We are finally wrapping up what has to be one of the coldest months we both experienced. A benefit of living on opposites sides of the country is that one of us usually has nice weather. Not so for most of the recent 31-day period. It was cold across the country. Those not so fortunate to have adequate housing found communities extending warming options beyond the usual shelters. One group has no such benefactors, our furry and feathered neighbors for whom outside is their home, however inhospitable it gets.
We have written of the non-migratory flock that adopted Diem’s yard and continued to make it their refuge when they sought a comfortable place to perch, how the unexpected became cherished moments. The brutal cold of early January froze the lake. The ducks and geese found themselves quarantined to one small area where water still flowed. This was their place of warmth and safety but with limited food. Those that were able to brave the cold made it to the yard to forage what remains of winter vegetation. Diem could not do much to warm them, but she could see that they had at least a chance to eat and provided bird seed daily, often several times a day.
The number of birds that visited the yard grew, but the regulars were still regular – Gabby Goose now permanently grounded from his injuries, the duck pair Waddle and Vi that always accompany him, and the crow “family,” Boss, Motley, and LB (Little Boss). At times there were up to 100 ducks and a fleet of geese lined up for a meal. Boss Crow did what he always does to protect the property and allowed Gabby first pass at the bird buffet.
It was an amazing sight to see Boss hopping on his right foot after injuring the left, swooping down to the “crow bar” to pick up his food, then hide his treats in various spots throughout the garden, remembering for later exactly where he left them. He would then take his perch as usual at the roof, porch, tree, and fence positions to survey and maintain order over the yard. His swift flight across the front and back yard kept predators in check and he would let out loud warning caws when the eagle or osprey were spotted in the air. When Diem or other family members went in the yard, he would accompany them, watching intently as to protect them, or entertain them with his tricks picking up multiple pieces of food with his beak. We may never know how or why he decided to be the protector over Diem’s yard, why he was not roosting with other crows, and why the geese and ducks trusted him as their guardian. It was an odd marriage of sorts that worked and that was good enough for the birds to accept and the humans to not question.
As the frigid days dragged on, the flock stayed wherever they found warmth, coming around only for their “feast” when they caught a glimpse of Diem in the window. As food sources also were limited for the local predator species, the flock was increasingly more vulnerable, Gabby with his slow walk and swim, and inability to fly especially so. Even on the coldest of days, Gabby found his way to Diem’s yard for his meals, likely the only source of food for him given his physical limitations. And always, Boss was nearby, keeping watch that no harm came to him. Boss’s presence in the yard became almost constant as he made himself available to oversee feeding times and when the ducks would huddle on the yard to stay warm. Diem even attempted to create a roost where Boss might rest, but he held his post and kept his guard.
It was only a day before the weather started to break and the temperature began to rise that the morning did not find Boss perched at his usual spot. A morning stroll around the yard and Diem discovered Boss in the remnants of what was the flower garden during the warmer months, frozen, a victim not of a hungry predator but of nature at one of her coldest, cruelest moments, and though looking deep in sleep, he was at his final rest.
That afternoon, the ducks, geese, and crows gathered to bid Boss good-bye. The crows flew in circles in the air, loudly chanting. The ducks and geese stood still and stayed quiet. It was quite the sight.
The next day, Motley Crow took over where Boss had left off and once again the odd combination of geese, ducks, and now two odd crows enjoy their unexpected symbiotic bond.
We learn a lot from our feathered friends. Even with his impediments, Gabby Goose has the respect and friendship of his ever-present duck companions. The flock recognizes and appreciates help even from humans and continues to thrive because of the trust they put into a species they have no reason to trust. And the crows, Boss, Motley, and LB, saw a place where they could do good and went out of their way to protect the more vulnerable.
Boss could have sought the warmth and protection of a larger roost of crows but instead stayed with the flock at Diem’s house and saw to their safety. He was loyal and royal, to the end. He will be deeply missed.
We can learn a lot from nature, but we may never understand it all. Can anyone explain the apparent love of a crow, or only be thankful to have been fortunate to see it is real, and to be loved by one?