Unpredictable weather, lack of time, the expense built into gardening and all its toys – there are enough challenges inherent in gardening to discourage the heartiest of us. Add to this list those uninvited creatures that make our garden their home and we can feel like pulling out every plant we own and installing one big rock garden.
Until about 5 years ago, I was losing an on-going war with a crow family who made their home in my neighbor’s Douglas Fir. This family of three used our garden as their local market, playground, and hardware store. Clever and very creative, these birds figured out how to empty our freshly filled bird feeders of seed in less than a day by using many different methods, including twigs to push out the seeds. More often, though, they would use a tag-team approach. The birds would grasp onto the plastic perches at the base of the feeder and swing it back and forth until the seeds spilled onto the ground. When I installed larger, heavier feeders, one clever crow would perch on the tree limb holding the feeder and lift the feeder with his beak. He would lift and drop it repeatedly, causing the seeds to spill. The other crow would patiently wait on the ground for lunch. This was a slower method but as the birds took turns, it was just as successful.
During the summer they would help themselves to some of our apples, but this resulted in so many apples being knocked off the tree before harvest that our crop was often cut in half.
I reached the “breaking point” one lovely fall morning when I heard our beagle, Pippin, howling and crying. I came around to the front yard and saw him standing at the fence, looking mournfully out onto the street at one of the crows. Have you ever heard a beagle cry? It’s a mournful sound that tugs at the heart. Apparently, crows are immune to it. Anyway, the bird had taken Pippin’s bone and dropped it in the middle of the road. There the crow stood, pecking away at the beloved bone, occasionally looking up at Pippin as if to say, “Get over it, buddy.”
It was at that moment that I decided to win the war. Knowing full well how intelligent and resourceful these birds are, I decided to train them. Over a period of weeks I began putting out food, at the same time and in the same location each day, specifically for the crows. I chased all other birds away. I removed the seed feeders and discouraged them from eating anything else in the garden. Eventually, the crows learned to eat only what I put out for them and to stay away from the apples. Pippin’s bone – that’s a story for another day.
Some surprising benefits have occurred since these remarkable birds claimed our property as their own; we no longer have visits from Starlings who used to decimate our blue berry crop in a morning. I am alerted, loudly and dramatically, when the Heron stops by to visit our pond. No more disappearing fish! The neighbor cats that prey upon the small, native birds living on the seeds in our garden are quickly and efficiently chased away; and I always know when the Coopers Hawk swoops through the garden by the sudden silence – the only time the crows stop talking.
In this war, everyone wins.