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They come knocking: A group of crows has visited the same East Austin library for years

Crows are seen perched on the branches of a tree outside the Ruiz library.
Courtesy of Zane Scheible
The crows perch in a tree near the Ruiz Branch library in East Austin.

For years, a group of crows has gathered at the Ruiz Branch Library in East Austin, sometimes tapping on the windows and seeming to caw at the patrons and staff there. After running into the birds himself, KUT’s Mose Buchele decided to look into their behavior. He filed this story in the style of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven," just in time for Halloween. 

Once while at Ruiz Library, while I pondered weak and wary …

Over a book-sale shelf they have there near the entrance door

Suddenly there came a tapping, as if someone loudly rapping,

Like an urgent constant clapping high above the lobby floor.

“Is that a crow!?!” I muttered, “high above this lobby floor?”

And it was — I’ll tell you more.

The crow was perched at a high window, outside but staring right into

The library, where we go for books and so much more.

And now and then it took to pokin’ at the glass as to betoken

Strange communication spoken to those of us indoors.

A crow is seen outside a window at the Ruiz Branch of the Austin Public Library.
Mose Buchele
/
KUT
A crow is seen outside a window at the Ruiz Branch of the Austin Public Library.

What could it mean? Well, let’s explore …

Could it be some code of Morse? Does this bird perhaps adore us?

I asked library staff, “What for is, this visitor, what for!?”

How long has the crow been coming? How long on the window, drumming?

How long has this crow been perched above the library floor?

“So we've been having the crow for several years. I'm not sure if it's the same crow, if it's multiple crows,” — Zane Scheible.

Zane Scheible who works the days here, says it’s a group that sometimes stays here,

Flies and caws and pecks and plays here — and the golf course next door.

A group of crows is called a “murder,” says Zane, who is, himself, a birder.

What is it you think this bird wants? Why is it this place that it haunts?

Adriana Santos, another staffer, thinks it's friendship they are after.

“They want to come in. They want to use the library. In addition to the banging, they will also let out their loud noise, their cackle. Sometimes when I'm sitting there, I'll just I'll be very quiet because I don't want to disturb anyone. But I'll go and I will answer them back. I do that in the parking lot as well. If I'm outside, and they will answer back. We will exchange it a few times," — Adriana Santos

In fact, everyone I spoke with, said they conversed with these corvids

Nothing spooky, nothing morbid, but pleasantries; what’s more

Zane has said he would like to train them, as his minions to retain them

Or at very least to name them, like mascots come before.

Have you named the birds that visit?

If there is a name, what is it!? 

They've debated, but the names they've come up with are poor.

(What about Lenore?)

Still, I felt I needed answers why these noisy winged prancers

Are such avid Ruiz branchers, with visits here galore.

Do they really seek connection or just peck at their reflection?

Is it psychological projection into these birds we pour?

Kaeli Swift, a Ph.D., has studied crows for her degree,

And she has many answers — all for us now to explore.

For one, it's likely that this space is one of the daily meeting places

Where crows will meet to greet and spend time building a rapport.

"It’s likely “that area encompasses [the crows] territory, their routine. They visit the library because maybe there's good perches there, they feel safe there or what my money would really be on is ... one or two of those people visiting the library are feeding the crows,” — Kaeli Swift

So it could be, a staffer or reader, is an avid corvid feeder

Turning crows to trick-or-treaters at the window or the door…

“There are some corvids that really readily take to window tapping. Once you get them sort of on a feeding thing, they will just right away become really frantic window tappers trying to get your attention. That doesn't happen as often with crows ... but that would probably be my next explanation," — Kaeli Swift 

Or perhaps the windows offer insects for the crows to proffer

Or perhaps it is their own reflection they abhor.

Either way, Swift is elated that the crows are celebrated

And if they’re slipped a little treat, no harm will they endure.

“Feeding wildlife is almost always a bad idea, but I think that crows are different. A huge part of their diet is already human food. That’s just the reality. I just think we’re in this moment for a lot of people, especially living in urban centers, we’re in this moment where people are in desperate need of interactions with the natural world," — Kaeli Swift

Now here’s an end that’s most exciting. As I finished up the writing

Of this poem that I’d spent far too much time to score

Outside my house there came a cawing — and upon my blinds a-drawing,

I saw a stately crow there, gnawing on something near my door

A crow stands in the road outside KUT reporter Mose Buchele's house.
Mose Buchele
/
KUT
A crow stands in the road outside KUT reporter Mose Buchele's house.

Had it come to haunt my entrance? Did it crow for my repentance?

What strange meaning did this bird now underscore?

And though I know it’s likely chance that brought it to my residence,

I could not help but be entranced, and shaken to my core.

And that feeling of enchantment for this creature by my door

Will remain — forever more.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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