The Crows Four

Oh, Vineland and Magnolia. Where Magnolia trees grow, and where birds of all feathers come to perch, sometimes, and flit to a high branch for a better view. We live and die beneath their curious gaze. If people only looked up and around more often they’d catch them, and maybe next time be recognized. Did you know Los Angeles, CA is the ‘birdiest’ city in all the nation? It’s almost absurd, and for me, apt, APT! I say, to be involved with the sky community in the birdiest city in all the land.

It’s February 2020 and a new day has dawned. Agrippa the Horrible has grown into Agrippa the Young Adult. Daily air drops on the skylight and noisy agitated dogs fade into history and a relatively peaceful community has descended on our little corner of NoHo. I returned to LA in March of last year a broken woman. Agrippa et al watched me make a full recovery and even engage in a new temporary assignment in Burbank. A treat for them to fly with me along Hollywood Way every morning for the summer. On many occasion I walked to my parked car after work accompanied by them and a handful of 10 or so community crows. Of course, Henry tagged along and even cawed angrily outside the window of the classroom a few times.

Our street corner is in a state of physical change as well. The neighbor with the agitated dogs moved and construction of new condos underway. My crow family is settled into a routine of short visits to check on me through the day. King Henry’s feathers ruffled over the changes to his neighborhood. In the morning, as per usual, Agrippa follows me to my exercise class a few blocks away, and then again in the late afternoon he’ll drop by the apartment. Henry misses his doggy allies who have have moved on and with the noise of construction blocking his calls, he feels his power to irritate me slip away.

I’ve taken my avian brood on day car tips back over the hill to visit with family and friends. The parks we use to frequent, the Malibu Bluffs. Wayne and I still meet on Thursdays, and, on occasion, have our visit in a park they love. For them! I care about them, and want them to know our home life is what it is for now. King Henry is boss and we have to play by his rules. They don’t care. These crazy crow. They love it when I play piano. What is that about?! I had to move my piano into the office room since they make such a fuss when I sit down to practice. Even when I have my earphones in, they dart around outside the window to watch me bang away at the keys. They love that! Their attraction is still a complete mystery. They love to watch me draw and write in my journal too. I mean, is this crazy? Am I crazy? I know the construction workers have been scratching their heads and taking note of the black sky with every new floor they build.

But overall, life feels manageable. I’m enjoying the moment of serenity fully, and understand nothing in this life is permanent. My windows and blinds thrown open and the early spring desert breeze sighs my way. I’ve concluded writing is the only medium to capture these stories and the reason I never take any photos or video. I’m with them when they are with me and inviting technology to the party seems disingenuous.

This is a great story of a woman who pulls out porcupine quills from a squawking young raven. The bird is perched on the fence and lets her pull the damn quills out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlwxLtFQcrY . I love this video. The raven will remember her for life. I have the feeling this bird understands her life and lives in the trees near by perhaps. She has horses and a farm so I’m certain the animal watched her interaction with other animals.

I read a blog entry about crow ‘gift giving’. I have been given gifts by birds and crows. The best crow gift came when visiting family in Ontario one winter. I started talking to the crow community in Campbellford during my walks around the river. Yes. You think I would have learned my lesson with crow interaction here in LA. One afternoon while traveling to a neighboring town by car, my brother and I stopped into the shopping mall. We returned to the car and found a large, dead and dried beetle quite certainly dropped into the open sunroof of my brother’s car. I told my him at that very moment, and said “I knew they were following us”. And they do. Why not? Not much else going on beside the regular (unless it’s early spring when crows nest and breed) and it doesn’t take much.

This image is a drawing sketched in Malibu State Park. Crows not included.

Agrippa today.

‘Cause you can’t, you won’t, and you don’t stop..’

I’ve delayed this entry for to long. I’ve tried to write about Agrippa every damn day, but my mind refuses to settle. Life in the aviary is in constant flux. Days of quiet follow days of agitation and back again. One moment I think I can handle the harassment, the next I’m back to scouring websites to look for a high rise apartment.

To my horror and amazement the crows three journeyed over the hill and set up in the new neighborhood along with us last summer. Agrippa is the senior and lead bird in this strange adventure. The three of them integrate easy enough and join a sizable clan north on Chandler Blvd. Agrippa is determined to reinforce our bond daily, but his obstacle is a large, mature raven, King Henry. Corvids need to communicate with one another constantly to enforce social and family bonds and is most likely the true explanation Agrippa comes for me daily. 

