For the Birds Radio Program: Callie the Crow

Original Air Date: Nov. 16, 1989

Today Laura Erickson talks about Calpurnia the Crow. 3:59 (Date confirmed)

Audio missing


(Recording of a American Crow)

People have been asking how Callie the Crow is doing. Calpurnia is an American Crow with a permanently broken wing—I’ve been taking care of her since August. She’s only the second crow I’ve known intimately. The first, Icarus, never became really tame—he was suspicious of everyone except my toddler Tommy, who had once given him a piece of birthday cake—nobody else could touch him without black gloves. But Icarus was shot during his first summer, in the critical period after fledging when crows follow their parents around learning about life. This is the worst time to get a crow—unlike a nestling, these birds are certain about their crow identity, but are suspicious of everything else. Once they’ve spent some time on their own, they begin to rely on learning rather than instinct, and actually become easier to tame the older they are.

Callie was an adult when she arrived, and quickly learned that I meant no harm. Almost from the first day I could handle her with my bare hands—although the inherent racism of crows makes her much prefer to sit on a black glove than on bare white skin. She takes pleasure in a bath every sunny morning—as soon as I start the bathwater she gets excited, and jumps on my arm eagerly when it’s time to go to the tub. She sits right in the bathtub and lets me run water over her head and back and wings. Her broken wing makes it difficult for her to keep her balance in the slippery bathtub, so she lets me get her wet and rub any soiled feathers without splashing around much herself.

When I offer my hand to her, she jumps up and I carry her from the bathroom to her perch by the dining room window. She spends the next half hour or so shaking off the water and preening. It was only last week that she first managed to balance on one leg while scratching her head with the other—before that whenever she seemed to be trying to lift her leg to scratch, I would come over and scratch her myself. Unlike Icarus, who would scurry away if I approached with a bare arm, Callie bows down in submissive posture and lets me rub her around the head and eyes.

She spends her day on a series of perches set up in the dining room. She takes great interest in the birds at the feeder, and one neighborhood crow often comes into the nearby box elder tree and watches her. Once all the neighborhood crows mobbed an owl right across the street, and Callie got so excited by their calls that I carried her into my bedroom to watch. When we left the room, she dug her head into the space between my arm and my body as if to show her appreciation. I know ornithologists like to say that we must never attribute human emotions to birds, but the more I handle living birds, the more I recognize the natural similarities among all of us animals.

Callie caws softly now whenever I come into the room—she bows down in submissive posture and seems to greet me. It’s awfully fun to have a crow, but of course it’s illegal to keep one permanently. Her wing had been broken for over a week before I got her and so it didn’t heal when I set it, but in order to keep her permanently I need a special education permit from the Minnesota D.N.R. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. When I apply for the permit, I will very professionally write that I want to utilize her as an educational tool when I go to area schools and clubs, which is true enough, but I know darn well that the real reason I want to keep her at my house rather than sending her off to a zoo or nature center is simply because I love her.

(Recording of a American Crow)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”