Goodbye, GO

Pinching a peanut shell between my fingers, I pulled my hand out of my pocket and laid the nut on the concrete between us.  GO cocked her head, catching the light on her left cheek and reflecting the deep blues that hid among her inky black feathers.  “Please don’t die before I graduate,” I whispered.  GO stared back at me a moment before galloping forward for her treat and making off.

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Try as I might, I couldn’t will her to understand my foreign tongue anymore than I could will her body to keep working indefinitely.  Today it finally stopped.  Today I say goodbye to my companion.

For those that follow my blog regularly, you’re probably familiar with GO.  Even if you’ve never seen mentions of her, you see her face every time you visit my site; she’s the bird staring back at you from my site’s banner. I first met GO while searching for banded birds to use as subjects in my early funeral experiments.  Her name actually comes from her band combo: Green/Red/Metal x Green/Orange.

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The location of her and her mate’s territory was ideal, and soon I was regularly feeding her as apart of the initial conditioning phase of the experiment.  Like most campus birds, she readily took to feeding and soon enough I could hear the soft rattling of her bands as soon as I approached the food site each day.  After the funeral event though, GO and her mate aggressively avoided the food and I wrapped up the experiment assuming that, like many of my other data points, she would be anxious to never have to see me or my ‘scary’ accomplice ever again.  But a few months later, while waiting for the bus I heard the familiar rattle of her bands and turned to see her looking expectantly down at me from a branch.  I offered her a peanut and she took it without pause.  I never went to the bus stop without a few peanuts in my pocket after that.  It’s been four years since then.

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During the darkest days of writing my last publication I might have visited her 2 or 3 times a day, desperate for someone to shake me out of my writer’s block or my frustration with myself. Hearing her wing beats was like taking a Xanax; it was calming and reminded me why I was working 15 hours a day juggling field work and authorship duties.  I adored her, I wanted to know and understand everything I could about her, and I wanted to be part of the community that was using science to enhance people’s appreciation for corvids.  She wanted peanuts.  I don’t think her side of things was any more complicated than that but that’s never cheapened the relationship for me.   She wasn’t a pet or a human friend dressed in corvid clothing.  She was a wild crow, and it was wondering about how she existed in that wild, urban space that most inspired my work.  Still, I had always hoped GO would somehow be spared from the one thing I wonder about the most: death.

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For all the advances our team has made about the function of crow funerals we know almost nothing about what the birds are really thinking.  Like most other social animals, they do a great variety of things which makes getting at what they are thinking or feeling very difficult.  GO and her mate had presumably been together many years.  It’s hard for me to imagine this is lost on him, but I can’t say for sure.  All I know with certainty is how I feel about her loss and I know the thought of silence in place of the soft rattle of her bands or the whoosh of her wing beats as I approach our spot makes my heart ache.

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GO was at least 16 when she died. In that time she successfully raised many broods, contributed to two scientific publications, and undoubtedly befriended more people than just me. She embodied everything we love about crows: their deft skill at thriving among us, their bold demand of our time and attention, and the way they engender our curiosity and admiration.  She was my data, inspiration, stress relief, and eager companion.  I will never forget what this bird meant to me.  Miss you already my lovely ladybird.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Goodbye, GO

  1. Ah, Kaeli, I’m so sorry to hear this. I know how you’ll miss her. Hopefully she’s now at the Great Crow Valhalla where the peanuts flow freely and the garbage trucks go by spilling treats every day of the week.

  2. kris0723

    I am so sorry Kaeli. What a beautiful tribute honoring your beautiful GO. You, your fellow researchers and professors are so doing much to help others to understand and appreciate these intelligent and often maligned animals. Sending hugs and love.

  3. JENNIFER RUDERMAN

    How beautifully written, thank you for sharing this. My deepest sympathies.

  4. Zoe

    I am so sorry for your loss. It is amazing how much we love and get attached to these beings. Thank you so much for all of your work to enhance our understanding.

  5. Jonah

    I’ve been there. It sounds like she had a great personality and I would have liked to meet her.

  6. Michelle

    I am sorry for your loss Kaeli. Sending you lots of love and comfort. The memories of GO will forever be immortalized in your work and of course, in your heart and our hearts through you. RIP GO… fly free over the rainbow bridge.

  7. Karole

    Dear Kaeli,
    Thank you for your eloquent tribute and beautiful portrait of GO. You and she have brought us closer to a deeper understanding of our favorite birds. Your loving bond with GO will always connect you in this world and the next where you will both have wings.

