Covid the Corvid – Free as a bird

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Covid the Corvid - Free as a bird
Covid the Corvid was unofficially adopted by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and quickly made friends with neighbors in Point Richmond.

This story was originally posted in Mayor Tom Butt’s e-mail forum.

By Mayor Tom Butt

On April 29, 2020, a former member of my mayoral staff texted me, “Hi Tom! I found a little fledgling crow and I know you are the crow whisperer.” She had remembered me telling about having crows as a kid.

I told her to bring it on over, but I neglected to tell or even consult with Shirley, who was not at first thrilled, texting our daughter-in-law, “ As if we didn’t have enough going on here, Tom told _______ to bring him the baby crow she found!” “As I expected, Tom said ‘yes.’ He plans to feed it every half hour until bedtime!”

Conventional wisdom is that when you find a baby bird on the ground, especially a crow, the best practice is to leave it there, and its parents will take care of it. In this case, it was too late. No parents were around, and the bird had already been spirited away. Because of the onset of COVID-19 in March, local wildlife rehabilitation agencies were overwhelmed. There was no choice; I couldn’t just let him die.

I said I would take care of him (not knowing the gender, we referred to it as “him.” He appeared to be maybe a couple of weeks old, if that. He was totally helpless but ravenously hungry.

We named him Covid (the Corvid).

By the way, don’t try this at home. There are several amazing wildlife rehabilitation organizations in the Bay Area that can provide proper care for a fledgling or injured bird. Lindsay Wildlife in Walnut Creek and WildCare in San Rafael are stupendous organizations. Even further afield are the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa and the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose. International Bird Rescue specializes in aquatic birds. 

From the beginning, as soon as he was physically able, Covid was a free bird, coming and going as he pleased. Based on my previous experience, I knew a crow could not be a pet. He was just visiting. Eventually, he would fly away to join his wild brothers and sisters.

Following are a lot of photos of Covid growing up. For the movie on YouTube, go to https://youtu.be/fsOb6Mhpxlo.

Figure 1 – Covid the day he arrived on April 29, 2020. This is the same bicycle basket in Figure 22.

I had raised three baby crows when I was a kid in the 5th and 6th grade in Arkansas and pretty much knew what to do and what to expect. Back then, our crows hung around all summer and then joined up with the wild crows about the time school started in the fall. We never confined them; they were free to fly. See What Kind of Pets Did You Have as a Kid? March 5, 2017.

Figure 2 – My brother Martin with the crow “Satan” about 1956 in Arkansas

Baby crows need to be fed about every 20 minutes, from dawn to dusk. If it weren’t for COVID19 and sheltering in place, we could not have done it. We named him/her Covid (the Corvid), and his/her first home outside his nest was a cardboard box with a nest of dry grass. (For convenience, I will use the male gender from now on). He was always hungry, and we fed him a mixture of organic chicken and vegetable canned dog food, oatmeal, cornmeal, fruit and egg yolks. At each feeding, the food went in one end, and the poop went out the other. By instinct he knew to back up with his tail over the outside of the nest so as not to foul it with poop.

Figure 3 – Covid ready to eat!
Figure 4 – Covid enjoying a little sunshine

In a few days, Covid was hopping out of the box, so I moved him to larger quarters where he had room to exercise and eventually learn to fly. On May 14, 2020, Covid became airborne, making his first short flight. From then on, he was a free crow.

At first, our dogs were super excited about him and wanted to nose and lick him, but after a while they settled down. As Covid grew older. He began taunting the dogs, especially Libby. He would land on their backs, which freaked them out. He would bite their tails and then jump or fly away. If they were running, he would fly along a few inches above them.

When they got too close, he would open his mouth wide to look scary and squawk at them.

Figure 5 – Rosie, keeping a close eye on Covid
Figure 6 – A classic threesome!
Figure 7 – Throughout the summer of COVID-19 (not to be confused with Covid!) we had lunch every day on the patio. Before he could perch and fly, Covid joined us in this small enclosure, and Rosie kept him company.
Figure 8 – Covid taking a nap.
Figure 9 – Mama, I’m hungry!
Figure 10 – Covid on my knee
Figure 11 – Like a cormorant, Covid would spread his wings and lie in the sun
Figure 12- Covid sunbathing
Figure 13 – Whatever you were eating or drinking, Covid wanted some. He liked a sip of Sauvignon Blanc.
Figure 14 – A friend brought us a bottle of Singing Crow Vineyards Pinot Grigio.
Figure 15 – Covid was fascinated by computers. Unfortunately, while I was not around, he totally dismantled my laptop. We tried to reassemble the keyboard, but it was like Humpty Dumpty. There were so many small pieces, and some were even lost. Fortunately, it was old and no longer supported, so he actually did me a favor. I bought a new one, but I never left it open.

