Call me crazy-crows are my favorite birds. I have a family of them that lives in the woods behind my house. I feed them bread and scraps every day. Crows are very intelligent birds, the have a society much like wolves, with a hierarchy or “pecking order”. The alpha crows get to eat before the others. They have a look-out who sits in dead tree at the edge of the woods, watching for me, or anyone else to throw out anything edible.
A lot of people, especially farmers have a disdain for crows that is largely undeserved. They are much more likely to be found eating the carcases of roadkill than raiding gardens. Of course, if there are seeds that are buried shallowly or above ground crops that smell edible, they will eat them. They might be seen feasting on sunflower seeds or a dead mole. The are scavengers-that is how they make their living.
Like most creatures, crows have a place in nature, they help return nutrients to the earth by consuming them and excreting their wastes. I remember my grandmother simply despising crows, she would shake here head in amazement when I told her that I both liked and admired them. “A crow will eat anything,” she would say, “but nothing will eat a crow!”
Today, there were several severe thunderstorms near our house. The windows were shaking and the lightning was streaking the dark sky. When the storms had passed, I became aware of the loud “caws” of my family of crows. They were in my front yard, where they rarely go. I looked out and saw them surrounding what appeared to be a dead animal. My son watched my grandsons while I went out to see what it was. When the crows saw me coming, they retreated to a nearby tree. Sadly, I discovered the body of one of their flock below a maple in my yard. I walked out to it and saw it was newly dead. Its eyes, still open and a dark chestnut brown, its feet frozen in a position as if it were trying to land. I felt its chest and it was still warm.
It isn’t very often that we get to see an apparently uninjured bird close up.I took the opportunity to show it to my son, his friend and my young grandsons. I told them that the crows were cawing because they were mourning their friend. I don’t know what sort of consciousness a crow has about death, but they obviously knew something was wrong and were acting with obvious emotion over the sight of their dead comrad.
My son suggested that the crow may have been struck by lightning, and I agreed that it was a good possibility since the crow showed no sign of injury, no blood, no broken neck. I called the local nature center to see if they took donations of such creature for display after taxidermy, but they said, “No.” I asked the kids if they wanted to bury the crow so its friends wouldn’t be so sad, and they excitedly agreed.
We took some pictures of this beautiful creature, touched its talons, observed the strong, sharp curve of its black bill. We noticed the texture and color of the scales on its feet.We explored its black feathers that covered soft white feathers below them. It may sound a little silly, but we were all a bit emotional.
We dug a hole at the edge of the forest, under a pine tree and wrapped the crow in soft paper and newspapers. I covered up the hole and piled a bit of extra dirt on top. My grandson said a little prayer “to let the crow go to heaven and see its mother and daddy.” Ok, I admit it, I had tears in my eyes. I took two sticks and some twine and made a little cross. My grandson and I put it on the grave.
If you’ve ever lost a beloved pet, perhaps you can understand our feelings. Life is precious, it matters, each creature has its place. The black bear who walked by as we waited on the bus, the wild turkeys aimlessly pecking away in the field, they live among us and they matter.
I know that each of the people at our little requiem was touched in some way-whether they were toddlers, teens or grandmothers. I got to teach young people to respect life, to see its beauty and value. The teens gained an awareness of how fragile life is, that even lesser creatures often feel and acknowledge loss.The young ones got to touch and explore a creature first hand as we rarely are allowed.
After the “funeral”, I followed another human tradition, I saw the crow who watches me from the “look-out” tree and offered them a meal of bread crumbs, much as friends bring food to a grieving family. Not many crows get such a burial ceremony, but these birds are my friends. I felt honored to catch a glimpse into the complexity of simple lives, to share some knowledge with young people. I imagine they will remember “Bee Bee and the crow funeral” long after they forget the many other things they learned today.