Sheryl Crow

By Gretchen Lieff   |   July 2, 2020
Wildlife Care Network’s crow aviary (photo by Priscilla)

I was a “Secret Garden” … “Green Mansions” kind of child. Deep forests, bright brooks, wide fields, and ocean waves beckoned my young exuberance. On the seldom occasions that an adult might be missing me, I would be found deep in the forest, grabbing minnows and crayfish from a tiny creek under the redwoods, or paddling under the waves of a Hawaiian North Shore beach… my bright yellow Easter dress in wet shambles as my parents shook their heads from the beach.

One of my favorite childhood stories was of an old woman, whose small backyard was home to a flock of friendly crows. The lonely lady would feed them and they soon became her family. The woman would place bright objects on the table and watch as one particular crow delighted in throwing them up in the air… cawing and cackling at the descending sparkles.

I envied that lady and vowed, one day, to have a pet crow of my own.

***Cut to adulthood***

There are two distinct categories of people. Those who love crows and those who hate them.

For those who find them despicable I must say, I don’t blame you. They are brash, aggressive, loud, messy AND they are bullies to other animals.

Those are the crow haters.

Those of us who love crows do so because they’re good learners and problem solvers and utterly delightful. The crow fan club is a big and passionate one. In fact I have a new girlfriend who’s so crazy about crows she’s willing to risk her marriage.

Amy is one of the dozens of volunteers who work at the SBWCN (Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network). Early in the baby season, in early May, Amy was assigned six adorable fluffy orphaned baby crows to take home and nurse. Operation Crow in Amy’s backyard was intense with play pens and kiddie pools. From early morning till dark Amy was on call with mealy worms, scrambled eggs and dismembered frozen rats. The baby crows created a racket… which was unappreciated by Amy’s husband… who soon drew the line.

Miles Hartfeld and Gretchen Lieff (photo by Priscilla)

And while Amy’s domestic peace was being tested, the Wildlife Center put out a call for permanent backyard homes for the season’s record number of orphaned baby crows to be released. One of the many to answer the call was Montecito favorite Roger Chrisman. Earlier in the month Roger and Sarah had hosted the release of a magnificent Cooper’s Hawk on their Montecito property;

“I hear you’ve got crows and you need help.”

Yes Commodore Roger.

“Well it so happens my new captain of the Polariis is crazy about crows. She’s had a LOT of experience with them.”

Roger that’s great news! We’re critically short on volunteers. It’s baby season… with endless wild orphans pouring in.”

“Sure I’ll have her call you.”

Holy Moley… THIS was exciting!

Polariis is a magnificent yacht docked at SB Harbor and her new captain is the young bright Atria St. Peter. She’s a sharp cookie and welcome addition to our overburdened Crow Club. And sure enough the following morning Atria entered the Center’s crow aviary where the baby crows went crazy as she moved with ease and confidence through the noisy flock.

“I have a clan of crows living in my yard along Shoreline Park. They’re beachgoing and park going and they’re real mischievous. I feed them my dog’s leftovers… I just really like watching their antics. My favorite is named Averroes, after the philosopher. He has a feather that sticks out so I recognize him and he’s become my first crow friend. We hang out for morning coffee.”

Atria moves around the cackling aviary dodging the flying babies and filling bowls with fresh water; “I enjoy volunteering here so much… working with the animals is therapeutic. Even some of the more mundane tasks like sweeping out the aviary or changing sheets… allow you to be outside of yourself. And it’s really nice to just lose yourself in helping the animals. It’s nice.”

My crow learning curve has been pretty steep recently. Here in Santa Barbara County you are most likely to find the good old American crow which is ubiquitous throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Halfway through the 2020 wildlife baby season it feels like most of those North American Crows are hanging out right here.

My Montecito property was labeled “great crow habitat” and a natural “crow release site” and so I was delighted with the two crates of eight crows delivered to my backyard. Food and water was placed on the crow stand where the excited young birds gathered after settling in to their new home.

For two weeks we kept the bowls filled with worms and doggie kibble and watermelon… and for two weeks the young crows would fly in several times a day for a drink and a nibble as they meandered farther and farther from their release spot.

Then we went away on a short vacation and the feeding stopped and upon our return the crows were gone and we were sad to lose them but happy they were free. And then three evenings ago we looked up into the big spruce and saw that one of the youngsters had returned and she didn’t look good. So we filled the bowls with food and water again and she came down onto the table to feed. Her blue eyes were bright and cautious. We named her Sheryl Crow.

The next morning we were shocked to find Sheryl out on the driveway lying on her side. We put her into a box and rushed her to the Wildlife Center where Avery our new brilliant wildlife vet diagnosed malnutrition, treated her with subcutaneous IV electrolytes and a feeding tube full of liquid nutrition, and sent us home with special high protein bird food. For several days we fed Sheryl as she perched in her makeshift crow pen. And then it was time for her release. We opened the door and she timidly came to the edge of the box and flew up into the big spruce … cackled… and was gone.

The following day as I sat beneath the spruce… I thought about Sheryl Crow and where she might be and whether she was ok wherever she was out in this big vast world. And then I recalled the tale of the old lady and her crow so many years ago. And here I was … The old lady and the crow.

How did that happen?

And I wonder about the deep connection between people and animals.

And I wonder at the magic of the universe.

 

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