In spring a pair of crows appear in the garden intent on finding a regular food supply. They are sleek and black, bright eyed and often wary, except for the male who came this year. He has the charm of the young baby crow raised in the garden last year. So he returns with all the swagger of familiarity and shows off his beautiful mate. She is more cautious of entering a walled garden and prefers to stay perched on the roof of the shed. He respects this in his beloved and is inclined to collect food for her and leave it as a love offering high out of danger.
Once the young crows are on their way, the male crow grows a white feather here and there in the exhaustion of feeding mother on the nest and any young hatching. For month after month he makes the lonely pilgrimage around his regular haunts in search of food. This year he makes use of the water bath and dips any stale food in the water. Growing more bold, he leaves it to soak for 5 minutes and returns to take it to the nest. When all the feeding is done, he baths in the water and takes a drink for himself because there is no food left.
As spring turns to summer and the days grow long, a large black fluffy crow sits on the back wall. His beak seems too large for his head, as though he has lips at the side. He is scared of his shadow one moment and foolishly careless the next. He is brought by at least one of the adults, sometimes both. This, the darling of all their endeavours, opens his mouth wide and makes a ridiculous sound as though they are hard of hearing. The adult pushes food in his beak and he immediately indicates that he is still starving.
The male adult grows a few more white feathers. The female is back on the nest again and soon another young crow appears in the garden to make way for the new arrival. This one is not unlike the first crow young, but different enough in colouring to be told apart. She has brown in her feathers and while she begs for food with the same fervour as her brother, she likes to hide the food straight away in the cotoneaster hanging over the wall, in case she should want it later. She is uncertain of her footing, showing an inclination to lose her balance on the wall, the aerial and the roof of the shed. She gets food in preference to her brother, who must now learn to fend for himself. Soon they are left alone, while the adults serve the third young crow in the nest. And yet, even while the first two young crows think themselves bereft and orphaned, the adult male crow can be seen guarding them from a tree and should their cries become too pathetic for him to endure, he swoops in to feed his young once more.
When there is a feast of scraps on the lawn and the seagulls gather, the adult crow will fetch his adolescents and show them how to take their share. They want to eat plentifully as he does. They want the food that he holds. And even though they have seen him hold it in his toes and bite pieces off with his beak, they cannot fathom how to imitate it exactly. They practice on a leaf and a piece of bread, until the need to eat overwhelms and what had seemed impossible becomes second nature. The young crows start to assert themselves and the adults gently retreat to care for the new arrival.
As her young fly the nest, the adult female makes her way to the garden as often as she can, but she never loses her distrust of those walls. The adult male leaves food on the wall for her to gather - either for herself or the chicks in the nest - and so he risks himself to collect food for two of them and makes her task easier. They both are worn, with feathers out of place and the sleekness lost in the activity of the summer heat. And when the days are dry and the water bowl is all their food, they sit near the garden and call a plaintive cry. It is the same song that their young have been singing to them, the desperate plea for something more before the night comes.
The breeding pair have worked from March through to August, without a day’s reprieve, all their efforts spent in raising their young and supervising them through to independence. They have only a winter ahead as their reward. The young crows will have to grow up fast to survive and lose the warmth of the family unit that was their strength in the summer. Will the same pair return next year, or will it be a young crow grown old already next spring, who once again comes with a nervous mate and grows a few snowy feathers in raising the next generation?
The crow is an overlooked bird, as mere carrion. But it is no predator. The crow cleans up the dead waste that could cause us disease. God has given it a character suited to its task - it gives way to other birds and does not fight. It can be moved away from a nesting site by a determined but timid Collared Dove. Yet it is dedicated to its young and devoted to its mate.