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Feathering our nests

Some days, I want to buy the world a Coke; some days, I have to remember that we’re all in this together — while birds soar, and build homes wherever they want
Close up of a common raven (Corvus corax) on a rock calling and looking at the camera, British Columbia, Canada. (iStock)
Close up of a common raven (Corvus corax) on a rock calling and looking at the camera, British Columbia, Canada. (iStock)

We’re getting new neighbors behind our house. It looks like they’re preparing to move in any day now. I realize that’s not that big news in this student neighborhood of ours, where apartments, rooms and flats turn over constantly, with the big switches happening each September and May alongside the university calendar. Moving in and out is a regular thing, with piles of abandoned belongings curbside. Student stuff may have been known to furnish the living rooms, bedrooms, offices and closets of some people I know. Just saying.

These new neighbors are in a flurry of activity approximately eye-level height to my office window on the upper floor of our house, about 40 feet from us. They haven’t ordered from IKEA, or received a truckload of belongings, or made any purchases on Amazon.

That’s because I’m talking about some winged new neighbors, a pair of crows who are building a nest deep in the middle of our pine tree in the backyard.

The crow family has been busy for a couple of weeks, flying back and forth between our house and my next-door (human) neighbor with bits of twigs, fluffy stuff and small branches, straight into the middle of the pine tree that we had planted as a wee sapling when we moved in, a gift from Mum. It probably explains why a branch came down in our yard recently (and here I was blaming the raccoons!), and why the smaller birds are in a tizzy each morning as the crows punctually get to work.

I wish I knew more about birds. Birds and birding are things that I mentally put on the “when you’re retired” list, and I absent-mindedly have bought a bunch of bird books over the years, always wishing I had more time to read them. Ahem.

I did have a look at this one lovely old book from 1898 about birds written for children, and learned that crows typically build their nests in March, one of the earliest species to do so. (Sidebar: I’m such a sucker for gorgeous old book covers and illustrated books with color plates. Plus, a serious book about birds for kids that doesn’t talk down to them AND has a gorgeous cover needs to be on my shelves, if I actually had any shelves. Book sorting: Pandemic Project #99!).

So, yeah, I should in theory have more time to read all about birds. If I could only settle down my fluttering mind, that flits from Facebook to podcasts to pinging emails about podcasts to webinars to my daily schedule that is strangely crowded despite all previously-scheduled events having been cancelled. Whew — chirp chirp.

I am actually slightly afraid of crows, although now that I’ve remembered that they are “Corvids,” not “Covids” I’m a teensy bit less afraid.

That’s because on my second trip to Israel, I was attacked by a crow. Well, not a crow like these Canadian Caw-Caw crows, but a fierce Blondie head-striped “House” crow. Native to India, this invasive species makes a harsh “kaaw-kaaw “cry, and it means business.

It probably wasn’t smart on my part to “kaaw-kaaw” back, that day in a public park as we celebrated my sweet little nephew’s birthday with our Israeli family. My sister-in-law and I were walking on a path to the bathroom, and the Corvus splendens were screaming at us from the sidelines, and like an idiot, I screamed right back.

Next thing I knew, I felt a swoosh back and forth in two passes over my hair, the House crow’s powerful and very large wings brushing my head, and then I was on the pavement, with a cut knee and my grandmother’s sparkly bracelet lying a distance away in the grass. Did the crow go for my bracelet? Was it protecting a nearby nest? Or was it just dissed by the rudeness of a fakakta foreigner?

I pulled together my stuff and hobbled to the bathroom. “I don’t know,” my sister-in-law said, in her gorgeously accented English, “I never see these birds except with you, and now, they are everywhere!” It’s true, another one was watching me outside the bathroom at the Ba’hai Gardens in Haifa. I was getting a little paranoid.

And then we went to Tzfat, the amazing holy city where I felt such a spiritual connection, and no, I didn’t get attacked again, but I did speak to a lovely jeweler who looked like a Tzaddik (holy man) in his tiny shop, about my bird encounter.

 “You have mazel,” he smiled from behind the counter. “Luck?” I questioned. “How is it lucky to be attacked by a vicious bird?” “Because, he peered up at me, stroking his beard, “I’ve seen the person whose scalp was removed by one.” Noted.

So, I am a tad cautious around crows, and I’m already pre-worrying about how this is going to go in the coming months, when Mr. & Ms. Crow have firmly been ensconced in their new digs (aka our backyard) and we are stuck at home, longing to go outside. Will they be happy to see us grilling some salmon and swigging back a cold one after an afternoon of raking? Or will they divebomb us as we try to talk to our new human neighbors across the fence?

Maybe they’ll just Caw and Chill and keep on home schooling the fledglings, like the rest of Canada is doing. According to my antique book, it should all be done by sometime in June, when the babies have learned to fly, and the parents abandon the nest they’re fussing over.

We are all staying home now, and we are all learning to live with each other, uncomfortable as that can be. Some days, like the old Coke commercial, “I want to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony,” and other days, I want to retreat deeply under my covers and pretend I’m 5 and the storm is passing over. Kitten videos make me cry, seeing old friends on Zoom makes me long to hug them, and there are days when I want to email everyone I ever knew and buy the world a Coke.

But other days I am angry and astounded by the sheer stupidity of people and I have to take a deep breath and remind myself that we are all in this soup together.

The birds are probably loving all the empty spaces and laughing at us as they soar around town, visiting whatever treetops they want, and building new homes without any interference from the human lot this spring. And us? Are we doing home improvements, or just stock piling the TP and worrying about when the wine will be delivered?

Anyway, for now we’re all earth-bound, homebound, and stuck on the ground, watching the birds through our windows as we try to remember to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that someday, we’ll all fly again.

About the Author
Peggy Walt has worked for almost 40 years in the arts and culture sector in her native Nova Scotia, Canada. She is a Jew-by-choice and has been researching her husband's family during the Shoah, the proposed subject for a Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Nonfiction at King's University in Halifax.
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