Birds in the News

Seattle Girl Befriends Neighborhood Crows, Making Bird Lovers Everywhere Jealous

In return for food, Gabi Mann gets some bizarre gifts from her feathered allies.

What if we could be friends with wild birds? Seattle-native Gabi Mann seems to have achieved that goal with one of the smartest species on the planet: the American Crow. Never mind that she’s only 8-years old. This imaginative kid has a unique relationship with her neighborhood corvids, as told in a story by the BBC News Magazine.

It all started two years ago, when Gabi began feeding local flocks of crows. At first it was haphazard—a dropped chicken nugget here, a crumb from a sandwich there. But the crows took notice, and soon enough Gabi’s hospitality went from being accidental to intentional. These days, Gabi’s crows perch nearby whenever she’s outside, hoping for a feast or even just a morsel. But the spirit of giving inhabits both the girl and the beast. Soon enough, the crows were showering Gabi with all sorts of loot.

Every day, Gabi leaves out food (mostly peanuts, which are a big hit) in the backyard for her groupies. In return, they leave her gifts—shiny baubles like polished sea-glass, and odder trinkets, like a rusty screw or tube of chapstick. In what could have been a coincidence or a lovely curiosity, the crows promptly returned a lens cap that Gabi had lost while taking some photographs (of a bird, naturally) in an alleyway. And so the plot thickened.

Crows, and all other members of the corvid family (which also includes jays, magpies, and ravens), are renowned for their intelligence. They’re known to be prodigious tool-users, and are more adept with tools than all other animals short of the great apes. Even their social behavior mirrors ours in some ways; they’ve been observed performing funeral rites for their deceased members of their murder (it’s the name for a group of crows—not sinister at all!).

Gift-giving isn’t uncommon among crows; John Marzluff, a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington who studies the relationship between crows and people, said in an interview with the BBC, “I can't say they always will [give presents], but I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people." (Dead birds are one grisly example.) Sometimes those gifts aren’t entirely welcome: Gabi’s mother once had to throw out a rotting crab claw that the crows had so lovingly bestowed upon her daughter. But Gabi doesn’t seem to be perturbed by the oddities she receives; she keeps all her gifts carefully labeled and stored, treasuring them like precious jewels. "You may take a few close looks," she said to the BBC reporter, "but don't touch."