5 Tools for Anxiety and Depression

So many of us deal with anxiety and/or depression, or a mixture of both. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it it’s really hard to see or understand a solution.

This year I’m making an effort to name and concentrate on mental health. Specifically, being as healthy as I can, as someone who’s suffered from both anxiety and depression for years (sometimes one or the other, sometimes both). The currently political climate doesn’t help. Age doesn’t help. Social media does not help.

For me, I was badly behaved on social media in December and I really hated myself for it, which triggered a massive dive down in a slimy pit of self-hate and bad thoughts. Like, really bad. The good thing is I crawled out, broke a few nails in the process, and while the reverberations of that still hit me a full two months later, I can see that I never want to go there again.

In that vein, here are some tools I’ve come across (and which have been recommended to me) that I thought might help those who are in a similar boat:

1/ Get some sleep. Yeah, I know, every time I see this one I’m like whatevers. Everyone knows you have to get sleep to be healthy! Duh. But actually, you really do, and what that means is make it a priority. Like, put on jammies at 6 pm (yes, some of us are already in them but shhh go with me here) and wind down. Six pm sounds like a ridiculous hour to begin winding down, but if sleep is the foundation of many problems–and you cannot deny that–then try to get it.

2/ Listen to an anxiety podcast. I never thought of this before, but a friend recommended one. I can’t actually remember which one, but Spotify has a ton. I searched “anxiety podcast” and a bunch came up. One called The Anxiety Podcast (fittingly) is by Tim JP Collins and I liked it – he’s friendly and British and that works for me. I downloaded one to my Spotify app and listened while I walked the dog. You can learn more and listen here, too (without Spotify).

3/ Try homeopathic tinctures. My doctor recommended Calm Forte, which you can take morning and night both. It’s made by Hyland’s; I used to use the baby calm remedy by Hyland’s when my kids were babies and it never totally worked but that’s because my babies were crying jerks. But I’m going to try this. Another option is cannabis oil –obviously not available in all states (I’m in California), and what you want is CBD oil. CBD is the relaxing part of cannabis. If it says THC then you’ll be high. If it says 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC, then you’ll be high. Get at least 3:1 CBD to THC. (THC is like caffeine; you can never really strip it out totally.)

4/ Try body work. My doctor recommended acupuncture for me because I squeeze everything up tight in my shoulders and then it affects the rest of everything. This is a great idea. Acupressure, too, probably helps. Why not try it if you never have?

5/ Take a day off. Not your family, and not to see friends (unless that relaxes you), but like, just you. Yes you have 500 deadlines and they’re all for tomorrow, but fuck them. Take the day. For you. See how your body feels. See if your body is like “yassssssss.” Just try. It’s a single day.

I hope these suggestions help. I’m a fan of quick and easy, but I also know that when battling anxiety and/or depression, nothing is quick and easy and also you don’t really want to do anything. Trying just one of these things can get you out of the hole enough to try more, though.

10 Things About Sierra and 2017

Every year, I like to do a 10 things wrap-up post; it’s a way for me to reflect on the previous year. See the bottom of the post for the rest of the years. This is the eighth annual post!

And this one is particularly fantastic.

1/ I got an agent!!!!!!!

I still can’t believe it. I am beyond thrilled to say I am represented by Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Lit. Like, it’s real and I keep pinching myself and hoping I don’t wake up from this lovely, lovely dream.

2/ I had ankle surgery.

This was so major. It derailed me for two months, but the physical therapy and stiffness will be managed for many more months to come yet. I didn’t break my ankle, it was just an old injury that had, over time, stretched one of my exterior tendons out so much that it offered no support, so I fell a lot and was in constant pain from walking weird. Here’s what I learned from having the surgery:

  • Don’t put off having major surgery. Get it done and over with.
  • I quite liked lying in bed for a month.
  • I quite liked not leaving my house for two months except three times.
  • Not leaving my house for two months except for three times meant my world view shrunk.


crow illustration by me

3/ I made friends with crows.

