CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A bird turned the tables on our family over Thanksgiving weekend. But it wasn't a turkey. It was a crow.
A thieving, smart-aleck crow. Clever enough to wait until we were distracted -- dining on its chubby, fine-tasting cousin -- to attack our cars, stealing the blades from the windshield wipers. The bird made off with both sets of blades from my parent's van and my brother's car, but either took pity on our sad, old station wagon or, more likely, found our blades too tough or dry rotted to suit whatever purpose it had in mind for its loot.
Considering that my parents live on a ridge in Red House, a good distance from the nearest neighbors, there was initially some confusion over who vandalized the vehicles. It might've been difficult to determine guilt had the culprit not added insult to injury by leaving a good bit of bird-produced graffiti all over the hood of the cars.
The next day, my brother went out and purchased new wiper blades so he wouldn't have to stop on his way back home to Ohio. But early the next morning, the thieving crow struck again.
That bird apparently waited patiently, watching over the car until new blades were installed and the people had gone back into the house before swooping down. In other words, caw-waiting.
Curious as to whether Red House had an oddly delinquent crow or if this was normal crow behavior, I went online to research. The first article the search turned up was by Henry Fountain in The New York Times. Fountain called crows "tough birds," mentioning their taste for road kill, dining on trash and vandalizing cars. ("Crows have been known to rip the blades off windshield wipers.")
Although the article didn't elaborate on the vandalism, it detailed a study done by researchers at the University of Washington that revealed crows that steal from relatives tend to do so in a gentler fashion than when stealing from nonrelatives. What the article failed to mention was the more curious detail -- how the researchers knew which crows were related.
Another site, operated by Kevin McGowan from Cornell's Laboratory of Ornithology, answered questions about crows submitted by the public. One of those questions was about a pair of crows removing wiper blades from vehicles.