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Quid Pro Crow: Gardening Alongside Wildlife

April 23rd, 2009 · 8 Comments ·

When I planted our peas in March, I chased the crows out of the cherry tree before I started. I was thinking of all the crows I’d seen watching gray squirrels bury their peanuts.  The squirrels are so busy-busy, patting down the soil over their treasure with those bad little paws.  Then as soon as they leave, the crows swoop down, pluck the nuts up, and eat  them with a stylish nonchalance. My beautiful snap pea seeds had been soaking overnight, and had begun to sprout–they looked alive and tasty.

peas-3500

Crow-bill hole in the pea patch

As soon as I finished planting and was putting my tools away in the shed, a swirl of three crows flew into the cherry tree, cawing loudly.  I laughed to myself, “They’re calling their friends to say, ‘She’s finished!  Come eat!’”  But I thought I was kidding.  Later I found perfect crow-bill-sized holes in the pea-patch!

In his wonderful book, Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest (which offers a great deal of insight no matter what your geographic region), Russell Link writes, “We love wild animals, or we hate them, depending on what they’re doing.”  Our hearts lift at the robin’s spring song, then in the summer they eat our strawberries.

One morning there was a Cooper’s Hawk perched on the corner of our fence.  So close!  Such beautiful yellow legs, and deep orange eyes!  I rushed to get my binoculars, my first impulse as a bird nerd.  But in the next breath I realized, oh my lord, that bird was eying my six-week-old baby chickens!  Cooper’s Hawks are bird-eaters.  I ran out there like Ma Ingalls, barefoot in the wet grass, my pink flannel pajamas dragging around my feet, waving my arms and yelling “Shoo!”  The hawk looked at me coolly before lifting over the garage roof, and I brought my feathered girls in the kitchen for the day.  I’ve always been critical of farmers that bait “vermin” such as coyotes, wolves, and cougars because they are a perceived threat to livestock, and I still am.  But my thoughts are more nuanced since the hawk incident.  What if I really was Ma Ingalls?  What if those chickens were not my hobby, but my family’s livelihood?  My children’s sustenance?  What if all that were true, and I had a shotgun hanging over the door?

Missing pea plants after crow nibbling

Missing pea plants after crow nibbling

I don’t have any brilliant how-tos for preventing crows from eating your peas.  But I love the reminder that there is no clear line we can draw between our households, our lives, our habits, and the wider, natural world.  Our homey thresholds are flimsy and marginal–they represent the point from which we cross into nature, and wild nature–distressingly sometimes–crosses back.  Such a recognition of our constant, inevitable continuity with the more-than-human world is, I believe, exhilirating, enlivening, and beautiful.

Meanwhile, we protect our chickens, net our strawberries, and wave our arms at waiting crows.  I tossed some  new pea seeds into the holes the crows had made, and they’re beginning to fill in nicely.

birds, crows, garden, urban nature

8 Comments so far ↓

  • Janet Knowlton

    What about our SWEET PEAS?

    Do you think they are safe?
    The tender little shoots are JUST raising their sweet little “heads”.
    I LOVE your blog!
    Janet

    • lyanda

      Thanks so much Janet! I think the sweet peas are safe. Adult crows don’t bother non-food plants very often. The fledglings sometimes pull out sprouting plants, just for fun (one year they pulled out all my little carrots, and laid them in a row). But our sweet peas will be big by then!

  • Ed

    It’s so true. I really like Merlins, what an exciting bird to watch fly with it’s incredible speed and agility. But a couple days ago we were out for a walk right by our house and one zipped by. Not a welcome sight at all because we’ve got Violet-green Swallows that have staked out our nest box. The last thing we want is a damn Merlin in the neighborhood.

    Great Blog,

    Ed

    • lyanda

      Thanks Ed. Hey, do you know why the Violet-green Swallows show up so much later in our West Seattle neighborhood? We never see them until May.

  • Nete

    Thank you for the hilarious picture of the gap in the row of peas due to the crow pilfering. The whole story made me laugh!

  • Erica

    I do admire your very beautiful pea trellis. What is it made from?

  • lyanda

    Thanks! It’s just made from scraps of pruned backyard trees–lilac and myrtle, mostly.

  • Ed Scott

    I heard part of your New Dimensions interview on crows and loved what I heard. I am downloading the Real Audio player now so I can hear it all. I’ll look for your book.

    You are probably aware that ET Seton wrote a crow story, “Silverspot” in his “Wild Animals I Have Known” which in 1898 was to kids as iPods and cell phones are today – the number one form of kid entertainment at the turn of the century. I know that ET Seton has been considered too anthropomorphic by modern standards but I think his way of writing brought many kids to observe animals more closely in his day and your interview reminded me of the joy I felt at discovering his writing as a youth. I HTMLed the Silverspot story and used to have it at a website. Here in Taos, NM we have crows and their cousins the Magpies. Both are fun to watch. My wife shooooooos the Magpies away because they attack songbird nests but they are so beautifully colored to watch in flight.

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