yard and threw her up in the air. She flapped. And fell to the earth. I caught her, told her she was a genius, let her have a bit of a rest, then threw her up and the same thing happened. Over and over and over for more than three days Grandma was trying to teach a bird to fly.
The neighbours started to show up to watch, laughing like hell. And then, amazingly, miraculously, I threw her up in the air and she flapped and…wound up on the roof of the storage shed! Corby had flown. The excitement was beyond description. NOT from the human neighbours but from the gawd-only-knows-how-many crows gathered in the trees. My, my but they were proud of her.
With only a bit of coaxing, Corby fluttered to the ground and RAN over to me so I could pick her up and tell her what a wise child she was. I thought she’d fly away then. Nope. She knew a good thing when she had it.
Corby stayed. Granddaughters would peel off on their bikes and Corby would fly just above their heads, squawking and cawing. They went down the slide at the playground and so did she. They rode the swings and she sat on the crossbar and cheered. When I took the dogs for a walk she’d fly overhead until she decided that was for the birds, then she’d come down and either sit on my shoulder or sit on my head and get carried.
My neighbour Roy plays guitar. Corby would fly over and sit on the porch railing and bob, bob, bobbing her head as he played. When he and Juanita realized what she was doing, Roy started playing TO her and FOR her. Corby was transported, she’d quiver and shake and make some of the oddest noises, as if she was either trying to imitate the sound of the guitar or else she was trying to sing.
One day I was writing and I got this “funny feeling.”…It was a warm day. Corby was in and out of the house, in and out, in and out. And every now and again she’d go to the dogs’ dish and get herself some kibble… She was now eating dog and cat kibble as well as table scraps and whatever she scrounged on the beach and, by gawd, she must be hungry because that day she was in and out, in and out. Until it dawned on me it was the wild rellies coming into the house to grab the kibble…I looked over and saw half a dozen or more crows gathered around the dog dish, beaking up kibble.
Crows can hold four to six kibbles in their throat and fly off, hide it, and then come back for more…
When snow came in the winter, Corby flew up to the roof and used the curved skylight as her ski slope. She had a wonderful time and so did we, watching her skiing off the skylight, then over the edge of the roof. Just before she hit the ground she’d start flapping and fly back up for another go.
One day she came home with one leg dangling by a mere thread of skin. I had no idea what happened and there was no way to “fix” it. I had to use the nail clippers and nip it off. I couldn’t set it or glue it. So there she was, a one-legged crow. By then she also only had one eye, because she had an eye infection when we found her. I couldn’t save both eyes.
No matter. Corby would pick a flower in my yard and fly over to Juanita’s place with it. She’d give that flower to Juanita, then pick one of Juanita’s flowers and bring it home to me. Sometimes she just flew around with a flower in her mouth. Once she took a small toy car from here and flew with it in her beak over to Juanita’s where they played with it along the railing on the deck. Juanita would give the toy car a push along the railing and Corby would grab it and hop over to return it to Juanita, then run to the end of the railing and wait for the car to arrive again.
Corby could also meow like a cat and bark like a dog. Sometimes she would imitate the sound of the granddaughters laughing. She must have been imitating one of the neighbours when she learned to say “f— off” because certainly nobody in this house would talk like that.
Corby would never come inside the car to ride with us. But she’d sit on the roof. When the slipstream got to be a bit much she’d fly off and follow me to wherever I was going and if the grandgrrrrrrrrrrrls were with me and we stopped for popsicles or something, yep, she’d hunker, open her beak as if she was still an infant, and wait for a kid to drop a bit of a bite into her maw.
I have absolutely no scientific proof of any kind at all, wouldn’t know what to do with it if someone gave it to me, but I know (and Juanita seems to agree) that Corby understood a lot of what was said to her, and around her. We haven’t even started to learn how to communicate with critters who have lived here with us on this earth for…how long?
For sure she had a connection with the grandgrrrrrrls. Even after she lost half her leg she would go down the slide when they did; when she had two legs she went down standing on her feet, after she lost the other foot and half the leg she sat on her bum… And for sure Corby watched cartoons on TV with the grrrrrrrls. And she played a form of tag with Taxi, the tame pigeon…
There is no ending. One night Corby was here and the next morning she was gone. We never saw her again. Just…gone…
There was an arstle in town who made a sport of shooting crows, so we called him “crow killer.” It would be easy for him to kill Corby. She probably would have walked over to him and tilted her head so the good eye could see him. But we really can’t say.
A weird, weird, weird thing happened the day the guy we called “crow killer” had his heart attack and died… The crows gathered in a huge flock, more of them than I’d ever seen. They swooped overhead cawing, cawing, cawing… I like to think they were celebrating, “Nyah, nyah, you’re gone and we’re still here!”
I don’t suppose I’ll ever again have the opportunity to raise a crow from infancy but I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and I wish we’d had the fun and the privilege of Corby’s company for longer. She was such a dear soul.
The Corby stories are many and various. Juanita and I talk often of doing the story of Corby, but then we wind up wiping away tears. I love that picture of the crow for Western Edge, even though it’s still got two legs and two eyes.
If you want to see an incredibly smart crow in action…
Anne Cameron grows pussywillows on the western edge of Vancouver Island. She received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia in 2010. Her 23 books include Daughters of Copper Woman, the bestselling work of fiction ever written about B.C. and published from within B.C. She has banished herself to Tahsis, a small town not far from Friendly Cove where the shenanigans called British Columbia all began.