Life lessons from a crow

Life lessons from a crow

Thru’ the Looking Glass

Sharell Cook

I expected to talk to myself a lot during lockdown. Instead, I’ve been talking to a crow — one of those ubiquitous Indian house crows that are revered and feared in equal measure. Our tentative friendship developed surprisingly quickly but came with hurdles that, on my part, threatened to derail it. A decomposed dead rat deposited outside my kitchen window, hefty demands for food, and soggy scraps soaking in the water bowl initially dissolved a great deal of goodwill, until I realised I was focusing on the wrong things. The crow was just being a crow. Although I found its behaviour disagreeable, it didn’t know it was doing anything unpleasant. Plus, quirky crow behaviour is what had, at first, attracted me to these creatures.

Early morning, a few years ago, I watched a crow leap up and playfully nip the tail of a black kite that was peacefully sitting and observing its surroundings. The daring move shocked me. What attitude! The kite chose not to be bothered by the crow though, dismissing its irritation with a cursory glance. Such uninhibited interaction between the two birds demonstrated the importance of having fun, yet remaining undisturbed by life’s annoyances. It also revealed that there’s more to crows than the bad rap they get for their domineering presence and pesky predatory traits. I instantly became a fan.

As I gazed out of my kitchen window during the lone days of lockdown, a crow caught my attention. The crow spent most of its time perched, with its partner, atop the neighbouring apartment building. Its continued company was my steady connection with the outside world, so I began talking to it and leaving leftovers in a dish. This crow didn’t just fly in, snatch the food, and fly out like other crows. Oddly, it stuck around. “The crow is looking like Einstein,” my husband remarked one day, as it stood there with the feathers on its head puffed out.

Einstein, the crow, seemed to possess a similar combination of intuition and intelligence as the professor. It wasn’t long before it perched itself on the steel clothesline outside my kitchen window multiple times a day. No doubt getting an easy meal was the goal. However, the crow allowed me to hang out with it and have inane one-sided conversations, while it cocked its head and listened intently. That is, as long as its desire for egg was eventually met. Ignoring it resulted in incessant, disgruntled squawking. Sometimes, the crow’s appetite appeared to be insatiable. It overloaded its beak and then disappeared around the corner of the building, only to return moments later for more. Curious, I watched it hide its haul behind the air conditioner pipes. Yes, even the crow wisely stored provisions during the pandemic.

I began to offer the crow small, bite-sized pieces of food from my hand. Soon, it grew comfortable enough to hop along the clothesline and gently devour the food off my fingers. The crow’s affection doesn’t extend to my husband though. It always keeps an eye out for him and usually flees when he approaches, perhaps sensing that he isn’t keen to befriend it either.

Does the crow’s presence have a message for me? Mythology links crows to the afterlife and the spirits of ancestors, and a single crow is often said to indicate death or loss. However, as I gaze closely into the crow’s penetrative eyes, I don’t feel that the bird is a bad omen, and I don’t notice its lack of grace and purity. Instead, I connect with a captivating being that is willing to trust and take risks, is bold and persistent, and isn’t afraid to ask for what it wants. And, I’m glad I looked deeper.