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Backyard Friends for Your Children

When my Dad recently started telling me the story of his childhood friend who had a pet black crow, I knew it would be something extraordinary. When my Dad spins his tales, one can’t quite tell what part of the story is real, and what part is re-imagined from a childhood that took place more than 80 years ago.

This is how the story goes: My Dad’s childhood acquaintance, Marvin, had a pet crow named Charlie. Charlie the Crow sat on Marvin’s shoulder and accompanied him everywhere he went. Charlie could talk, and had a rather large vocabulary. Apparently, he could communicate with the children, and would reply when Marvin asked him questions. Charlie was tame enough to be petted. Just when I thought the story was much too far-fetched, enchanting and curious to be true, my Dad threw in to the story the name of Marvin’s sister, whose children attended grade school with me. This cast off any doubt of suspicion as to the legitimacy of the story – Marvin was a real boy!    

As it turns out, my Dad’s story is likely more true than not. Crows have a certain human element about them that enables them to use language and feelings to communicate with humans. Once you can move past the visions of black birds swarming above Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchock’s thriller movie “The Birds”, you and your children might just fall in love with these sweet creatures. With proper care, crows can be a welcome “friend” to your children and fellow backyard songbirds.

According to Kevin McGowan, a crow expert at Cornell, crows have the ability to mimic human voices, and they recognize human faces. When crows recognize the person who feeds them, they will call to their family to let them know that dinner is being served. At the same time, they’ll never forget the face of someone who has been mean. They’ll hold a grudge and pass on that information to their friends and offspring.

The online source, Bird Eden, offers a few tips to bring crows to your yard. Wind chimes and pets will scare them away, so if you’re trying to attract crows you’ll want to keep these noises far from where you are feeding. Crows are omnivores and will eat anything and everything, from bugs to roadkill. I wouldn’t encourage your children to travel along the roadside scouting roadkill. Instead, indulge them with nutritious treats: unsalted peanuts, cracked corn and sunflower seeds. In my own backyard, I see the crows feeding nicely alongside the other backyard birds. The crows will dine at feeders, but seem to prefer picking up what has been dropped onto the ground by the smaller birds.

Crows also enjoy chicken eggs, dog or cat food, bread dipped in water and fruits and vegetables. I haven’t tried any of these, but would love to see a crow eating an egg. Stay away from feeding them processed meats or sweets. Bird Eden advises that crows may get spoiled with a particular food and refuse to eat anything else, so make sure that they are eating what you are putting out for them. Otherwise, the leftovers might attract a yard full of gluttonous raccoons and a few unhappy neighbors. Crows will also appreciate a bowl of water.

To help the crows establish a routine with your child, feed them at the same time, either early in the morning or early in the evening, every day. Soon, the crows will start to recognize the routine and your child will get a welcome greeting from them.

Don’t be surprised if you find a shiny rock, string of glittery ribbon or sparkly button around your yard. Crows love to decorate their nests with shiny objects, and love to gift them to people who are kind to them.

Blackbirds, such as crows, are often associated with scary Poe tales, haunted houses and Halloween frights. Sometimes they’re portrayed in stories as clever tricksters. They also have an undeserved reputation of harming smaller songbirds. Actually, crows are known to keep larger predators away. They are not the pests that some may think they are. When you see crows scavenging through garbage, they’re likely just picking out what a dog had already knocked over.

Dr. Ruth Wilson, an educational consultant who has worked for notable projects at places including Brookfield Zoo and Sesame Street, wrote about the value of teaching children to care for plants and animals. Dr. Wilson writes, “Tending to the needs of other living things requires children to give thought and attention to something outside of themselves. As children interact with plants and animals, they learn that other living things have basic needs which must be met for them to survive. These experiences help children make the connection between caring behaviors and good outcomes, such as growth or affection.”

Just maybe your child may befriend his or her own Charlie.