A Crow Named Charlie
Copyright 2021 by Shreya Jha
2021 Animal Story Contest Runner-Up
Indian House Crow - Photo by Simran deep Singh on Unsplash
there is no purer love than that between man and animal. This is a
story of my reluctant friendship with a wild crow who taught me about
love, resilience and living free.
for Abtoss, B for Bulbul, C for Crow.’
learnt to recite the alphabet with the names of birds. Abtoss was my
baby word for Albatross, not the easiest word for a child to
pronounce. I’m not sure if this is a true recollection or a
figment of my memory. Probably the latter. It is a fact though, that
birds have been part of my life from almost the beginning.
was five years old when my father, a new birder those days, started
taking me along with him on his weekend birdwatching jaunts. We would
wake up early on Sunday mornings and walk to birding spots around our
house – a lake across the railway tracks from where we lived or
sometimes a small wooded area close by.
a child, I loved the bright and colourful birds – sunbirds,
bee-eaters, kingfishers; and ignored the common ones –
sparrows, pigeons, crows. I especially didn’t care for crows.
I found them ordinary, ugly and loud. There’s nothing special
about them. Or so I thought, till I got seduced by one almost four
the summer of 2019, my life was going through an upheaval. I had quit
my lucrative corporate career to try something of my own and was
working out of the bedroom of my house. I was dealing with what could
only be called a mid-life crisis and the inevitable solitude of the
romanticized entrepreneur’s life.
days were spent working at my desk, which is next to a large window
of my fifth-floor apartment. The window overlooks the top of a huge
Persian silk tree, and in the month of July that year, the tree was
in full bloom, attracting colourful butterflies and several city
birds. I loved that view from the window until a crow started
seemed like the crow came into my life and on to my window out of
nowhere. One day I had a view of a canopy of pink flowers and
multi-coloured butterflies, and the next day I had a big lump of a
crow staring at me. It would come every morning and sit right in
front of me, across the window glass and watch me – sometimes
in silence and sometimes letting out a few caws. I ignored it for
several days till my mother who was visiting me at that time urged
me, ‘Feed the poor thing’.
there’s one thing that you take out of this story, it is this –
no crow is a ‘poor thing’. Crows are the smartest,
wiliest and sassiest of all birds.
I agreed reluctantly. ‘Maybe it just wants food and will go
away once fed.’
the crow did want food but no, it didn’t go away. If anything,
it seemed to think that we were friends now and started spending even
more time hanging out with me.
on your own is not easy, and I
struggling with loneliness. I missed the energy of an office –
the sounds of people talking, phones ringing, printers buzzing,
eating lunch with colleagues who became friends. The crow’s
companionship was comforting, and I grew to look forward to it every
the first few weeks of feeding the crow, I noticed it always came
with a partner. Were they together? Curious, I Googled. I was
surprised to learn that crows tend to mate for life. Surely, that’s
one up on humans. Observing the two crows over time, I came to the
conclusion that my crow was a male. He was larger and more dominant
than his partner. He always ate first, and would often feed his
partner beak-to-beak – an interesting and curious aspect about
crows. Males feed females, especially closer to breeding season, to
show that they are good providers. It’s part of their
pair-bonding ritual. The more I observed these two, the more I got
drawn into their world.
the next couple of months, we fell into a comfortable routine. They
had their own water and food bowls, which were kept on the window
box-grill for their convenience. I learnt what food they liked and
what they hated. Who would have known that crows would be fussy about
food? They came to feed several times a day, but Crow continued to
spend time hanging around with me even after he’d eaten.
continued to refer to the crow as ‘Crow’. I had not named
him. He was a wild crow after all, and came and went as he liked.
Giving him a name felt like I was trying to domesticate him. Though
if I were honest with myself, I didn’t want to name him or his
partner because I thought it would seal our bond, and I did not want
to get attached to them. Besides, the cat was called ‘Cat’
in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so Crow was a good enough name for a
my aunt came to visit me in October that year and heard my ‘Crow’
logic, she told me to snap out of my denial. I was already deep into
a relationship with the crow whether I liked it or not. We’d
been ‘friends’ for more than three months, I realised. I
gave in and allowed my aunt to christen the crow and his partner. She
named them Charlie and Chelsea.
days increasingly started revolving around Charlie and Chelsea. My
work was punctuated with sweet moments of interaction with the two
crows. I was fascinated with them and their intelligence, especially
Charlie. Like a new parent, I was constantly taking pictures and
videos of them that I loved sharing with my family and friends. In
the evenings they would leave to roost with other crows, and I would
wait eagerly for them to come back the next morning.
know the feeling when everything seems right with the world? The
skies are bluer, the sun is shinier and you are friends with the most
delightful crow couple. If this were a movie, this is the cue for
something to go wrong. This was not a movie. It was real life. And
yet, something did go terribly wrong.
16th November 2019, I found Charlie sitting still on my window. He
wasn’t moving. I thought he was sleeping or just relaxing,
waiting for me. I slid open the window gently, and he hopped and fell
on to a pot kept in the window box-grill. I knew immediately that
something was wrong, and then I noticed his leg was bleeding.
a fool, I panicked and reached out to comfort him. He moved away in
fear. I could see his leg better now. It seemed broken and he was
clearly in tremendous pain. Instinctively, I reached out again which
I shouldn’t have because this time he jumped off the window box
and landed on a branch of the tree a few feet away. He was close but
unreachable now, separated from me by the window grill.
sat there on the branch with his right wing open. I couldn’t
make out if he had hurt his wing, but why else would he keep it open?
