For the past several days, it has literally been raining crows in my yard. A mated pair built a nest in the large fir tree in front of my house, and this week their young have started to fledge. As is usually the case with fledgling crows, they have been jumping out of the nest before they are fully capable of flight. One by one they have been making their little leaps of faith, after which they end up on the ground looking stunned and bewildered as if they are amazed to discover how large the world beyond the nest really is. Since the nest tree is not far from the road, the young crows have been landing in dangerous territory. In order to give them a fighting chance of making it to adulthood, my wife and I have been picking them up and moving them into the lower branches of a cedar tree in the backyard. Although it has proven successful at keeping the fledglings out of the road, this course of action has done nothing to endear Julie and I to the parents of these youngsters.
So now whenever Julie or I leave the house we are met with an angry chorus of caws and a rain of small twigs and other debris from above. There is no way to tell the adult crows that we were only trying to help, and that their offspring have a much better chance of survival now that they are not 10 steps (or hops) away from paved instant death. It is a classic case of misunderstanding, but one with an interspecies twist. Fortunately, crows are not capable of breaking off large enough branches to do any real damage when they drop them on our heads, so the barrage from above is more amusing than dangerous. And to be honest, since I regularly drive my car and am in part responsible for creating the danger away from which Julie and I were moving the baby crows, perhaps I deserve a twig or two dropped on my head to remind me of the impacts of my choices on the wild creatures around me. All I know is that as I sit here and write this I can hear the familiar, turkey-like noise of a young crow being fed by his parents coming from the cedar tree in my back yard. That is worth far more than any inconvenience having a twig or two dropped on my head could possibly cause.
Nearly every day, my wife and I take a walk along the same route through the neighborhood surrounding our home. This has allowed us to become familiar with many of our neighbors, both human and non-human. Our walks are frequently paused for a moment, or diverted to the opposite side of the road in order to give a wild neighbor the space he or she needs to feel comfortable. Shortly after beginning today’s walk we stopped and then crossed the road so as not to frighten off a male robin that was attempting to subdue a large earthworm. The bird stopped for a moment when he saw us approach, but he continued with what he was doing as soon as we showed him that we weren’t interested in capturing him or usurping his prize. It was no real inconvenience to us to alter our path, but it would have been more than an inconvenience both to the adult robin and the babies that were waiting for him to return with a meal if Julie and I had taken the less considerate route.
The unpleasant reality of walking along a road is that you are continually reminded of the impact of human transportation on both our domestic companions and our wild neighbors. We have come across many cats, opossums, crows, squirrels and other animals that happened to cross the pavement at just the wrong moment. We generally move the carcasses off the road so they don’t attract new victims into the path of cars, and the bodies slowly disappear due to the combined efforts of scavengers, insects, bacteria and time.
For the past week, we have been seeing the steady progression of decay in the bodies of three very young opossums that are lying on the grass near the road about a half-mile into our walking route. Judging by their size, the unfortunate youngsters were likely still riding around on mom’s back just before their demise. I have imagined many different scenarios for their final moments, and all of them leave me feeling more than a little sad for what they must have experienced.
As Julie and I were returning from our walk today, I was momentarily lost in my thoughts. Suddenly, Julie stopped in her tracks and motioned to me to do the same. I looked up to see that we had nearly arrived at the spot in which the remains of the three opossums lay. Standing on one of the opossums was a Black-capped Chickadee. As we watched, the chickadee began plucking fur from the dried skin of the opossum. After a minute or so of determined effort, the chickadee’s beak was completely obscured by the puff of soft, white hairs she had collected. She would use this fur to line her nest, and it would once again act as insulation for young, growing bodies. Although sadness remained for the opossum’s premature loss of life, the thought of hatchling chickadees sitting in a comfortable, warm nest brought a smile to my face.