Gray Squirrel & Crow
by Sarah Hatfield
The Scene: It is a snow-covered sunny morning, relatively warm given the recent weather. The sky is a cerulean blue and the trees, gray in their winter garb, cast long shadows across the drifts. Breakfast has been set out, a veritable feast of sunflower seeds and corn, and the early birds have arrived. Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and even the Red-bellied Woodpecker have already begun. The Blue Jay mob has arrived and has started devouring the corn on the ground.
Earlier in the morning we had tossed out the corn for the Blue Jays and woodpeckers, we enjoy the scuffles as the jays and woodpeckers vie for the ears. Everyone gets plenty to eat, so it is really a win-win. Red Squirrel hears my footsteps across the crunchy snow and knows that the birdseed has been set out, with a special pile just for him and the entrance to his tunnel. Black Squirrel has just traversed from the board pile to the woods with astonishing leaps.
The Main Characters: Gray Squirrel and Crow.
“Look! Mr. Gray Squirrel is out! What is he doing?”
It looks like he is digging through the snow for something. We figure he must have a cache somewhere down there that he is trying to find. We watch him for a bit, then sip coffee. When we check a few minutes later, he is extracting something from the snow.
“Is that a corn cob?” How did that one escape the hungry beasties? Usually they pick everything clean pretty quick. How did he know it was there?
We grab the binoculars and watch him and sure enough, he pulls a half-eaten corn cob from under the snow. Grasping it in his teeth, he hustles to the nearest tree, a medium-sized maple, awkwardly dragging the corn. Scrambling up the trunk, Crow swoops into the backyard, no doubt making his rounds to the bird feeder. The presence of any large bird makes the squirrels nervous and this time is no different. Gray Squirrel makes a mini leap to the next tree and ascends. Crow dances up the adjacent tree, causing Gray Squirrel to abruptly turn around and head back down. While perching high, Crow surveys the world. Gray Squirrel takes the opportunity to hide the corn cob in the fork of a tree.
As if protecting a treasure, Gray Squirrel quickly looks both ways and scampers away in the opposite direction. Even before he is two trees away, Crow start to dip his wings and drop from the treetops, branch by branch, until he is staring straight and the coveted corn cob. For a different reason, or perhaps the same one, Crow glances one way and then the other, finally determining that it is safe to commit his thievery. With one short flight, he lands on the tree, grab the cob, and takes it to a higher branch.
Triumphant in his theft, he tries to nibble the kernels off the cob, only to find himself dreadfully unstable. He hops, one footed, down the branch until the cob is lodged across a fork. With the added stability he starts to gobble up the corn. Little does he realize that watching him, just as he surveyed Gray Squirrel, is another crow.
With a few mouthfuls down, Crow looks up to see another crow alight in the branches. Desperate to hold onto his loot, he grasps the cob with his foot and takes off into the woods, all the time being shadowed by the other crow.
We watch this drama unfold before us, and are in wonderment at the relationships among the wild things. Everything, from Gray Squirrel knowing that corn cob was down there, to Crow knowing to watch, to other crow knowing to watch him, hints at a deeper level of awareness. The awareness of the world around us is something that most humans lack. Simple observation, noticing details, anticipating an action and one’s reaction to that action are not skills we oft employ nowadays. Which, to be fair, aren’t skills that many of us need. They may be skills we want, however, as they make life so much richer.
I am better, and happier, for the nature drama the occurred outside the window this past weekend. I learned some things, was impressed by things, and had my perspectives shifted a bit. If you take a bit of time, perhaps find a mini nature drama of your own, you too may open a door to that deeper level awareness.
You can always observe and learn at Audubon Nature Center, located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk for hiking and skiing and snowshoeing. The Center resumes normal hours on March 1, open daily from 10:00am until 4:30pm except Sundays when we open at 1:00pm. More information about upcoming events and happenings can be found on our website, jamestownaudubon.org. Call with any questions, (716) 569-2345.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon Nature Center.