Carl at the Birdbath | Hitchhiking to Heaven

A Crow’s Breakfast

Mystery Crow | Hitchhiking to Heaven

Our neighborhood is home to a large community of crows. Sometimes, on summer evenings, dozens of them gather on the roof of our house. We hear them walking around up there and see the shadows of their feet through the skylights. If a person didn’t love birds, it would be easy to go all Tippi Hedren about it.

Right now, at the height of spring, the crows don’t hang out in gangs so much. I see them in pairs or in small family groups with talkative youngsters demanding to be fed. I almost never see a crow alone.

Toward the end of March, a mother crow and her fledgling started visiting our bird bath every morning. Mom would bring large pieces of bread — I have no idea from where – and soak them in the bath. The young bird would pace back and forth on the pool railing, calling to her in the unmistakable and completely non-melodious voice of a kid-crow who wants food now. Finally, she’d put some of the softened bread in his beak and they’d fly off, returning to repeat this process two or three times in an hour.

Carl at the Birdbath | Hitchhiking to Heaven

Then the little guy started showing up without his mom. He was quiet and there wasn’t any bread. A young crow normally stays close to its mother for a year or two, so it was clear that something had gone wrong.

I take care of four rescued, domestic pigeons, but I’ve been trained not to foster dependence between me and a creature that can make its own way in the world. It was a torment, though, seeing the crow coming to the pool railing throughout the day, always by himself and without any food.

I called my friend Gina, who is a wildlife-rescue expert, and she helped me devise a crow-support strategy: I started setting out a healthy breakfast first thing every morning. Cracked walnuts (some left in the half shell so he has to work at them), a bit of hardboiled egg, diced apples, maybe some nut butter on little bits of bread. The plan is that eventually, I will taper off — mimicking the way a natural food source might diminish.

A Crow's Breakfast | Hitchhiking to Heaven

There’s Carl with a walnut. He’s shy.

Our hope is that the high-protein meal will give this young bird the start he needs to have a good day. He gets only breakfast from me;  he has to figure out the rest. (It feels like feeding a kid and sending him off to school.) Gina said he may even work out how to share his breakfast, making an offering that could help him gain entry into our local society of crows.

I named the crow Carl. If he turns out to be Carlie or Carlotta, we’ll deal.

It’s clear that Carl is working out the details of his day. He’s very cautious around me, which is fine. (I wonder if, when he sees me taking care of the pigeons, he worries I might try to grab him and put him in a big bird house.) He flies in and out from our property from morning til night, bringing in food from elsewhere or stopping by for a drink. He brings big worms and things that grow on trees. Sometimes he shows up in the evenings with a piece of bread bigger than his head, like his mother taught him before she disappeared. I’m proud of our crow.

Almond Flour Pankcakes | Hitchhiking to Heaven

Not a crow’s breakfast!

This morning, Carl’s breakfast was a few walnuts, shredded bok choy, and a slightly burnt almond flour pancake from my own breakfast. Carl’s favorite days are when I burn the pancakes, because otherwise I tend to hoard them for myself. The leftovers make a good late-day snack for humans. (I drop them into the toaster for a minute to reheat them.) I love this simple recipe for almond flour pancakes. They come out perfect almost every time. Sometimes I add lemon zest or fruit. Lemon-lingonberry was a great idea.

I also tried this recipe, which has excellent flavor — coconut milk, anyone? — but a tendency to burn. (Good news for Carl.) I suspect that’s because it includes honey. When I experimented with adding honey to the first recipe, those pancakes wanted to burn, too. I found a post called Substituting Honey for Sugar in Home Canning, Cooking, Making Jams, Jellies and Baking that mentions how honey makes baked goods brown faster, so there’s corroboration. (It’s a post worth reading if you’re interested in replacing sugar with honey in a variety of contexts.) There’s really no reason these pancakes need to include honey. I’ll leave it out — and I’ll probably still share with Carl.

I’ve started collecting recipes for these kinds of grain-free, sugar-free breakfasts, baked good, and treats on a Pinterest board, if you want to follow along.

Rescued Domestic King Pigeons

Yuzu asks, “How come the crow gets all the pancakes?”

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  • Reply Merrilee April 19, 2013 at 10:22 am

    What a marvelous post, Shae. If I could adopt a bird, it would be the crow. Such smart, funny, imaginative creatures! I’m in love with Carl… and your writing. Most definitely going to add almond pancakes to my breakfast repertoire. Thank you!

    • Reply Shae April 19, 2013 at 1:03 pm

      Thank you, Merrilee! I’ve always wanted a crow friend, too, but it’s okay with me if Carl decides to keep his distance. They’re so darned smart!

  • Reply Merrilee April 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

    P.S. Your photos have a magical, fairy-tale quality. Love them!

    • Reply Shae April 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you for that, also. That’s kind of what I was going for!

  • Reply Wanda Marie April 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Something is very wrong with your pictures, unless you did that on purpose with some kind of silly filter.

    • Reply Shae April 19, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      I’m all about the silly filters. This set of photos is exactly how I want it to be. :-)

  • Reply Dawn April 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Just this evening my husband and I were discussing the crow that visits the rock where we put seed and corn out for . . . well, wildlife in general apparently. Given the timid nature, I tend to think our visitor is young. What it gets at our house isn’t nearly as wonderful as what Carl gets, but I feel honored by the visits. I hope you’ll keep us updated on Carl’s visits!

    • Reply Shae April 24, 2013 at 7:09 am

      Yes, once the seed goes out, it’s for everyone. Carl is now sharing bits of his breakfast with a smart scrub jay and various little birds, but he still gets most of it. He seems to be doing well. My biggest hope is that at some point I will see him with a friend! I’m glad you are enjoying your visiting crow. :-)

  • Reply Leslie D April 20, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Beautiful, visually dreamy post, Shae. Makes me want to befriend a crow – certainly there are occasional burnt pancakes to share! (I’ll be good, though). What a keen observer you are! How fortunate we get to enjoy it.

    • Reply Shae April 24, 2013 at 7:09 am

      Thanks so much, Leslie. Any crow who got pancakes of yours would be lucky indeed!

  • Reply Pat B April 20, 2013 at 9:01 am

    I love your interaction with Carl. The photos are very dreamy and it is good to see the cute pigeons are thriving.

    • Reply Shae April 24, 2013 at 7:11 am

      Nice to hear from you, Pat! The pigeons are all fat and happy and such a pleasure every day.

  • Reply Molly April 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I’m so glad to know that there are people out there caring for baby crows. This post was such a comfort to me after all the bad news lately.

    • Reply Shae April 24, 2013 at 7:13 am

      Thank you, Molly. It’s been a hard time out there lately, hasn’t it? I do find the most comfort in doing what I can to notice and care for what’s close by. Carl helps me as much as I help him, I think.

  • Reply WesternWilson May 11, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Love the dreamy photo filters…how did you work with the image to get this lovely retro feel?
    And good luck to Carl! I have a real fondness for crows.

    • Reply Shae May 11, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Your blog is lovely! I just added it to my feed reader so I can learn more about bees from you. Carl is doing well. Though he’s still in and out from here all day, he has become less reliant on his breakfast — in fact, this morning a blue jay ate a good deal of it — and more integrated in the neighborhood. Just what we hoped for!

      I took most of the photos with my DSLR, then processed them through the Snapseed app on my iPhone. There’s a filter set called “Retrolux” in Snapseed that I really love. It gives you a lot of room to play. The bottom photo — the one of the pigeons — was taking in Hipstamatic. I didn’t manipulate that one too much, because the corrugated plastic of the aviary was already filtering and bending the light in an interesting way. :-)

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