Don’t afear crows! They are lovely, intelligent creatures. I made friends with a lovely mated pair. Here’s how I did it.


4/ I fell in love with octopuses.

Not octopi. Here’s what happened: I read the lovely book The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery and really came to understand how intelligent and thoughtful octopuses are–and feeling. They feel! They want! And that is fascinating to me given that they are a baggy, tentacled thing so unlike humans. Yet our intelligence is, while not the same or equal, both there. I’ll never eat one of the amazing creatures again, and I love learning more. My local major aquarium has three of them and I visit them when I can.


5/ I began to learn Dutch.

I am using Duolingo and admittedly and not very fluent, but I know enough now to be able to read a little of De Telegraaf, one of the major Dutch online news sites. But I don’t know enough Dutch to know whether De Telegraaf is a decent publication! My mother asked me why I was learning Dutch when pretty much everyone speaks English in the Netherlands. My feeling is that if they all speak English in the Netherlands, then who speaks Dutch and why? It was a very anglo-centric question, I felt. Dutch is a great language and English does borrow quite a lot from it. But the real reason I am learning is because I didn’t think I could–and I can.


6/ I started Backlog magazine.

What! I started Backlog, a magazine for writers. It has been amazing and I very much could not have pulled it off without the help of a lot of friends and talented people. And it’s a real thing! Go over and check it out. Better yet, buy an issue! Or subscribe! Yes, you want to.


7/ I went to Miami and covered El Clasico. And then stopped covering futbol.

Covering El Clasico (match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the first in the US in like 30 years) from the press box is a very, very coveted job. I recognize this. I have been extremely fortunate to cover some amazing football matches as press, including and especially Atletico Madrid FROM the Vincente Calderon in Madrid, Spain, which was incredible. I have been very close to legendary managers and players. I have taken a selfie with Louis van Gaal. I have been very fortunate to live out my dream of covering my team from their stadium and seeing my team play in a Champions League match. I am a LUCKY GIRL. But.

Miami was rough. I experienced a lot of opposition and outright sexism in the press area. It was deeply unpleasant and I lost a lot of fire for covering matches after that. I still believe I run rings around a lot of the reporters out there; I notice things not every one does and I remember a lot and then I write it, but the job wasn’t paid much and it wasn’t a full-time career. In light of other more exciting developments this year, it seemed best to hang up the credentials for now.


8/ I learned that I have to make mental health a priority.

I had a kind of bad time in December. Very bad. Like, had to reach out to mental health professionals bad. I’m so much better now, and even nicer is I can see and believe that I never want to go down that slimy pit again. Look, saying that depression and/or anxiety is a problem is irritating and sad and embarrassing, but why is it? Especially when family issues and genetics clearly play a role. So here it is: 2018 is the year of taking care of my shit.


9/ I was reminded of how immeasurably important character, integrity, courtesy, and compassion are.

We can thank Trump and his/its pig associates for showing us what a vile human is. I never want to be anything like it or any of its gross family or associates. Every time that entitled orange garbage sack opens its mouth or tweets its stream of poo, my resolve to make sure my children learn kindness, compassion, integrity, and politeness strengthened. If there’s one good thing about it being president, then it’s the fact that I have strengthened my resolve to never be anything like it.

And if I slip up in this resolve, I promise to try and right it.


10/ I got out of debt.

This is perhaps less interesting, but my goodness it is important. All that needs to be said about it this: I do not own any more credit cards. Just imagine the Death Star as incredible, crushing debt:


Exciting news

I am so excited to announce that I am represented by Sarah LaPolla at Bradford Literary Agency. Sarah is incredible and I am really thrilled to work with her.

My story of finding representation is different–and what I learned is that it’s different for everyone. It took about a year with her–not because she delayed on answering, but because of a combination of rewrites, R&Rs, and working with an editor on my part. It just happened that way. But it was the right way for me!

More to follow!



