For a year and a half, I have tried to attract birds to my garden. I put up a birdbath, and grieved when no bird came to drink. I put up a bird feeder, and watched the squirrels hang upside down, feeding at leisure on what had promised to be a squirrel-repelling mechanism . And then this spring, a single crow swooped onto my bird bath.
I was thrilled. I love crows. They are smart, social, observant, cunning. And black. They warn other birds and animals of peril. They caw at any illicit movement in the forest; they attack or deflect a hawk. But what my crow was doing baffled me. Sometimes it drank the cool, clean water, but without tilting its head to swallow, as most birds do. Apparently, it could swallow without tossing the water back into its throat. Sometimes, it bounced around the edge of the bath, dunking its beak and head. What in the world was it doing? When I cleaned the water, I found a tiny bone and a tuft of gray fur swirling in the water.
The crow had come to wash its food! I watched in admiration. They rarely kill for meat. But they’ll scavenge carrion, and now my crow appeared several times a day to shake and wash the dirt off her food. Sometimes, afterwards, she washed her gleaming black feathers in a spray of glistening waterdrops.
A few days later a second crow appeared. Evidently, my crow had brought her mate. And a few days after that, a whole murder of crows settled noisily on my birdbath, four, five, six, flapping, cawing, scolding, socializing and raising holy hell on the birdbath edge or running along the fence.
It was hilarious—a parody. I had expected my garden to attract a St. Francis image of pretty little bluebirds flitting about the feeder. These were rascally, raucous, rebellious juvenile delinquents, taking over the local swimming pool, terrifying the little kids.
And then something extraordinary happened.
One morning, no crows came.
Instead a cardinal appeared, a swallow, some nuthatches, two American goldfinches, and woodpeckers. Birds were flitting and flying at the feeder, dipping to the birdbath, disappearing into the woods, skimming smoothly away. But no crows. No cawing, noisy marauders , no gunslingers, strutting on the fence.
I miss my crows.
But I wonder about them, too. Why did they come? Where did they go? They were like angels, leading the little wood birds to the clean water in the birdbath and to a feeder that had attracted only squirrels for a year. You’ll think I’m nuts, but I see angels everywhere. Angels come in many forms. They play hide and seek with us poor humans. Now you see them, now you don’t. Sometimes they even appear as black birds, dark forces, posing as disaster, yet bringing with them, joy, hope, beauty, change.