As the Crows Fly

Personal Writings

New Orleans       It may be April showers bringing May flowers in the rest of the country, but in New Orleans April is mid-to-late spring with summer starting to crowd into the calendar with early complaints about humidity, temperatures in mid-80s, and air conditioners starting to hum and roar in the background.  Morning are mild and with comrades visiting on holiday from England and our daughter joining us on our weekly coffee klatch when I’m in town, we were enjoying a pleasant time on the patio, still shaded next to the house.

Suddenly, we were caught in a National Geographic moment.  There was a fierce fluttering of branches high on the tree behind us.

A previous neighbor, sharing our fence, elected to plant a fast-growing tree in their yard to shade their back deck area.  The tree has become enormous, providing them shade but also looming over our garage and some of the patio.  Every few year’s insurance people and termite pest experts exhort us to plead with the neighbor to cut the tree back, where it touches the house, in order to keep this old wooden beast still standing.

We all looked up to try to see what might be happening.  We could see two large black crows swooping in and out among the branches in some bit of a fit.  It took us a minute to see what had caused their upset, when we saw a squirrel jumping from limb to limb to escape the attack.  We watched in awe.  This was not a quick skirmish, but a sustained battle.   The squirrel was in trouble and knew it, finding itself on thinner branches and leaping from one to another as one crow pecked at him and then another.

The common expression marking distance “as the crow flies” as opposed to the way the map reads is inadequate to describe the aerial maneuvers and teamwork of these two birds as they coordinated their work.  I stood up to get a better view from our ringside, but we were all just an irrelevant crowd in the stands and invisible to the crows and to the beleaguered squirrel.

Mi companera broke the silence, pointing up to the left towards the top limbs of the tree, shouting, “there’s the crows’ nest.”  True to the nautical expression, it was near the top, more than twenty feet above the ground.  The flight patterns of attack became clearer now.  The crows were defending the nest and likely their eggs.  Indeed, they had something “to crow about.”  The squirrel to its peril had ventured too close, no doubt deliberately, and perhaps not for the first time, but in this instance the sentries were prepared, and the defense was robust.

As the fight progressed, we sometimes thought it was over as the crows roosted and became quieter, but then some small movement by the squirrel would trigger more cawing and furious fluttering of wings until finally the squirrel escaped and peace came back to the patio.

Naturalists have filled report after scientific report on the intelligence of the ubiquitous crows, but often they still don’t get much avian love from the bipeds.  That’s a mistake.  Watching the drama above us pushed all of us to a new level of respect.