What I Read in 2017

Every year I set a reading goal on Goodreads. This year, I upped it. Why not push myself, I thought? In 2016, I read 26 out of my 25 book goal. This year, 2017, I upped it to 35. And I met it!

It is arbitrary, but I don’t care. I love reading like I love breathing air.

So here’s what I read this year:

1.  My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman
I was a massive fan of A Man Called Ove, and this one was every bit as irreverent and quirky and hilarious in the way Backman is, but it wasn’t AS good. Sadly, I tried reading two other books of Backman’s this year — Bear Town and Britt-Marie and I couldn’t finish either 🙁

2. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
I really enjoyed this; I enjoyed the saga and the town and the people, although the story was heavy and sad. A lot like life.

3. Clean Gut by Alejandro Junger
When I read this, I was ALL ABOUT having a clean gut and then I promptly forgot about it once I was done reading it. Not sure what that says.

4. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
I love Colgan’s writing; she’s funny and I tear through her books even if they’re somewhat meandering. But. This book was NOT about a bookshop on a corner; it was about a mobile bookstore on no corner whatsoever. To this day I can’t understand why this is the title.

5. Oleander Girl by Chitra Divakaruni
I love Divakaruni and she is one of the few authors I went to hear speak and fangirled over. This new novel was lovely and rich and I absolutely adored the imagery in India.

6. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
While Oleander Girl was rich in imagery about India, The Wonder painted a simiarly rich vosial of a much bleaker place–poor, rural Ireland. This was a great read, one of my best of the year, and I LOVED the ending even if it was silly, I don’t care. I don’t care!

7. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
One of the year’s best reads, and one of my life’s seminal reads, too. I read this because I was playing a game with my mother and stepfather and the question was: if you could time travel, where would you go? I answered that I’d go to the time of Jesus because what was even going on then? Like, seriously, WTF? And my parents said, READ THIS. And I did and I have to tell you: it was one of the best reads in my life. It challenged my beliefs, beliefs that I’d held WITHOUT having researched them. And because this book asked my mind to open, whether I ultimately agreed with it or not, it asked me to listen. I listened. And I found that Aslan’s book was respectful while still presenting a solid case for a historical Jesus before he was Christ. The part that comes after that, where Jesus becomes Christ, is up to you to decide, and Aslan leaves it to you to do that. Ultimately, I will always have an issue with the way Christ became Christ, but that is my private business.

If you’re curious about WHY and WHEN and HOW, this is a great read. Be prepared to go in with an open mind, and be prepared to accept that you may want to change your mind. In this year of hatred and intolerance, it especially pleases me to think and discuss rather than say nope.

8. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
This was all the talk….mmm back in 2016, but I read it because it was recommended to me by an editor as a great example of first person narrative in an upmarket women’s fiction way. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the restaurant world and the stark, unafraid way the narrator goes through her life lessons.

9. Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life by Sally Bedell Smith
Look, I’m a royalist. I really, really enjoy the British royal family, but there’s zero reason for me to read books about them. I’m not sure what compelled me to read this, but I’m glad I did. Smith’s book was FASCINATING. Prince Charles is a unique figure: he’s been waiting for nearly 70 years to be king, but for that his mother must die (it’s all a little Inigo Montoyaish). What does a guy do for 70 years? What is his life’s purpose? How does he use his advantages? Does he wait, or does he….do something else? This biography also showed me, for the first time, that Charles and Diana were massively inappropriate for each other–it’s not funny, it’s sad, but there’s no blame on either side. They were two people who just didn’t know how to deal with each other. Smith’s title is apt. And Charles is not his mother. His reign will be the end of an era and, perhaps, a significant change that will reach across the world. My mother disagrees with me about that, but I am here to tell you: Charles is not his mother. He lacks her diplomacy and, perhaps, foresight, and that could affect everything.

10. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
I’ve read every one of Moriarty’s books except, somehow, this one. But the HBO series was SO GOOD that I had to read this. It was great.

11. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Um…..this was…..well, I finished it in 2017.

12. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
I picked this up in a little independent bookshop in Sonoma called Copperfield’s and the bookstore has TWO bookstore cats!! So I felt I needed to buy something to support. This was one of them. I read it in 2017.

13. We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
I read this because of Twitter! Twitter, selling books! Samantha is an amazing human and while her essays go on a bit in the same vein, she pushes you to listen and see things that may be outside your comfort zone, and I appreciate that.

14. The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor
Sue Monk Kidd’s daughter’s first book. Very enjoyable in that it involves marine biology! Yay! A cute love story.

15. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul
We should all have a Bob. I have a Bob now, because of this book. A nice memoir and ode to reading from the editor of the NYT Book Review.

16. The Arrangement by Sarah Dunne
I picked this up because someone on Twitter said they’d read it in an day, it was that good. I read it in two–I’m not that fast of a reader–and it WAS that good. It was the writing! I loved it.

17. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Then I read this IN A DAY. That’s because it takes place over the course of one day, and it read SO FAST. The end was not what I expected, but hey! The beginning and middle were great!

18. The Seed Collectors by  Scarlett Thomas
I read this in 2017.

19. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
OH MY GOD this was great! And it sparked a fascination with octopuses (NOT octopi!) that I still enjoy, and I will seek out one of these amazing, intelligent, thoughtful creatures in any aquarium. Let’s put it this way: they’re so smart that they know they’re in captivity and they look at us on the other side of the tank.

20. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Oh, this was FANTASTIC. Also takes place over the course of one day. Just so sweet, so pretty, so young. But the ending, my god, it threw me and made my heart go SQUEEEEEEEEEEEZE which is, of course, the very best kind of ending EVER.

21. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
This was great. It’s about a very dysfunctional family, and I liked that not all of their issues got resolved, but their communication and attitudes toward one another perhaps got better. And it was hilarious, if a bit long.

22. The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky by Summer Heacock
My friend Jessica sent me this while I was convalescing from ankle surgery and it was a fun read for that.

23. The Lost Letter by Jill Cantor
A lovely historical novel with a satisfying ending.

24. Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1) by Margaret Atwood
I love, love, love post apocalyptic novels and this series is excellent. This first book in the trilogy was very good indeed.

25. The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam, #2) by Margaret Atwood
Not as good as the first one, but still good, still tense. And I think it’s in this book that someone talks about how they had to climb a massive wall to get from Texas to the rest of the US (or what’s left of it); this is classic Atwood at her prophetic best. I look forward to reading the third.

26. The Cafe by the Sea by Jenny Colgan
I think you must be eagerly hoping this novel actually was about a cafe by the sea as opposed to Colgan’s other novel I read in 2017, The Bookshop on the Corner. I am here to tell you that yes! There was a cafe by the sea! Although, again, the title might have been something about the small island they were on since that was such a character by itself. Perhaps Island in the Far North would have been good. Are these marketing decisions, these titles?

27. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Kat Howard is an amazing editor and I am pleased to say I worked with her this year on my own manuscript. HIRE HER. Anyway, I loved Roses and Rot and I had NO idea what to expect going in but it turns out to be about bad fairies and it’s very good indeed.

28. Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Now you are on the edge of your seat waiting to see if there was indeed a bakery on Little Beach Street. There is! It is aptly named! And as you can see, I like Colgan enough to have read at least three books this year by her. It’s lovely, light, happy reading.

29. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Never heard of it, never heard of the movie either until Hoffman’s new book came out this year — the prequel to this one. This was GREAT! A nice read although not nearly enough real estate was given to the amazing house the girls grew up in nor the aunts.

30. Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World by Candace Savage
I read this because I have befriended my neighborhood crows. It’s a nice, short read on crow behavior and anecdotes about our relationship with them.

31. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Where Practice Magic was good, this was GREAT. I still think about this book because Hoffman did such an incredible job of painting late 1800s New York City. The way it must have looked then! This was SUCH a great story and yay to the ending, and I just loved it totally and completely, from the title to the end.