    He prayeth well who loveth well
    Both man and bird and beast.
    He prayeth best, who loveth best
    All things both great and small;
    For the dear God who loveth us,
    He made and loveth all.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Hugs,

  8. Patti

    So sorry for your loss. Although they are not our pets they are part of our lives. We look forward to seeing them. Please keep us updated of his family.

  9. A Dexter Chapin

    I have been there and feel your loss. You express it better than I ever could. Thank you

  10. A difficult loss. A beautiful tribute. Thank you for writing about these amazing beings.

  11. Amrita Potdar

    Hi, I rescued a baby crow and he/she (Carbon, as we call him) has been living with me for almost 2 months now! He had gotten used to flying around the building and kind of knew his way around. Just last morning, we took him to a friend’s place 2 building’s away. He is familiar with her house and balcony too, but for the first time, he flew out last morning and hasn’t returned! We are very worried and have gone searching for him multiple times since yesterday! We can recognize his crowing (so we think) and seem to hear his call every now and then! However, his usual – fly and perch right on top of our head, hasn’t happened! We call out to him, hoping he will hear us (he recognizes his name and our voices by now), but in vain so far! We are very worried that he does not know this particular surrounding and will not find his way back home!
    Wonder if he can fly just 2 buildings away and recognize his area? Is he intelligent enough to be able to come back to where he flew from? Will he gel and survive with the multiple other crows here? Would he eat and drink on his own? Is he going to be ok?? What can I do to get him back or to try and look for him in the right direction??
    Please give me any tips you can that would help?
    I’m at: amritapotdar@yahoo.com or amritapotdar@gmail.com
    I miss my Carbon SO MUCH!

    • Hi Amrita, I hope in the days that have passed since you posted this you’ve had some luck, I imagine the mystery of it all is very painful! Unfortunately, there’s no advice I can offer. Your crow did exactly what I would think your goal for him (given that it’s a rescue and not a pet) would be: learned to fly and flew away to be a crow. At this stage it can find food on its own, though the harsh reality is that Carbon is at a distinct disadvantage being hand reared by people in the absence of other crows. Carbon’s chances of survival are even smaller than for a regular baby crow and their chances are only 50%. In truth, the majority of crows hand reared by people are quickly killed once they get a little independence. They simply aren’t able to learn the skills they need in the presence of human caretakers. And their comfort around people make them easy prey for assholes. That being said, there are stories of these things turing out just fine. So don’t give up hope that Carbon is alive and well and learning to be a crow from other crows, which is just what it needs in order to live a long life.
      Best wishes for Carbon!

  12. Teri Stewart

    I wanted you to know I attended a crow funeral here in Walla Walla. I wish I had seen your blog 3 years ago. A family of crows nested in a tree near my house. Being a retired QA inspector, I started looking online and decided to befriend, feed, and study the crows in my yard. 2 of the babies bonded to me. They spent the summer in our backyard tree, watching me do yard work and being talked to by me. I guess I babysat them while their parents foraged. I had no idea they would bond. I just had a deep curiosity, and later, love for the crow. Roosting time came and the babies didn’t want to go, even when their dad flew at them. Finally they went to roost for a couple months. Later that year the roost got avian pox (probably from the area’s chickens) and showed up at my house. I contacted a USDA animal health director and he gave me ways to limit their deaths. After that the crows considered me their friend. Lame crows started showing up in our street who weren’t from our neighborhood’s family.
    Anyway, what I wanted to tell you: my crows know their names. They talk to me and they understand many of my repeated phrases.The only way I know which one is my surviving baby crow, is that he clicks and hoo’s when he wants me to know he is near. Another crow I named only squeaks because of the avian pox. One day recently, my crow was talking to me and I asked if “Squeaky” was “OK”, (a word I frequently use). I hadn’t seen her in 2 months. The next day “Squeaky” visited. She landed about 12 feet from me in the street, squeaked for awhile and fed. – More recently, a crow died and was found in my yard. I was so very upset. I called my crow’s name and he flew up into the tree above instantly. I showed him the fallen crow and he started softly talking to me. Meanwhile, the family of about 15 crows landed in a nearby tree. I stood near the dead crow and they talked quietly to (me? each other?). Every once in a while 1 or 2 of them would fly off out of the tree. I said a few things I knew the crows would understand about being smart and brave and then went into the house to cry.
    My husband thought I was crazy about this whole crow endeavor but over the years he is now amazed at how smart and friendly my crows are.

  13. Amy

    Oh wow, this one hurt.

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