Siblings used to hunt for magpie, crow’s eggs

From our January 2013 issue

By Irene ToverudViking, Alta.

I watched a battle between a crow and a flock of blackbirds. Whether the crow was searching for a place to build a nest or just passing through, I don’t know, but the blackbirds nesting in my ornamental apple tree outside my sink window were making sure that he didn’t stay around.

They came at the poor crow like dive bombers. It was most interesting to watch him swerving up and down cawing a weird strangulated sound, like he was being choked as he hurriedly made his escape.

This took me back to my childhood days in the late 1920s, when my brother Jim and sister Anne and I used to go hunting for crows and magpies eggs.

As most older people in the country will remember, the eggs when taken to school for the teacher to count and dispose of, were worth 1¢ each through the school board or government. This was the case too, for gopher tails.

They were probably several days old when brought to school in closed cans. I rather suspect the teacher didn’t bother to open them up. She probably took the childs’ word for it.

The raucous was almost frightening as crows

There were a lot of trees on farms back then and though we thought we walked miles looking for crows eggs, it probably was in the pasture adjacent to the farmyard. It didn’t matter, we were anxious to make some money.

Armed with an empty lard pail, a length of binder twine, and a jar of water should we get thirsty, off we went to make our fortune. I’ll never forget the same battle of birds as brother Jim climbed a tree to steal the eggs from a crow’s nest. The raucous was almost frightening as crows, whose allies were blackbirds and robins banding together to fight off a common enemy.

It was fortunate we wore hats as it was a hot day, because the dive bombing like I recently saw, did hit their targets that day. As Jim reached in the nest to retrieve the eggs, the onslaught became more fierce but to no avail. He managed to carefully put the eggs in the pail and lower it, tied to the twine to our waiting upstretched hands below.

We found several nests that day. It seemed that the innards of the eggs had to be blown out before they were taken to school. Our poor mother was given that job.

The modern day blackbirds, now the rulers of my yard, were themselves invaders that chased out the robins that I used to enjoy watching as I looked out my sink window to see them building their nest in the apple tree. The female robin is still very persistent every spring as she takes a look at the tree but to no avail.

With the scarcity of trees out in the countryside now, due to modern day farming practices, drought conditions, and caterpillars over the years, and the growing number of hawks as their enemies, crows are finding it more difficult to build nests. Many are now making homes in the big spruce trees, especially on the north side of town.

They are said to be one of the most intelligent birds in the bird kingdom. I saw an example of this about four years ago, while visiting friends over on the north side.

The man of the house threw out a slice of bread to a crow. We watched it pick up the bread in its beak, walk over to a puddle in the street, and dunk it in the water and then proceed to eat it. Talk about dunking doughnuts! Maybe we learned it from the crows.