32. The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad
The djinn is, in my opinion, a mythical creature that predates the genie and isn’t explored nearly enough. In this collection of short stories, with a large helping of Muslim authors, the djinn is presented in different ways and I really loved it. I also really loved that Muslim writers were invited to tell these stories. Neil Gaiman is one of the contributors and I really liked that the other, lesser known authors were given a great chance to stand out even with Gaiman’s name on the cover.

33. Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Yes, we all want to know if it was summer at the little Beach Street bakery, and I am happy to tell you that it STARTED in summer. So, huzzah! I’m available for naming books, by the way.

34. The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown
An enjoyable read for the unique story and the history, but holy crap was this a hard, dark story. It almost dragged me down at times.

35. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My son wanted me to read this because he loved it, so I did. I went in not knowing what to expect at all and I was VERY PLEASED. What a great story!

As I go into 20187, I am currently reading:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (a supremely enjoyable read so far)

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard (also highly enjoyable)






More Tarot for Writers

My Hero’s Journey tarot worksheet for writers has had such a massive response — like hundreds of downloads — that I’ve made another worksheet for you (and am working on more). These are free. I don’t even make you sign up for my newsletter first! Isn’t that cool? But you can. That would be a nice way to say thank you, is by signing up for my newsletter. There, on the right. Yes, go for it. It’s fun.

And with that, here is the Three-act Tarot for Writers Worksheet. Hope this is useful!


Crow Diary, Week of Nov 13

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Major crow drama today!

A THIRD CROW showed up while my mated pair were having a snack. It could have been the pouring rain and low temps; finding food I imagine was maybe harder today despite what I feel are an excess of slugs out and about I have been wondering for some time when the gig would be up for my mated pair. There are so many crows in our area that there was bound to be one flying casually over, all coasting and cool, and it looks down and sees my two feasting on their own personal peanut buffet that is graciously refilled me moi every day. The flying-over crow was likely all “Oh HO, so THAT’s why Carole and Sam were so quiet at the murder meeting last week! They’ve been enjoying their own stash!” He flies down and is all “I won’t tell if you don’t,” but Carole and Sam, my mated pair, aren’t having any of that. No self-respecting crow would. Carole and Sam both cawed at the interloper, whom we’ll call Jerry, and told him to get out of town, but Jerry was like, “Yeah, no. I’ll cut you a deal. I won’t tell the rest of the murder about this and we three keep it between ourselves.” Carole and Sam are not pleased. But they have no choice but to share with Jerry now, or else they risk everyone else finding out about my free peanut kitchen, and let me tell you, I don’t have time for that. I’m already out of my original five-pound bag of peanuts. It’s going to have to be a trip to Costco for these guys soon and I’m an introvert to whom Costco is easily the seventh circle of hell, so that’s an enormous sacrifice.

Soon after this exciting showdown, all three crows left. I imagine Carole and Sam left because they were trying to pretend that my peanut feast was awful and not worth any crow’s time, particularly Jerry’s. For reasons unknown, Jerry flew away, too. Perhaps to  tell his wife, Kitty, about it and make plans for a dinner date.

In my opinion, Jerry is fool of the highest order if he doesn’t come back–either on his own, or tomorrow with Carole and Sam–because that peanut feeding often includes dog food and stale bread and today it included a slug, too. YUM. (I didn’t put the slug there. It crawled in.)

Embed from Getty Images

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The crows called me to come feed them at about 8:45 (an improvement on yesterday, which was 7:30, and I refused to come out then.)

They carefully watched me when I came. I talked to them but they weren’t really having it. I filled the tray with tasty bread in addition to peanuts and held out a bread piece, but they weren’t going to fall for that, either.

The calls they made after I went in were interesting. One flew down but was VERY cautious, going around the feeder and never directly to it. The mate sat on the wire and cawed when he saw danger. Crok crok crok crok from the female on the ground, and few single crawks from the one of the wire, and when there was danger, Caw craw craw. (longer, more drawn out.)

