The across-the-street neighbor before this one sometimes worked in Mendocino County, on the house of a couple who owned a winery. He did finish carpentry for them. On the property was a large barn that housed three barn cats.
During the Camp Road firestorm, the couple lost some outbuildings, and part of their house was damaged. They stopped the improvements and planned to move away from the property. They made no plans for the barn cats. Neighbor had befriended one of them and he adopted her.
Barn Cat was a small cat, with greenish eyes and short hair with tabby markings. She had a slender body and long legs for her size. She adapted quickly to their house and yard, and to my surprise, mostly stayed in their yard, unlike Neighbor’s cute little dog Lola, who delighted in bolting across the street, yapping gleefully, every time she got out of the yard, regardless of whether a car was coming.
Barn Cat was a powerful hunter. Neighbor had a lot of pride in her for that. One time, when I led Lola back across the street to doggie-jail, we got to talking. Barn Cat sat near his feet, her tail curled around her paws. “She’s fierce,” Neighbor said. “She killed a crow the other day.”
“I, she, what?” I love crows, but my reaction wasn’t caused by favoritism. Circle of life, nature red in tooth and claw, yada-yada-yada. I just didn’t believe it. Crows are nervy birds and Barn Cat wasn’t even as big as an adult crow.
“Yeah. I went out in the backyard and she was dragging up a crow’s head and neck,”he said.
I decided that this I believed. She might have found or scavenged the corpse of a crow that had been killed by a hawk, or a raccoon, a car, or even died of natural causes.
A few days later I went out to put water in the dog dish by the sidewalk. The usual pair of crows had lighted on the streetlight post, the way they always did. Neighbor came out. Lola took advantage of the situation to race across the street and flopped down near my feet, tail wagging. The crows looked down, silent. Neighbor yelled, “Lola, get back here!” and came across the street, Barn Cat trotting at his heels.
The two crows immediately started alarm-calling.
Crows make lots of kinds of loud sounds. There’s the yelling they do when they see another crow. There’s the “Hey, there’s food here!” call. There’s a warning-off call to another crow, which seems to be mostly about status. There’s a low-pitched, almost growly sound I’ve heard a single crow make as it dive-bombed a hawk. And then there is alarm-calling, which you will recognize even if you’ve never heard it before. It is urgent. It is unmistakable.
As Barn Cat trotted over to Lola, the crows alarm-called and called. They danced on the lamp post. One flew into the next door neighbor’s tree, and the other onto the roof. They flew in a circle, alarm-calling, then took refuge in the redwood tree behind our house.
Those crows knew Barn Cat. Knew her, and knew she was a threat.
My opinion of the “killed the crow” story changed instantly.
The moral of this story is, first impressions can be misleading.