The crows showed up today. First one appeared on a low branch near our driveway, then a second joined him. Her. It. Then a couple more arrived near the place where we used to put peanuts for them, years ago, and finally one landed on the window of my husband’s office. They waited as he opened the noisy loud garage door and tossed a double handful of peanuts in the shell onto the driveway in the patchy snow. They watched him go back in and as the garage door was closing, one remembered her manners and said “anh-anh.”
But I should tell you how it all started.
When my son was five, we noticed that a crow was doing it’s best to build a nest in our tall pine tree. I’d read that crows can recognize humans and understand transactions, and I have always tried to teach my son about the natural world, so he and I decided to try to make friends with this crow. We learned that crows love peanuts (roasted, unsalted), so we bought a bag of peanuts and every morning my son (M) would put a few on the cable box next to the pine tree, look up into tree, and say “peanuts!”
After a couple days of this, the crow figured it out, and figured out that he needed to get the peanuts quickly, before the squirrels did, so as soon as M was back inside, this young crow would swoop down and take a peanut. A few weeks later, when my son went out with the peanuts, he found a small white clamshell on the box. He took the gift and left the peanuts. The next day it was a girl’s pink glitter barrette with a broken clasp. Then a pretty stone. Then, just over a month into this relationship, when M looked up into the tree and said “peanuts!” the crow answered! He gronked two syllables that sounded sort of like “peanut” if you don’t have lips or teeth: ee-uhn
We were delighted!
After that, M would use the crow word, and on days when he couldn’t take the peanuts out, my husband or I would do it and use the crow word. We started referring to the crow as Peanut.
Peanut found a mate and they apparently had an egg, way up at the top of the pine tree. We’d watched them finishing the nest together and sitting the nest and bringing food…but a red-tailed hawk kept attacking and despite the crow parents’ efforts, no baby crow fledged.
Peanut remained in our neighborhood, as he and my son had bonded. The neighborhood had a whole bunch of boys about the same age and they would move through the neighborhood in a pack, playing ball in the yards, riding bikes, playing war in the woods, descending on one of their houses and eating all the food then moving on to the next. Peanut would follow M, staying high in the trees, as M walked to a friend’s house, as he learned to ride a bike, as he and his friends “went fishing” in the creek. I figured that if anything happened to him, the crow would come tell me.
As the summer went on, Peanut got braver, and would follow M around our yard, hopping from low branch to low branch, as we did yard work or tossed a ball around. They would “talk” to each other, because Peanut would say hello as soon as our door opened, with an “AH-AH!” and M would repeat it. We learned two different words: AH-AH for “person” and “EH-UN” for “peanuts please.” Sometimes Peanut would see M through the windows in his room and get as close as he could and call EH-UN! and M would dutifully trot downstairs and put peanuts out.
During this time, my son learned everything he could about corvids in general and crows in particular, but refused to try any additional training with Peanut – he wanted the crow to remain as wild as possible for a suburban American crow with a trained human boy. Peanut got big and glossy on this diet, and while he spent some of his days hanging with the other crows behind McDonald’s and 7-11, he never brought any back to share the peanuts. M and our place belonged to him for a couple of years.
But then, maybe 4 years after we met, Peanut found a new mate. She might have been the same crow as last mate (who can tell?) but she was larger. Peanut seemed really besotted with this mate, and showed her the peanut place and brought her to our window to show off his humans. We named her Dr. Mrs. The Peanut. The Peanuts would hang out with us on our back porch, drinking from the birdbath and being companionable. They tried the pine tree again, making a new nest, and this year Peanut became the proud father of Peanut Jr.
They all knew the “human!” greeting and the “peanut” call. I’d put up a stand feeder that was easier for big crows to get to than the cable box, but it had to go in a place we couldn’t easily see it from our windows, so we relied on them letting us know they were around when we opened a door. Every now and then they’d come up to my husband’s office window, or yell at M through his window. Sometimes, and surprisingly, we’d hear them at the grocery store or McDonald’s, and look up to see one or all of them checking us out.
The time came for Peanut Jr. to build a nest, and he opted against the pine tree (which was smart). He nested in a tall tree behind our house – we could never tell exactly which one, but just the general area. His mate was not at all interested in being friends with humans, but Peanut Jr. still came by, asking for peanuts from the top of the maple across the street.
It’s been a couple years since we’ve seen Peanut – he got almost raven-sized, big and so glossy black that he looked blue in the light. Peanut Jr. nests in the same tree in the back every year, and we only put peanuts out when asked…but every spring either PJ, or someone he’s told, shows up to ask. They know the words for us and for peanut, and they know that after we put the peanuts out for them, they should exchange greetings with us. That has shifted to an ah-uhnh sound…we don’t know exactly what it means, other than “we’re friends.”