They are so skittish, it seems like very little progress has been made except that they call me out to feed them and I come.

Who’s the smart one here?

Crow Observation Diary, Sunday 11/12

Today I had an amazing new thing happen.

Not my crow, but a lovely photo taken by Hannes Wolf, Johannisberg, Geisenheim, Germany, via unsplash.

I started feeding my crow couple originally at around 5 pm, and they learned quickly that that was the time I came out. But then it switched to the morning because I started feeding them in the morning. What I noticed is that they didn’t always eat what was given to them in the evening, but they ALWAYS eat the morning feeding. Because, probably, crows are early birds.

Usually they like to eat around 8 am, but this morning I slept in and went out at around 10 am. The crow pair was sitting over my driveway on the telephone wires as usual, and I filled the dish for them. One o f them flew down while I was there! This was a huge milestone because previously the crows have been too skittish to come down while I was outside.

Then, in the afternoon at around 3 pm, I went out and one of the couple was sitting near my house, over my driveway. I said hi to it like I always do, and this time it went “Crock.” Just once! I was thrilled! I hoped very much this was its approximation at imitation because crows supposedly can imitate our sounds and other bird sounds. I know ravens sure can, because I’ve “talked” to a captive raven before, where she would perfectly mimic my laugh or a hum.

I said hi again and the crow again said “Crock.” Just once. Even if this is NOT a mimic, it’s very much a new sound and a new communication I’ve heard from these crows.

Thrilling, all in all.

Crow Observations

crow illustration by me

I was encouraged by my brother in law to keep a journal of what I’ve seen with my crows that I’m feeding. It was a good idea. Nothing I’ve read of crows so far necessarily helps me understand my two crows better.

Every morning I take a walk around the block with Fergus, my small terrier-schnauzer mix. It’s really a ten minute walk designed for me to stretch my foot, post ankle surgery, and for Fergus to do his morning business. For the past week, I have suspected that my two crows were following me as I walked, but of course there’s no way to tell. You can’t catch a crow and tag him; they’re far too clever to be caught. In Crows: Encounters with the Wise 

Guys of the Avian World by Candace Savage, Savage mentions that a researcher tried hard to catch crows but was outsmarted each time. So she simply threw nets over large gatherings of crows; inevitably a few would be caught. Anyway, there’s no way for me to tell my crows, but one or two does sit on the wire and cawk at me. For two days I’ve noticed it fly back over the street to my house. This makes me think it’s my crow because no other crows but mine sit by my house. I don’t know this for a fact, of course, but my mated pair are protective of their food source and they haven’t told any other crows about it.

I noticed something else today. When one of the pair is alone, he or she waits for the missing mate. He or she caws loudly into the morning, calling for the mate. But at me, sitting above the wire, it’s a different caw. When calling for the mate, it’s more of a faster, high pitched “cak cak cak cak” but when they crow to me, it’s a slower and raspier “cawk. Cawk.” This is the first time I have noticed a difference in the type of call.

Generally, the mate who is there first will not eat the peanuts until the spouse joins him or her.

In the weeks I have been feeding the crows, what I’ve noticed is this: they will look in my large living room windows at me. They definitely know who I am. They do not eat when dusk falls. They’ve managed to tell no other crows about the food source—and our neighborhood is filled with crows. They love stale bread the most, although they eat all of what I set out (roasted, unsalted peanuts and dog food mixture). They generally come at 8 am and 4 pm, give or take.

Here is a photo of the single crow this morning, taken from my living room window. He or she is waiting for the mate to arrive before commencing breakfast.



Backlog Magazine

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of Backlog, a new magazine for writers and other animals.

Backlog was born because I wanted a writing magazine that covered all aspects of the craft and publishing, but I wanted it to look like a really pretty lifestyle magazine.

The contents are:

  • Writers on writing
  • Agents on agenting
  • Editors on editing
  • Interesting things being interesting
  • Slow things being slow

The first issue is being designed now, and the articles are in copyedit. Backlog will be available for download on Kindle and also for sale as PDF on the website.