Worried, I sat at the window and repeatedly called out to him but he
wasn’t moving and his eyes seemed vacant.
sat like that for ten minutes, maybe longer. Chelsea was sitting
close by and cawing away, agitated. The tree was becoming noisier as
other crows started gathering around Charlie. Maybe I should call a
vet, I thought. But before I could do anything, the attack began.
happened so suddenly and unexpectedly. Some of the assembled crows
started cawing and flying into Charlie, and striking him. It was a
frightening experience, and it is hard to relive it even now. It went
on for seconds but felt like an eternity. I remember screaming and
crying with fear and helplessness. Chelsea was screeching and
wagging her tail furiously. Later, I would read about it and learn
that crows wag their tails when they’re frightened or excited.
The attack continued and Charlie fell through the branches, down the
tree and I could no longer see him. The crows dispersed as fast as
they’d appeared. Chelsea flew off as well. I was still shaking
and crying as I tried to spot Charlie on the ground, but he was
nowhere to be seen.
sun was setting as I finally calmed down, and all the crows were
leaving to roost. I couldn’t wait till the next day. I had to
do something, speak to someone who could help. We don’t have an
animal and bird rescue body in my city. A veterinarian would be my
was a Saturday evening and almost no one was available. If they were,
they didn’t treat birds. If they did treat birds, the minute I
said ‘crow’ the vets refused to engage. Crows are so
common here in the city, they’re considered pests. No one is
interested in saving one crow. I finally found a vet who took my
call. She was kind and patient with me, and I was grateful to talk to
someone about what had happened.
can try to catch him with a towel gently and bring him to me,’
she said. ‘It’s always a risk as you may end up
traumatising and hurting him even more by grabbing him,’ she
don’t know if he’s alive,’ I replied, finally
stating my fear aloud.
have to wait and watch. If he survived the attack but his wings are
hurt, the chances of him surviving are unlikely’ the vet said
didn’t know what to say. I thanked her and told her I would get
back. I never did.
spent the rest of the evening browsing through Charlie’s
pictures and videos on my phone. I should have never named him, I
thought for a second. No, I was glad he’d been named. The least
his memory deserves is a name. He’s going to make it, I told
myself over and over again. Charlie is going to make it.
next day I waited anxiously. The whole day went by and there was no
sign of either Charlie or Chelsea. And then, I spotted Charlie
mid-afternoon. He was alive! He flew and sat on the tree at a
distance without approaching me. Chelsea came to the window to take
some food from me, and then fed him. His wing must be okay, I thought
remembering the vet’s words. Charlie will be okay, I thought
letting relief set in.
then the crows attacked again. It was a repeat of the previous
evening. Half a dozen crows dived at Charlie, as others sat around on
the branches of the tree watching and cawing, as if cheering them on.
Chelsea was squawking away again, but there wasn’t anything she
could do. I stood watching the scene unfold, helplessly. There wasn’t
anything I could do either. Charlie disappeared from my view amid a
flurry of wings. I couldn’t see if he had made it, but this
time I knew he had.
night I read about crows attacking crows. Often it’s a fight
for territory. Sometimes, as it was perhaps in this case, crows band
together to kill a fellow crow if it is weak or dying. Either as an
act of mercy or to eliminate an injured bird that could attract
predators and pose a threat to the rest of the crows.
wasn’t going to let go without a fight. I remembered his
patient determination when he wooed me – sitting on my window
day after day waiting for me to finally feed him. Charlie is not one
to give up easily, and he didn’t. He survived the second night
as well. I saw him the next afternoon, again sitting on the tree
close to my window. Chelsea continued to feed him as he recuperated
over the next few days.
days after his injury he finally came up to the window. His right leg
was broken and hanging. He tried to stand on his left leg, but the
leg was not yet strong enough to take his weight. So he sat down on
his tummy and cawed for food. As Charlie ate from my hand, I cried
tears of joy this time and thanked him for not dying. To my
amazement, he took food from me and fed Chelsea who was sitting next
to him. He was not going to let an injury hold him back. I knew then
that Charlie was going to be alright.
the next few months Charlie healed slowly. In the beginning, he would
often sit on his tummy, unable to put pressure even on his good leg.
With time his left leg became stronger and he was a happy
single-legged crow. Surprisingly, his injured leg also healed over
time and he is now able to stand on it comfortably. His leg healed in
a strange crooked way, perhaps representative of life that is twisted
and yet so beautiful.
two years have gone by and Charlie and Chelsea continue to come to my
window every day. Six months after Charlie’s injury, they
nested and had a family. Life does indeed go on.
say if you love something set it free, and if it comes back it’s
yours. Every morning that Charlie comes back, I am reminded that he
loves me. Set it free
they say, but they
never tell you how
hard it is to love
somebody who is free. How terrifying it is to see
him leave every time knowing that he may never come back.
the traumatic incident, I started preparing myself mentally for the
day when Charlie finally won’t come. Yet, every morning I wait
anxiously for him to appear and I’m always elated to see him.
and I now live from one day to the next. He taught me that. To live
and love in the moment, be fierce and a fighter, survive and thrive
no matter what.
am a brand
marketing and communications professional. I love travelling and
seeing new places. I've visited 28 countries and I lived in
Iraq as a child and Barcelona as a Masters student. I currently
reside and work in Mumbai, India.
The favourite part of my day is spending time with Charlie and other
wild crows, and I share their pictures and videos
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher