In a Seattle backyard, young Gabi Mann feeds the crows. She feeds them every day at the same time. They repay her kindness in a most extraordinary way. They bring gifts.
That might sounds like a child’s fantasy, but Gabi keeps every gift in a small plastic bag or container. Bits of plastic, beads, water-smoothed stones, earrings, and pieces of coloured glass are all in the collection. Gabi knows the day each gift was left. Between the bird cam that photographs the back yard and her mother Lisa’s photographs, the family has documented everything. One day Lisa lost a lens cap. A crow brought it back and even rinsed it in the bird bath.
Gabi was four when she first dropped a chicken nugget and was enchanted when a crow picked it up. That was 2011. For a long time afterward she shared her lunch with the birds. Her mother was happy to see how much Gabi loved animals so never chided her for giving them food.
By 2013 they had learned what foods were best for the crows and that it was best to feed and water them at a consistent time each day. The birds began rewarding them with gifts. Those small bits of stone, glass and plastic are young Gabi’s most prized possessions. She sees them as gifts of love.
Scientists have long consider crows to be highly intelligent. They are tool-using creatures, as anyone who has watched them use passing cars to crack their nuts knows. They know how to get to the water in a pitcher by dropping pebbles to bring the level higher. They can identify faces and remember good, and bad, treatment by humans. Recently, researchers discovered they can be adept at analogical thinking.
What scientists are discovering through research, the Manns discovered through daily observation. What sets young Gabi apart is the special connection she has formed with the crows in her back yard. She learned early what some never grasp, that our wild relatives are sentient creatures, deserving our love and respect. What the crows learned was that Gabi was a human to be trusted. The gifts are her reward for a big heart.
[Katy Sewall posted pictures of Gabi, Lisa and the crows’ gifts along with the piece she wrote for BBC News Magazine.]