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Sam Crow

Sam Crow
1964 - 1995

Where ever you are
Little Brother
I wish you quick wings
fat grasshoppers
sleek females and
no owls.

Sam was a yearling crow, innocent in the ways of men and guns, and I was barely 14 when we first met. I heard a bang in the woods and ran to see a young punk with a shotgun about to stomp his foot on a flopping wounded crow. I hit that kid from behind with both feet, knocked him into a tree and knocked him out, smashed his shotgun, threw it into the lake and rushed the crow to the vet.

We had to amputate most of Sam's shattered left wing to save his life and I slept with him for over a week, feeding him by hand and watering him with an eyedropper until he started to recover and could move around for himself. He became my constant companion, confidante, best friend and brother.

He used to ride on the handlebars of my bike when I did my paper route, wings half lifted, testing the air as if he could still fly, or if I walked, he'd sit on my shoulder, muttering obscure and indecipherable corvid wisdom into my ear. We went everywhere together. When I was older, I'd take him with me on dates. He'd sit on the seatback in the car and pick at the barrettes in a girl's hair. If she didn't take it off and give it to him to play with, well, that was our last date. Any person who would consider a thirty cent bit of jewelry as worth more than a few moments of entertainment for Sam just wasn't my kind of girl. He saved me from many a prissy-missy bimbo.

Even as an old crow he'd sit on my shoulder, I could mouth feed him, put a grape between my teeth and say, "Hey Guy." He'd take it just as slow and gentle as if he was kissing a virgin, and then nibble my earlobe, grumbling for more. I swear he always knew what I was saying and feeling.

He was a clown, cackling, dancing and flapping, his comic antics were guaranteed to capture the heart (or at least the attention) of any audience. He was a champion pickpocket and household thief, stealing shiny things for his treasure hoard, inkpens, earrings, a spoon or a bit of tinfoil - no glittering object was safe from his curious eyes and he protected his precious stockpile with the ferocity of a cranky old bull dragon.

Like a wise and clever 4 year old, he was always piping in with his two cents at just the right (or wrong) time. He talked nonstop, the way parrots do. "Hello" he'd say, "Give Sam a hambone.", "Son of a bitch", "A babe! a babe! What a fox!", "Uh-oh...", "There-there it's ok". He coughed like my alcoholic Uncle Charlie, who had emphysema, barked like our dogs - recognizably different for each one, meowed like a cat, honked a horn like our car, gunned the engine of the car, vrooom vrooom. Over the years I counted 108 different words, phrases, sounds and bits of song. More often than not, his comments were contextually appropriate, usually to the amusement or chagrin of everyone within earshot.

Sam taught me responsibility, patience, compassion, empathy and kindness. Because I loved him, I learned to hear the secret unspoken language of all wild things. He was amazing and without him, I'd probably be doing time somewhere today.

He died on a lovely summer day back in '95, shortly after I had brought him a handfull of fresh strawberries and roadkill grasshoppers. He was 31 years of age and I will miss him as long as I live. Whatever small gifts I may have given him, his gifts to me were far greater. These days I hear his voice in every crow who calls. I still answer.

He was my friend.

You should be aware that there are federal laws that prohibit the capture and/or possession of wildlife, including crows. If you find a fledgling or rescue an injured crow, there are many resources available that will help you rehabilitate the animal and return it to the wild. In cases where release is not possible, for example, a debilitating injury that permanently prevents flight (such as with my crow, Sam) you will need to get a special permit in order to keep the crow. I know from my own experience that crows can be wonderful companions. However, our affection for these amazing birds should not override what is in the crow's best interest. Feel free to contact me if you need some help. I will do whatever I can, but also, please do your best to live within the law. Wild is wild. Help them recover and set them free.

If you find a fledgling crow who can't fly very well or who still has blue eyes, you will need to hand feed it many times a day or it will starve. If it won't drink from a bowl of water then you will need to use an eyedropper to keep it well hydrated. Crows wean after about 4 months. Crows are omnivores, that is, they will eat almost anything we will eat, small bits of raw meat, chunks of hard-boiled egg, insects - crickets, grasshoppers, mealy worms, fruit such as grapes, small chunks of watermelon, berries of any kind, sunflower seeds and so on.

The hazard with rescuing young crows is that by feeding them and treating them with kindness and affection, they then see us as part of their flock. They create an attachment with us and lose their natural caution and fear of humans. This makes them very vulnerable in the wild and easy prey to those (expletive deleted) folks that just love to kill crows for fun. Sadly, there are a lot of those guys out there. A word of warning here... Don't allow an attachment to form with a crow who will be released. You only put them at risk.

One last caution... If you live in an area where crow hunters kill for fun (and these guys can each kill hundreds of crows in a single day and they love to boast about it) don't intervene during a hunt. Instead of getting tangled up in confrontation, hot tempers and useless ego arguments about who's right, try to get the laws changed so there are kill limits. What they are doing comes from the same level of unconsciousness that wiped out the passenger pigeon: unrestrained hunting of a single species. Nobody ever thought they could kill enough pigeons to make a dent in the population until it was suddenly too late and they were all gone. There are some states where crows and ravens have been hunted to rarity and now hunting them is prohibited. Between the crow hunters and the West Nile Virus* we could suddenly find crows on the endangered species list, in spite of an apparent population bloom. If you want to slow down the crow killers, use the legal system. That's what makes this country a democracy. (Although nowadays, I swear I could make a reasonable case for someone in camo off in the woods with a silenced thirty-ought-six and a scope, taking out the crow killers one by one. Yeah just a thought, I'm not THAT crazy.)
  * (Corvids- including crows, ravens and bluejays- are extremely susceptible to this plague and as far as we know, have a 100 percent mortality rate.)

If I did today what I did with that young idiot back in the early 60's, I'd end up with a lawsuit and time in jail on an assault charge. As it was, I had to pay for his medical bills (4 stitches and a bandaid) and buy him a new shotgun, which was hard to do as a 14 year old kid with only a paper route. On the other hand, I got a wonderful friend for 30 years and it only cost me a stern conversation with the local county sheriff and less than $500 bucks. What a bargain...

Additional avian resources:

Wildlife International Rehab Search page
This is a global rehab search form that has a huge list of certified rehabbers.

If you have found a critter in trouble, use this
form to find someone near you who can help.

It's best to just enter the kind of animal, your
country, and your state. If you enter your city
or town too, then sometimes you get no result.

This is another Rehabber search page that can help you find someone nearby.
This form works on zip codes and distance.

Avian Haven
My good friends run this wild bird rehab center in Freedom, Maine -
Marc, Diane and their crew are amazing and dedicated people who I really admire.

Ravensbeard Wildlife Center
This is a rehab center in Bearsville, New York -
Kristine was the human companion of the world's
oldest crow, Tata, who passed away at age 59.
And yep, Tata's story moved me to tears too...

Cornell Ornithology Lab
Here is a nifty resource from Cornell that lists nearly all North American birds,
with pics, songs, range, and everything else you ever want to know.
All About Birds

Recent discoveries about
Crow intelligence and tool use



If you want to know what I am up to these days,
please visit either of my current websites:
CarmineLeo.com (Corporate Emotional Intelligence)
or: LifeCoaching.com (Empowering Authentic Self)

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