Caw of the wild: Brandon crow bonds with rescuer

The story of Charlie the crow and his human caretaker is a heartwarming example of human kindness and animal connection. It ruffled more than a few feathers — in the best possible way — and attracted media attention from as far away as Winnipeg.

This story ran in The Brandon Sun on August 15, 2015, and was republished in the Winnipeg Free Press.

BRANDON — “Chaaaarlie, come here, Charlie,” calls Gerald Dillon, standing in the courtyard of Victoria Woods Estates.

After a few repetitions, a large black crow comes sailing around a corner and lands on Dillon’s shoulder.

Charlie has been hanging around the west end apartment complex since May, when Dillon saved him from certain death.

“He fell out of a tree and he broke his leg,” said Dillon, who lives and works at Victoria Woods. “He was going to die … he didn’t have any feathers, he was just a baby.”

Dillon has always had a soft spot for animals, so when he found the tiny bird languishing near a bus stop on Centennial Boulevard, he knew he had to try and nurse him back to health. Since he had no idea how to take care of a crow, Dillon turned to the Internet for information.

“I splinted his leg and I fed him what was recommended — dog food and cheese and fruit,” said Dillon, adding that Charlie was averaging a can of wet dog food a week in the early days.

Charlie lived in a box outside Dillon’s apartment at Victoria Woods for about two weeks while his leg healed. When the bird was strong enough, Dillon started teaching him how to fly by tossing him up in the air.

“He would fly and then he would land on something,” said Dillon, adding that it took Charlie about a week to be able to fly a good distance. “I just kept pushing him.”

Three months later, Charlie is fully recovered and still sleeping outside Dillon’s apartment. The two “friends” have developed quite the routine.

Without fail, Charlie will meet Dillon and his groundskeeping crew every day at 8 a.m. sharp for “his morning coffee and spoiling.”

Wherever Dillon goes, Charlie is sure to be close behind.

“You should see the looks I get when I go to Sobeys,” Dillon said. “He’ll follow me the whole way.”

Despite their close relationship, Dillon has tried to keep Charlie as wild as possible.

“He’s an outside bird. I don’t bring him inside,” said Dillon, who doesn’t feed Charlie as regularly as he used to. “I wanted him to learn to forage for himself.”

Dillon hopes the bird will be welcomed into a local murder before winter hits so he can fly south. If that doesn’t happen, Charlie has enough neighbourhood fans that Dillon isn’t worried about his future.

Brittany Jones was walking to the grocery store with her almost three-year-old daughter Hallie when she first met Charlie. The ominous-looking bird was sitting on a fence when Hallie started to approach it.

“She was like a foot away from (the crow) and I told her to get away from it,” Jones said.

Dillon was nearby at the time and was able to diffuse the situation by sharing Charlie’s story with Jones. Fear quickly turned into fascination.

“I’ve had budgies that were more aggressive than this crow … it’s pretty neat,” Jones said.

When Charlie is canvassing the neighbourhood for treats, he will make himself known by cawing outside different apartments. Now, Jones lets Hallie feed him bread whenever he visits their yard.

Witnessing Charlie’s gentle nature has totally changed Jones’ perception of crows.

“I hated crows before and I absolutely love this bird,” said Jones.

Historically, crows have been demonized as urban pests, but research from Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology suggests crows are actually quite intelligent. For example, crows often steal food from other animals and they have been known to make and use tools.

Dillon has tried to harness Charlie’s intelligence by teaching him how to talk.

“They mimic, when he feels like talking, he can say ‘Hello,’” Dillon said. “He can be a scamp, too. He steals lighters and shiny things.”

The bird seems to be universally loved by neighbours, but Dillon is quick to step in if Charlie causes any kinds of problems on the property.

“He’s free to do whatever he wants, I’m just here to help him live,” Dillon said.

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