In early July, Covid, started wandering. He would leave for a few hours in the morning, join us for lunch and a nap, and head back out in the afternoon, always returning before dark. At first, we got reports of visits from neighbors. Then, he made appearances at Keller’s Beach and the Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline Trails. One day, I was out in Miller Knox with the dogs, and Covid flew right up to me and followed me home.

A few days later, I saw a crow following and harassing two turkey vultures in flight. Not even knowing it was him, I called out “Covid,” and he peeled off and flew down to me.

He kept ranging farther and farther. He was spotted at Marina Bay and Point San Pablo Harbor. My son, Andrew, drove him home once from the Richmond Yacht Club.

We continued to feed him. His favorite foods were dog kibbles, chicken, fish, peanuts and pistachios. Whatever you were eating, he wanted some. He stole bacon out of BLTs as well as a whole piece of bread. He was also learning how to be a crow. He caught and ate insects and devoured fruit right off the tree.

Covid loved to find and hide small things. We are still finding pencils, pens and toothbrushes in unlikely places. He has flown away with more than one pair of glasses.

He stashed a pen in my printer that disabled it until I found and removed it. He did the same thing with my chinsaw.

Figure 16 – Covid’s favorite indoor perches were lampshades. We put towels over them to protect them from poop.
Figure 17 – I took this on September 3, the last time Covid spent the night with us. He is on his favorite lampshade.
Figure 18 -The last time we saw Covid was Saturday morning, September 5. After being gone all night, he pecked on our bedroom window about 7:00 AM. We let him in, and he did hos normal morning thing. Preened for a while, taunted the dogs and took a shower with me. He spent some time on the computer, and while the dogs were having breakfast, he flew away for the last time. This was his way of saying “goodbye.”
Figure 19 – Covis knew how to turn the printer on and off. He liked the buzzing and whirring sounds it made as it cycled on and off.

As Covid matured, he started spending more and more time away. Reports of his travels came in on Facebook and Nextdoor, some copied below:

  • July 12: I also got pecked/dive bombed by a crow on Keller beach a few days ago. It happened to another woman right after. Freaked me out!
  • July 12: We had a crow interaction a few days ago too. My daughters (6 and 3yrs) and I were walking near Keller beach. we sat at a bench to have a snack. A crow landed on the backside of our bench and lightly cawed ( as of truly trying to say something directly to us very gently)at us. We thought it cute (and VERY random)then offered a nibble of our snack. he took it and flew a few feet away to enjoy. later as we got up to walk away he(she?) was kind of hopping along side my 3 year old and then as if out of nowhere hovered over her head and PECKED AT HER ! We shoed him away but it was so interesting. It wasn’t an aggressive peck but scared her(us!) nonetheless. We wonder if maybe it was a tactic to get her to drop food. (She didn’t have any) anyway..I enjoyed your crow story and have found myself really curious of these feathers creatures.
  • July 12: Handsome young crow. Something sort of magical has been happening starting yesterday when I was working in the garden. This crow flew up and landed on a railing just a few feet from where I was working. He cocked his head and looked at me as I approached him, and cocked it the other way when I started talking to him. I held out my hand, and he approached, as if looking for a treat. I withdrew, thinking he might peck me, and went inside, as it was time to make dinner. Today I returned to the garden, having put some dog biscuit crumbs in my pocket in case he turned up again. As I was pulling weeds, something large and dark swooped past. I looked around, and saw nothing. On a hunch, I called out “Crow, Crow, was that you?” A moment later I turned around, and there he was, perched on a branch, right beside me. This time I was prepared, fished a piece of biscuit out of my pocket, and offered it to him. Without hesitation he advanced and plucked it carefully from my hand. He worked on it for a few minutes, and returned for more. When no more was forthcoming, he turned his attention to the hose, which was emitting a trickle of water. He drank, stopping only to adjust the position of the hose slightly, and then turned his attention to the puddle it was creating. When I moved to a different part of the yard, he followed me, supervising the process of feeding the fish in our pond. He likes to be talked to. Does anybody know this bird? I’m referring to “it” as “he”, as he seemed boyish to me, but I suppose “he” could be “she”. I live on Crest near the park gate.

Figure 20 – July 24:-  “Tool Use” by Covid (the corvid) Crow. Here are the video highlights of my unusual experience of 3 sessions with the bird over 2 days: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzIo15zDSEk This friendly wild, yet somewhat tame, young crow has been making rounds in Pt. Richmond. Does anyone know it’s backstory? Was it a rescue? An escaped pet? Or maybe just a smart bird that found a new method of tool use to get fed! It worked on me!
  • July 24: He was trying to peck his way into my kitchen though the window screen on Monday! Scared the daylights out of me when I closed the pantry door and was face to beak with a crow. I was afraid to go in the backyard; I learned that lesson from tippi hedren, haha. I’m glad he was just being friendly.
  • July 25: my family and I may have met the same crow at Miller Knox one week ago. He alighted near my son who was picking black berries. My son was able to hand feed it. Eventually everyone in the family hand fed the little guy- I managed to gently pet its head!
  • Figure 21 – July 25 : July 25: my family and I may have met the same crow at Miller Knox one week ago. He alighted near my son who was picking black berries. My son was able to hand feed it. Eventually everyone in the family hand fed the little guy- I managed to gently pet its head!
Figure 22- July 27. Covid lands on bicycle of woman who originally found him
  • July 26: This crow followed me along the road and seemed to want company or someone to play with.
  • July 30: Covid visited me on Tuesday – I hear him/her vocalizing and all the other birds in the vicinity going mad – s/he came to the front door, but i wanted to give a treat so went through to the back – Covid flew along the side of the house and met me at the back door for a bite or two of apple. S/he is Very confiding – will let you touch her feet, head and back. I am sooo hoping some evil person doesn’t just grab her. 🙁
  • August 18: We have a picnic with friends weekly over here in Brickyard, and he hangs out with us
Figure 23 – August 18 -He’s my new buddy!

  • Undated: Here we are – me and Covid.  He enjoyed a cracker on the deck and then returned to finish it and for dessert had some cat food.
  • August 18: Was honored to have him join me in back yard on Sunday morning – looking forward to his/her return.
  • August 18: He comes by quite frequently for dinner. On Sunday he ate corn on the cob, tomato chips and Jesse’s cell phone.
  • August 18: Covid visited Sunday morning 8/16 while some small child neighbors were walking by – s/he seems to like to swoop by the heads of the little ones. S/he then proceeded to pick at the gravel covering my lot to sort out the red pebbles and drop them into the mesh cup holder on a camp chair. Half an hour later at the plunge tennis courts she swooped on me and landed on my hand on her way by, then proceeded to harass two ladies trying to play tennis by rooting around in their purses. It was hilarious. I let them know s/he was friendly and that they should try to make their purses inaccessible so their keys didn’t get stolen…
  • August 19: Oh, that was Covid! He followed me last week when I was picking up trash around one of the Ferry Point trash cans. He kept nipping at my stick. When I lay the stick down he pulled it away from me. When no food was forthcoming, he flew to other pastures. Probably the Butt home!
Figure 24 – August 27 -We haven’t seen him down by Miller Knox in a couple of weeks. Hope he makes his way back. We miss him! I think it’s unfortunate that you’ve named him/her Covid. He’s such a sweetie, unlike the virus.
  • August 27: He let my 2 older kids pet him then when my 3 year old tried, he bit his finger. Fearless crow!
  • August 27: He visited me on my large deck at Brickyard Landing. Such a friendly bird!
  • August 28: Covid was tapping on my skylight trying to get my attention the other day.
  • August 29: It must be the same one that stole my wife’s Eskimo Pie in New Delhi. Last weekend on the marina at Lara’s a young lady at the outside table adjacent to the one my daughter and I were occupying was commenting to her friend how friendly the crow perched on the edge of their table was. WHOOPS “I don’t believe it! That bird just flew off with a piece of my fish!” And it came back for seconds. The lady was prepared this time and scared it away with her jacket. BAD mistake. Corvids remember faces.

Figure 25 – September 2 at Point San Pablo Harbor
Figure 26 – July 30, S/he visited me the other morning, too. Sat on my hummingbird feeder pole and stared at me through the kitchen window. I walked over to the back door with some peanuts and cherries. I could feel wings as s/he over my head to the rail. And when given a choice, Covid prefers peanuts.

I believe Covid’s brief visit of the morning of September 5 was his/her way of saying a final “goodbye.” He had graduated from crow high school and was off to college. Like any parents, we were sad to see him go but proud that he had grown up strong and smart, able to forage on his own. I believe that he joined the wild crows of Richmond and perhaps found a true love. Crows are monogamous, and I hope that he/she and his/her forever sweetheart start a crow dynasty. I hope that the family might come to visit us next spring for old times’ sake, but I’m not counting on it. Covid has moved on, and I wish him a good life.

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