For the Birds Radio Program: Patty Crow

Original Air Date: June 24, 1992

Today Laura talks about the bird world’s own androgynous Pat. (3:36) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


Last month, I received an adult crow with a broken wing. Crows do not like to cooperate with rehab work—every time I set this one’s wing, it ripped off the dressings and bandages. But as far as crows go, this one was the most trusting I’ve ever had, right from the start. I thought the injury was even more serious than it turned out to be because the crow was so calm as I handled it, not once biting my hand or resisting, even when I was squirting medicine down its throat. Something about its demeanor reminded me of a girl in my class when I was in first grade, a girl who just happened to be named Patty Crowe, so it was an easy matter to name this one. Of course, I’m not sure if Patty is a boy or girl. There was no brood patch on its belly. The presence of one would have been proof positive that Patty was a female, but the absence of a brood patch isn’t conclusive. So Patty can also be considered to have a second namesake, Androgynous Pat from Saturday Night Live.

Poor Patty’s wing was really busted–it was a compound fracture, and he or she lost a great deal of blood. For the first few weeks, I kept it in a box with big holes punched out for looking at us through. I knew Patty was recovering when she or he started figuring out how to get out of the box. I couldn’t find anyone with the proper permits who wanted to keep a permanently crippled crow, so I had to come up with something else.

The mild, dry weather of June was perfect to start letting Patty out in my backyard. The only problem was the large number of local grackles. Grackles are nasty to anything they can take advantage of, and a crippled crow is an easy victim.

Fortunately, I’m a stay-at-home mom, and am around most of the time. The first couple of days, I had to bring Patty in after only ten minutes, the grackles were so merciless. The third day, my kids played in the yard with friends, and stayed close enough to Patty to keep the grackles away. After that, they sort of got bored with the crow, though occasionally at night they still harass her in my spruce tree until I start throwing stones at them.

The only other problem Patty has faced in the yard so far is the neighborhood gang of crows. Crows are surprisingly tender and gentle with familiar crows that become injured. But they’re downright rude to strangers, and if a strange crow has a disability, they often try to kill it. Each morning for five days I had to sit out with Patty to keep them away. It was almost like Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, except that the birds were attacking another bird rather than humans. But at long last the crows returned to taking care of their babies and left Patty alone, and I could go back to washing dishes in the morning.

We have a pretty big backyard as far as yards go, and it’s enclosed with a cyclone fence, but since Patty can easily climb trees and jump well, she isn’t really confined. But so far she hasn’t left the yard. I suspect she’s figured out she’s safer here than elsewhere. She’s terrified of power mowers—I think we’re the only people still around who use the old-fashioned push mower—and there are plenty of cats in the neighborhood, too. Patty isn’t affectionate, and she has no intention of becoming a pet, but we’re used to wild birds and give her some space. I think she accepts us as a known evil, while the neighbors are unknown, and thus more fearsome to her. Anyway, Patty is free to come and go as she pleases, but we’ll be happy to see her stay a long, long time.