First, one crow landed in the tree above us. We could see it clearly because the tall maple had lost most of its leaves in the wind over the past few days. Then, three more crows landed on branches. They cawed. Loudly. It was so loud that my son and I had to raise our voices to talk to each other while we waited for the school bus.
“Wow,” I said, a little annoyed. “Those crows are noisy.”
I put my hand to my forehead, blocking out the morning light, and looked up at the birds. There was a fifth bird in the tree with a whitish breast. Not a crow. A hawk. A huge hawk.
“Look, Jack,” I said to my 8-year-old, pointing. “The crows are surrounding that hawk.”
I’d been thinking a lot about birds lately, specifically crows, after coincidentally reading a few different books that focused on them. Anne Ursu’s middle grade novel THE LOST GIRL was one: it talked about crows’ intelligence and their ability to remember people. If I hadn’t read that, I’m not sure I would’ve thought right then what I thought, which was this: it seemed like the crows were helping to alert someone — maybe us — to a predator.
Ever since my father died a little over a year ago, I’ve fed the birds at our house. He used to do it at his house, and doing it myself feels like a way to be close to him. So I keep the feeder stocked and the birds get the good birdseed. Sometimes, when I go outside, the birds will swoop near me, and I know it’s their way of telling me the feeder is almost empty. I always fill it up. They’ve gotten so used to me that I can pass within a foot of them sitting on the feeder and they won’t fly away. I talk to them, too.
So this morning, as the hawk sat regally unaffected on its bare branch while the crows hollered around it, I wondered.
The bus pulled up, I kissed Jack, told him I loved him, and he got on. Then I turned and walked to the house. As soon as I opened the door to go in, the crows quieted and, all together, they flew away.
“Huh,” I thought.
Of course I then Googled crows. Crows, and many birds, exhibit what’s called mob behavior, where they mob a larger predator to protect their young. Maybe the crows saw my son’s blond hair, the soft curve of the back of his neck, and the way my hand rested on his shoulder as we walked out to the road. And then maybe they noticed the mighty hawk, staring down at us. And then, maybe, they decided to help out another mother. Me.
Maybe I’m one of the crows now.
It had been so easy for me, at first, to grow annoyed with the crows for their loud cawing interrupting my peaceful morning wait with my son, to be rankled that they were there, and wonder why they couldn’t just fly away to someone else’s lawn. But then I thought about how they and the other birds had accepted me feeding them after my father’s death: me, an interloper hopeful that they might help soften her grief, and to whom the birds eventually gave their trust.
I could be wrong about the crows’ intent, but I don’t think I am. Their timing was unmistakable. Their enveloping wasn’t casual. It was a mutual symbiosis forged by the shared experiences of motherhood and protection and life and death. It’s easy to forget sometimes, how much of life we have in common with every living thing. Even crows.
Vicki Wilson is a freelance writer and children’s book author whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Family Circle, Yahoo!Lifestyle, Writer’s Digest and more. She lives in New York with her husband and son.