Sunday, June 25, 2006

A long time ago, a pledge was made between Cupcake and an old friend. The pledge was that if one of them should ever take up birdwatching, the other would immediately shoot to kill.

It was a sunny day, and they were sitting on a rocky outcrop in Swaziland. Tall yellow grass swished around them, and it was all very Lion Kingesque. Earlier, they had been enjoying a lovely hike. But suddenly someone in their party thought they heard the chittering of a Yellow Phantom-Breasted Tweet-Warbler or somesuch, and all hiking ceased as binoculars were whipped out and the majority of the party (both in numbers and age) surveyed the landscape for idiot avians.

The group stood arrested in captivation for what seemed hours, while Cupcake and her companion baked in the hot African sun, bored and annoyed.

The pattern of stopping to whip out binoculars, and everybody standing around for ages talking about birds repeated throughout the day. The experience imprinted on Cupcake hostile associations with birdwatching and birdwatchers.

And yet lately, Cupcake has started watching birds. Not birds in general, so much-- and she couldn't really give a hoot about ever spotting a Crunchy-beaked Twizzle-Dipster, however rare.

It's not a hobby, really, that has Cupcake thinking about them, and interested in them. And it's not even "birds" in general (although she fears it might come to that, eventually)-- it's crows. Just crows.

See, a couple weeks ago, Cupcake found a baby crow. He ended up dying, as baby birds one finds usually do.

But since then, crows follow her.

Cupcake is not being paranoid. The crows follow her. It's his family. In particular, his mother. But she gets the rest of them going, too.

Faithful readers will recall that Cupcake lives next to a beautiful park. It was in the park that Cupcake found the baby crow, as a number of adult crows were swooping and making cries of alarm all around.

Cupcake saw a cat skulk out of the brush. From the agitation of the crows, she knew someone was in trouble.

So she walked over and saw him, this baby crow. Fledgling crow, really. He was sitting in the grass, hopping. So she named him "Grasshoppa."

That was her first mistake. You should never name them.

Things happened that would make an unwieldy blog post. To spare both reader and blogger, here now appears a montage of the next 48 hours: Cupcake carried Grasshoppa to vet across park-- adult birds follow overhead, cawing. Vet says fine, fell but unhurt, too young, return and parents will care for as long as he caws. Must eat every two hours. Cupcake returns bird, but he doesn't caw. Cupcake waits hours, til dark. No cawing. No feeding. Parents glare from branches overhead, cawing. Grasshoppa is silent. Cats lurk. Uncertain what to do, Cupcake goes home to read up on crows. Brings Grasshoppa with for fear of cats. Calls bird rescue. Voicemail. Digs up worms and feeds him all night. No cawing. Still voicemail at bird rescue. Morning. Takes Grasshoppa home to tree. (Google says if humans make sure parents see baby every day, they will take back when he can fly.) Still no cawing. Won't eat. Sits under tree with Cupcake watching from distance. Parents hover, uncertainly but don't feed. Grasshoppa silent and silent. Then falls over. Grasshoppa dies. Cupcake cries.

There's more about how cool that little bird was. I just can't bear to type it.

I thought-- I don't know what I thought. That I could keep him alive for the week or so it would have taken for his tailfeathers to grow in so he could fly. That's what the problem was, you see.

Baby crows leave the nest at 18 days. But they can't fly until about day 25. That means a week of hiding. And in that park of feral cats--I can't imagine he'd have survived if I had left him there overnight. Although his parents chased away the one I saw, so I probably should have left well enough alone. Except that he was also right by the path, next to an apartment building full of families. He would have ended up being somebody else's shoebox funeral, even if not mine.

The thing is, now--

Almost every day, Cupcake takes a walk through the park. All this week, the crows have found her. They follow her, cawing.

Cupcake wishes she were making this up. She thinks it would be a really good story, if it wasn't really happening to her.

Sitting in a field, Cupcake discovers that Grasshoppa's mother is circling overhead. She circles and caws until she has assembled the whole flock (which seems to number five). As Cupcake rises, the crows fly further up. And then they follow her, still circling.

The next day, napping in the sun under her favorite tree, the distinctive cawing passes overhead. Grasshoppa's mother eyes her angrily. (And who can blame her?)

And so it's gone all week. They assemble and decry, and Cupcake, dressed in her habitual black, walks below them, guilty.

Today she brought them peanuts, but they would not be bought. But at least other people in the park could happily assume that all the commotion going on was that the crows knew someone had brought them peanuts. They didn't realize that the noise was not celebration but accusation.

And please, don't anyone post a comment about "eating crow". Cupcake's as remorseful as she can be.

She really liked the little bird. He had dignity, and sass. The eyes were intelligent and expressive. Before Grasshoppa, Cupcake never really knew a bird she liked. This one, she thinks she could have grown to love.

She said, as she was dropping worms into the rabbit cage she'd put him in, "When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, Grasshoppa, then it will be time for you to fly away." Readers unfamiliar with the old TV show Kung Fu, of course, won't get that. But Cupcake was very amused by her own cleverness. Until she realized that the lesson to be learned was her own, not the bird's.

That's the end of the story, I guess. Cupcake hopes this doesn't count as taking up birdwatching because then her friend will have to shoot her. And it's not so much that she's watching them as that they are watching her. And who can blame them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a flock of crows is called a murder.

11:12 PM  
Blogger cuff said...

It's the season, isn't it? I've seen several dead baby birds on the sidewalks lately...And many more live ones with their wings moulting sitting on the backyard fences.

1:40 PM  
Blogger matt said...

The last couple of weeks I've had an entire flock of birds (I'm not actually sure what they are... some sort of finch maybe?) has been following me for about a half mile stretch on one of my favorite running routes. They don't just follow though... they like to dive so that they're two or three feet above my head and then chirp. And let me tell you -- at that distance, it's deathly loud. Scares the crap out of me every time -- even when I know it's coming.

The insanity...

9:04 PM  
Anonymous Wink Williams said...

You are a natural story tell Cupecake, I have always said that.

What a sad tale!



12:28 PM  

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