Backyard Friends

By Julia Spangler

julie'scrows2(1)Like many people, I have always enjoyed sharing my backyard with the natural critters who co-inhabit this small piece of land with me. We have the usual squirrels which raise their families in our yard, babies delighting us with their game of tag chasing each other as they practice their skills in the trees. There is a mother raccoon who often will bring her babies to nap in the tree by our porch. I love watching the Hummingbirds hover over the feeder, and the Finches,Nut Hatches, Blackeyed Junkos and Chickadees on theirs. Various shyer woodpeckers make an appearance every so often. But most notably there are a couple of crows who frequent our territory and for whom we leave a tidbit.

Most people I know don't like crows. They are loud and raucous and aggressive toward other birds. I am fond of crows in their sleek black beauty, though I do not love crow voices. But I have discovered firsthand how smart and neighborly they can be. One lovely spring day a few years ago I was eating my lunch outside on the porch, quietly reading, when an annoying crow shout finally penetrated my consciousness. "CAW! CAW! CAW! CAW!" I realized my body had been aware of it before my mind was wrenched from my book, and my shoulders were tense from resisting the sound. I turned to face the crow in the branches of the tree behind me and said, "Shut UP!"  She did.

She went silent. So I told her that if she was quiet while I ate my lunch, I would share a bit with her, but only if she was quiet. Then I went back to my book. As I finished, and collected my stuff to go back inside, I realized that the crow was still there, sitting quietly waiting for me to keep my agreement. I thanked her and left a crust on the railing of the porch. The next day, as I ate my lunch on the porch, I became aware of a strange, soft, almost purring sound I had never heard before. I turned around and saw the crow sitting on the same branch nearby, and she was making this odd noise deep in her throat, very quiet and almost intimate sounding. I looked at her and said, "Hello! Thank you. I will keep some lunch for you". This contract was kept all summer. She never cawed in our yard demanding treats. She would come sit on the branch or on the railing and wait patiently. Occasionally another crow would show up with its loud CAW!CAW!CAW! and I would shush it and tell it there was no food if there was shouting. I have seen 'our' crow chasing loud crows away from our porch.

julie'scrows3(1)We have kept the agreement for several years now, and every morning the crow will come sit on the rail when the kitchen light goes on, her mate on the near branch of the tree, and will wait there until we come out with an offering. We enjoy their presence, and honor our deal, though we are clear with them that there is only a morsel once a day.  (Doesn't stop her from trying for more, but always with quiet respect for our boundaries.)

I have recently been aware of the fact that the crow couple have been nesting, and feeding their babies from our largess. And I have not been looking forward to having the young crows coming into our yard with their whining voices demanding to be fed. I told myself that I would not feed them, because they needed to learn to forage for themselves.  Yesterday they broke all my resolve.

I saw the dominant crow sitting on the rail and as I brought out a snack of a couple of cherries, I saw the baby sitting on a branch. The baby gave one short cry and  the crow on the rail croaked sharply back. Then silence. Mama crow was teaching her baby to respect the etiquette of our yard  Oh my! I watched during the day, and the quiet rule was respected by all three crows. At one point, I saw the dominant crow on the rail, and just about four feet above her in the tree was the baby, with the other parent sitting right next to it, chest to side, stroking the baby's neck with his beak. The baby's neck was stretched up, mouth slightly open, calmed and quiet.  Perhaps they were trying not to scare the humans away! Later, knowing there was no more food coming from us, they left their baby on the branch by the porch and flew off to hunt as the baby napped, head tucked under its wing. What a show of trust!

julie'scrows1(1)A few days later there were two more of their babies in the tree. It was much harder to keep three quiet than just one, but I could see the parents trying to teach them all the etiquette of our yard. Kids get excited when they are hungry and demanding food. I was deeply moved by the intelligence of that crow family, who have kept the agreement of no loud noise in our yard. They are no dummies. When they are quiet, they get treats. When they are noisy, they get nothing except a "No, no, no. No cawing!" from me. They have taught their children well how to survive in this suburban neighborhood by getting along with the neighbors!

I have enjoyed the company of this dominant crow.  Sometimes she will come sit on the rail, about 5 feet away from me as I work on the porch, and together we watch the humming birds sip from the feeder.  Friends sharing a moment of companionship. People experience nature communication in different ways, and we may never really know how our connections with nature will show up, but when we pay attention and notice our natural world companions, we may be surprised by how much they are willing to engage with us.

Views from the Lorian Community publishes essays from a team of volunteer writers expressing individual experiences of a long term, committed practice of Incarnational Spirituality (and the general principles shaping such a practice.) If you wish to share how your life has benefited from your relationship with Lorian and IS, please email the editor at We prefer submissions between 700-900 words. We rarely accept previously published material (including blog posts.) We also reserve the right to decline or to edit your submission. Any accepted submissions will be published in the order that best fits our topic schedule.