May 1, 2016.
This morning I saw a sparrow being attacked by a pack of crows. It was an unfair fight. The sparrow kept struggling up, struggling to stand his ground, while the crows kept swooping in to pick and bitch at him, one & two at a time. He didn't really try to defend himself, and I'd say he was as shocked as I was. His posture & movements seemed to say, You can't mean to do this, can you? He was as baffled as I was, I'm sure.
I'd never seen a skirmish like this between the birds of the neighborhood. Sure, if there was food in the street (a rare happening, as we have regular weekly street cleaners here in my suburban village) there might be a couple of birds that tried to steal it from each other, though never as violently. But there was no dropped food or any other obvious cause for the conflict I witnessed. It's hard to imagine what could drive a half dozen or more big crows to beat up a little sparrow on a sunny Sunday morning. They were so cruel to him, a robin actually came over to help, strafing the crows as they hit the poor little guy, then taking care to fly away fast after each run. He was still taking a chance, and he knew it, but he couldn't do much against so many, brave as he was.
My ragamuffin cat & I watched from the window, horrified and fascinated (it all happened very quickly) and then suddenly the sparrow was down, and not getting up. On his back, eyes closed as far as I could tell, and not moving. His attackers noticed, too. After a last peck at his silent form, the whole gang of crows took off, while I ran to find a box and a small towel. I intended to try to revive the bird, if possible, or at least keep him safe & warm in his last moments. I hoped it wouldn't come to that.
In a minute I had dressed & found what I needed. I hurried out to do what I could, wishing I had been fast enough to rescue the sparrow before he got seriously hurt. It was early, not yet 7am, and I had been barely awake when the birdfight began; I'd only come out to the front window to say Good Morning to the cat before making some coffee. Now I was going to the front lines to tend the wounded, sans my daily caffeine ration.
Outside it was cool, and quiet, now the combatants had fled the scene. My hands were trembling as I walked across the street to where the sparrow had fallen-- I was not simpatico with birds, generally. I found them interesting, but they found me scary, probably because I spent a lot of time with cats, and had the smell of cat fur on me. Thus I had some trepidation about getting the bird into the box, if it was still alive, but that didn't matter. He needed help, and I was the only witness able to respond.
When I reached the battleground, I was surprised: the downed sparrow had gone, whether flown away or carried off, I couldn't tell. Not a trace of discord remained, & there was nothing to show what had occurred moments earlier-- not a spot of blood nor a dropped feather. I hunted around to be sure the poor creature hadn't merely crawled under a bush to die, but no; he was gone, the brave robin was gone, and all was now as peaceful as a spring Sunday ought to be. I was relieved, but a touch worried over the circumstance of the sparrow's disappearance, and wishing I had been awake enough to do more. I tried to take comfort from a thought that the bird had only been stunned, then recovered.
Soon my neighbors would wake and begin their weekend rituals of yard work & dog-walking. The sun would warm up our lawns, and my cat would shift his attention to the back window to watch the usual rabbit action on display there. No one would know about the strange little war I'd been privy to, or my ineffectual attempt to participate. I slipped into my morning routine again without much effort, but as I sipped fresh coffee and watched my cat watching the backyard, I wondered, over & over: what was the war about between the crows & sparrow?