Agrippa is forced to adapt to recent changes, primarily the ankle injury, steps to recovery, and lack of drive time in the car. After I disappear for months, then return temporarily disabled and limited to assisted travel for trips around town, he’s less aggressive. Injury is a universal truth among all things living I suppose. To break or succumb to damage is to be alive; and a mishap changes routine and re-shapes your future everyday environment. Incessant crow and raven fights, the skylight air drops, the dogs, and overall neighborhood disturbance is far less. Lately, he employs alternative methods to communicate, but one thing I do know, Agrippa is afraid I’ll leave again.

The big routine shift is less skylight bomb activity and dog barks. Annoying and ever present, the ‘pings’ off the skylight tie directly to me leaving and returning to the apartment. The air bomb frequency is a mystery. Why less and why now? Before the accident, I’d leave my home office once a day and drive around town either to the grocery store, to the park to write in my journal, or run an errand. Then, I’d return to the apartment and the ‘rain of terror’ on the skylight starts up like clockwork. The barking starts. The little birds chirp angrily.

The ravens. The ravens. The ravens. I’d think “god damn those fucking ravens!”. They want me gone. They want me to take the crows and fuck off to who cares where, but not here. King Henry and Queen Bella come around and perch on the roof or a near by hydro pole to raise the alarm. Before my lengthy absence Henry cawed at my window at least three times a day. I haven’t seen or heard a raven call for over a month. Why? What’s happened?

Here’s the rub. I’m wrong about the ravens and I’m glad to be this wrong. Guess the bombing culprits. The fucking crows! My crows! Agrippa is persistent and determined. The main characteristic of the species. When we lived in Venice he bullied me hard. He knew his loud caws upset my neighbors. The fucker wanted me to come outside and learned quick the way to make me. Yes. I’m saying a crow bullied me. I match his will and when he refuses to leave me alone, I close the windows and blinds. He darkens my skylight determined to communicate the message, ‘I’m here. I’ll always be here no matter where you go.”

I search for information and learn. I read a research paper recently, a dissertation, and the study reveals ravens are bigger and outweigh a crow by a couple of pounds, but crows have mob mentality and socialization behind them. Ravens do forge in groups, but on average they live day-to-day with only one other – usually the life partner. According to the data, crows generally bring down the hammer on ravens rather than vice versa. Agrippa has rallied the mob a few times, including the morning I arrived home in April and one other time when we moved over the hill.

Agrippa laments the past. The good times. The regular travel, the conversation, and hanging out at Penmar Park. I have an eerie feeling Agrippa had his eye on me before I ever knew he existed. I use to ride to the park daily after a round trip ride from Venice to the Pacific Palisades. I’d sit in the bleachers, smoke a cigarette, and speak chirp. A pocket of seeds mixed with nuts, I’d watch dog walkers and people who work out in parks early before work. Good times then. I had no idea I’d never be alone again when the crow clan wrapped me in a black cloak.

Why? Why this bond? Why move house with two other crows in tow to come to this place? Why is he so determined to stay here with me, and now of course, my husband. Back in Venice, Agrippa and other crows at that time, caw loudly when my husband is dropped off at the bus stop. I always knew he’d be coming through the door in minutes. And true more than not, he’d be at the door. At around 4 p.m daily, except for weekends, my husband’s returns to the apartment and Agrippa waits for him at the Metro station. He still calls out to let me know he’s on his way home. This is true.

I understand more and more Agrippa has to reinforce the bonds of family, and I’m family now. I’m fucking family! And family is a bond unbroken for life.

Thursdays

If anyone’s read the blog entries I’ve written, ‘yeah crazy’, is likely their first thought before moving on. But so what? I’ll wager I’m the only chick living in North Hollywood, or in all LA for that matter, stuck in the middle of an all out territory dispute with nature. Science and research need to take a closer look at Corvid’s capacity to understand human behavior beyond our own human understanding of ourselves. A record of corvid social behavior and mating patterns is important, but observing interaction between human and crow is far more interesting. Agrippa and I have an unlikely bond, one-of-a kind, forged by the simple act of recognition of each other as individuals among their own respective and populous kind.

Thursday is a day of the week I refer to as ‘mental health Thursday’. I use to attend group therapy on Thursdays, but stopped last year after the move over the hill. Thursday is still mental health day, but I see one person rather than a group. When I think about the old Thursday group sessions, I remember crow calls outside the building while Wayne and I walk to and from our cars. After therapy we’d drive to a breakfast joint and Agrippa flys ahead of the car to let me know he’ll meet us on arrival.

