For the Birds Radio Program: Patty the Crow

Original Air Date: Oct. 19, 1992

Laura used to think that there were too many crows in the northland. Now she thinks there is one too few.

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There are way too many crows in the Northland—they’ve reached nuisance levels for people in most neighborhoods in Duluth, and even worse, they’re taking a serious toll on too many baby songbirds. I know we could stand to lose a crow or two, but I hope I’ll be excused for mourning for the loss of one particular crow.

My baby crow Patty was not like any crow I’ve ever known. She was so imprinted on humans that she didn’t pay a bit of attention to crows calling or flying overhead when we played outside. She followed me around the house like Mary’s little lamb, except I’m sure Mary’s little lamb was more housebroken than Patty. Patty had figured out toilet paper, from watching me clean up after her, and now and then she’d grab a piece and wipe the floor, whenever it seemed appropriate to her. She took a shower in the bathtub every few days, drank water out of my dog’s dish, and was pretty much a member of the family. At nighttime she loved sitting on my lap and snuggling while I studied or worked at my desk.

Patty was also turning into a good partner for me, helping me do programs for children. She went to Mrs. Sauer’s first grade class at Rockridge School two weeks ago. Most of the little kids were scared of her at first—big black birds with a long, sharp beak can be pretty frightening. But Patty’s gentle ways, velvety-soft feathers, and habit of untying shoelaces quickly won over all the kids. She was actually a lot like a kindergarten kid—curious, affectionate, occasionally noisy and occasionally silly. Her noisy squawking when she was hungry or wanted attention drove a couple of people crazy, but all in all I was more fond of Patty than I’ve been of most birds I’ve cared for.

If Patty loved and trusted me like a mother, she looked on my eight-year-old daughter Katie as her big sister. When Patty was little, Katie fed and cared for her whenever I was away. At that time we didn’t know if Patty would make it from day to day. Usually when a bird is in bad shape, the kids all keep their distance, afraid to become too attached. But Katie didn’t withhold her love from Patty, and Patty responded to that love. Her ragged, malnourished plumage was replaced by glossy, strong feathers. One of her crippled feet healed perfectly, and the other was becoming more and more functional. She was a perfectly healthy and happy bird.

But October is birthday month at the Ericksons’, and that means presents arrive in the mail, and this time after the packaging got put away, a couple of styrofoam peanuts were left on the floor, hidden in a corner of the playroom. Patty’s curiosity must have gotten the best of her. She swallowed them when I wasn’t looking. When she drank some water, she instantly collapsed and suffocated within a minute. I was right there, and completely helpless. I didn’t even figure out exactly what was happening until it was all over.

I’m supposed to bring dead birds to the UMD Biology Museum, but they didn’t particularly want or need another dead crow—they’re a dime a dozen these days. Anyway, Patty wouldn’t have liked it there. Katie and I buried her in the backyard. A couple of wild crows cawed during our little funeral. Yes. I know there are too many crows, but I think the world could have used just one more.