Old Jack and the Crow With One Leg
He was a small man, maybe five-foot-two, with oversized glasses from the 1970s, not enough hair to cover a golf ball, a high-pitched voice, and a fashion sense that favored mismatched plaids.
Jack was living proof that looks can be deceiving. He was the kind of guy my uncle Pete would have called a “tough old nutter”; wiry, curious, undaunted.
His career as an engineer took him to many of the danger zones of Africa and the Middle East. His sense of adventure led him to build and pilot his own version of a Cessna airplane. When he retired he researched and built precise replicas of ships he’d read about; he somehow found the original construction plans and scaled them down. No kits for him!
I knew Jack because he lived next to a couple that had let their yard run wild. All the weeds and bushes attracted birds; so Jack decided to feed them. Over the years his feeders attracted more than his fair share of rarities. Whenever he came across a bird he wasn’t sure of, he’d videotape it and phone me. I could never get out of his house very quickly. His tapes were too long and his stories too fascinating.
Jack had feeders of all descriptions: sunflower seeds, peanut butter, millet, sugar water, oranges, bread, you name it. He fed everything from hummingbirds to starlings, orioles to sparrows. But his favorite stash of food he reserved for a crow with only one leg.
That crow returned at about the same time every year, like the swallows to Capistrano and the turkey vultures to Hinkley, Ohio. As soon as the bird got back, he‚d sit on Jack’s picnic table cawing for food. Jack fed him leftover table scraps and dog food. As a special treat, he’d cook up a hot dog and chop it into bite sized bits. If ever there was a symbiotic relationship, this was it.
Jack died last year, and his wife moved into a care home. Their children got rid of the feeders at a garage sale and sold the house. The new owners don’t have any feeders at all, and they’re probably annoyed at the insistent cawing of the one-legged crow in their backyard. I saw him this past week. Somehow he outlived his old pal Jack.