The level of crow and bird drama Thursday morning is practically non-existent in the new apartment. Thursdays in Venice were horrible in comparison, and Agrippa’s harassment outside the apartment created real tension in the overcrowded beach community. I know I heard applause when I left the area for my 7:00 a.m. appointment. Agrippa is excited on Thursdays, and though he still caws and makes a fuss in the morning, he’s limited by Henry’s ability to tolerate his presence.

When I met Wayne on Thursday, I ask him why he thinks our meeting day holds so much importance to Agrippa? His interpretation and reply is ‘he’s holding on to the familiar’. The familiar. The repetition. The routine. His interpretation made sense.

Wayne is the other human bond I consistently reinforce, and when I’m away from LA Agrippa and his gang of NoHo baddies search him out.  4 to 5 crows show up at his apartment and even stalk him to work and home again. When I’m home on Thursdays, Agrippa knows there is a 90 percent chance I’ll leave the apartment early and meet people, or a person, at a location. The location changes; an office building, a coffee shop, a park, a restaurant, but always a human connection. I’ve learned Thursday is an important day of the week for him to reaffirm our bond. I imagine him thinking, ‘move to a new place and take away our regular bike rides, but I’ll be damn to hell if you fuck with our Thursdays’. At least, that’s what I hear when he stands his ground against Henry perched on a telephone pole close to the balcony and caws ‘Thursday! Thursday! Thursday!’


From Venice to North Hollywood as the crow flies.

I didn’t know. I don’t know a lot, but I thought I knew something about nature. So how did this happen? How?! And why is this new reality happening to me? Lives altered, changed for a lifetime; mine, people around me, and a few who have no idea.  Me, I did it, and I blame myself of course, now; I didn’t know I’d be casting blame or later think I’d lost my mind. To talk openly about my suspicion is out of the question for reasons I’ll explain in future posts.  Only after I’d been hit by a car while riding my bike and, as a result, entering into group therapy sessions to help overcome residual fear and anxiety, did I openly talk about, unbelieving at times, a new life with birds.

The truth is I’m writing this blog first to help myself; part therapy, part urban nature log. But I’d also like to reach out to other terra bound humans wondering if they’re being followed, recognized or hated even, by the nature in their backyards. I made contact with an Ornithologist and received a response including unhelpful tidbits like, “Wow. I’ve never heard of the strange behavior you mentioned without a caloric payoff.” In my mind I’m thinking ‘yes bitch. I know! I need some scientific help here and you’re not giving it to me’.  But I’ve only tried to contact researchers briefly and the time has arrived to make an effort to learn more and find out if my experiences might contribute to a body of knowledge rooted in less tangible, less group driven behavior of the individual urban animal.

Growing up in Canada I camped as a kid, canoed, fished and traveled from coast to coast over my fifty years. I learned the basics of mingling with nature; a bee hive, spotting poison ivy and bear dung, knowing a hawk call, what catching a big fish meant. But I didn’t know, ‘fucking with nature’ means more than leaving trash in campsites and out in the woods, or feeding wildlife human food or pet food, or being made to remember local animal ecosystem are permanent and I’m a tourist. All these lessons are true and none of it’s changed, but I didn’t know ‘fucking with nature’ also has a base character/animal element category. I learned though, and I learn still. 

I spent my young adult life in Toronto, Ontario and animal interaction meant domestic types. A few up close wild animal moments happened while camping or country living in rural PEI and Ontario; I always knew to keep my distance.  I grew up in the suburbs and cites; raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, pigeons, starlings, chickadees, etc., and occasionally crows, is the bulk of wildlife. Living now in Los Angeles, I continue to keep a distance, but I confess to have fed the occasional house sparrow or little bird hanging out at the donut or coffee shop. One Google search and you’ll be able to pull up a ton of video clips of people around the world either saving wild animals or recording what is mostly perceived as adorable behavior, especially in North American and the West.  I’ll never look at birds the same way again after the transpiring events I’ve experienced in the last two and more years. 

We’ve interacted with urban wildlife since towns and cities were built.  As humans, we basically look and act the same way on the regular, but we constantly communicate individually with our surroundings in less obvious ways. People feed urban animals all the time. Totally unnecessary. Plenty of human food around. I’ve grown to understand having a relationship with urban wildlife isn’t only about the ‘caloric’ payoff, or from a source of independence on behalf of the, likely, abandoned or injured animal. An emotional relationship is also possible build on nothing more than regular visits to location; an emotional bond developed from individual recognition outside the group.  Animals understand individual character. And not only the higher mammal species; animals and insets of all types, all the way down the chain of life, I’d say,  have the ability to understand individual human behavior and vice versa. The urban wildlife community has the true, broad, and socially untainted insight of human behavior and character beyond our ability to identify or even comprehend.