Backlog launches on November 22, 2017.

WebsiteInstagram  | Twitter

How to Make Friends with Crows

crow illustration by me

tl;dr: this post is about how I got crows to come every day for feedings. My goal is to get them to leave me gifts.

I’m not referring to the men on the Wall in Game of Thrones. I’m referring to the amazing, intelligent creatures of the corvid family, the American Crow.

And I wanted to make friends with one.

Some Background

Some time ago I read this BBC story about a girl who fed crows every day and the crows started leaving her gifts. Shiny things they’d found, sometimes dead things (a nice gift in a crow’s eye!), and other ephemera. The article says:

In 2013, Gabi and Lisa started offering food as a daily ritual, rather than dropping scraps from time to time.

Each morning, they fill the backyard birdbath with fresh water and cover bird-feeder platforms with peanuts. Gabi throws handfuls of dog food into the grass. As they work, crows assemble on the telephone lines, calling loudly to them.

It was after they adopted this routine that the gifts started appearing.

The crows would clear the feeder of peanuts, and leave shiny trinkets on the empty tray; an earring, a hinge, a polished rock. There wasn’t a pattern. Gifts showed up sporadically – anything shiny and small enough to fit in a crow’s mouth.

I was already fascinated by crows before reading this story, because of this incredible Nature documentary that shows just how intelligent they are. This documentary runs about an hour but it is well, well worth your time:

The Nature documentary above has a fantastic segment about a guy who sets a hawk on a group of crows because there were too many in one area; a Canadian town was having issues with them. The hawk takes a crow down but doesn’t kill it; the man intervenes and sets the crow free. (Start watching at 6:05 to see this segment; or start at 7:00 to see this specific hawk action.) Why? Because as the hawk owner says, “The reason that I let this crow go is that she was not much harmed and she was in good shape to join her friends there [bunch of crows in the trees] and she will tell the story of what just happened to her [being brought down by the hawk]. See, they are all coming up now and she is joining them, and she is telling them the horrible story.”

The crows she tells will know there’s a hawk in the area, and leave. It’s amazing that crows can communicate in this way, and they clearly have a language that is sophisticated enough to tell stories and vital information.

What I did

There are a ton of crows in my neighborhood because they like the tall oaks and eucalyptus trees, despite the presence of a hawk or two (their enemies) in the area. I didn’t actually expect much success on this; certainly not like Gabi in that BBC article. One evening I went out with a bag of pistachio nuts and tried to get the attention of a few crows who were sitting three houses down in a wire. Crows watch you; they watch everything going on because they are curious and intelligent and that’s what they do.

1/ So I shook the bag and called to them and, inanely, made kissy sounds. I knew they saw me, even though they were like “Hmm, that’s silly” in a droll tone of voice.

2/ Then I made sure they saw me put the nuts down. In this case, I put them on the sidewalk in front of my garden because I was afraid they wouldn’t see it otherwise.

It didn’t take long after I went back into the house before one flew over to the telephone wire in front of my house to survey. He or she was wary, and after a few moments of seeing that there were no obvious traps, the crow flew down to inspect further. It grabbed a nut and went to eat it in the street, away from any potential traps.

When there were no traps, the crow came back and scarfed up the rest.

His or her mate soon joined her. The two crows did not tell their friends about this; they preferred, over the coming week, to simply keep this food source to themselves.

3/ I promptly ordered a 5 pound bag of unsalted peanuts from Amazon and began feeding the crows around 5ish every day. Around 5ish, they appear, waiting for me.

Today, they appeared at 9 am, but only to inspect and see if they missed any yesterday. I have been putting the peanuts in my garden along the garden stones so that eventually I can lure them off the sidewalk and provide a sort of flat bird feeder. Yes, other critters will come get the food too, but no, I don’t mind.

The fact that I was able to earn the crows’ trust and provide food for them and that they recognize me as doing so is amazing. I will update if they leave any gifts!

Here are my crows: