Shakeyhead the Crow

Charles Cooper

Charles Cooper

By Charles Cooper
Special Contributor

I had a pet crow. The prophet Elijah had many corvine birds, but I had one, Shakeyhead. Unlike Elijah’s birds, mine did not feed me. I fed him. That’s how Shakeyhead came to take up with my family, years ago when we lived at the foot of Mount Sequoyah in a gray stucco house on Olive Street. It’s still there.

One winter an ingratiating crow came to our home. My mother fed him corn out of a can; then I started. I fed him on the banister of the porch, then from my hand; then one day he perched on my arm.

Shakeyhead would follow me to school. I went to Saint Joseph’s, not because my family was Catholic, but because my father had just retired from the Marines and one of his service buddies lived in Fayetteville and was Catholic. He must have said, “Rod, those nuns are tough. They’ll get that boy ready for Harvard” (or maybe it was Notre Dame).

Shakeyhead would follow me down Olive Street to Lafayette. The kids waiting on their rides to public school would say, There he is. There he is with his crow. Hey, where did you get that crow?

We were celebrities.

Laundry helper

People back then hung their laundry out on lines. Everybody had a line in the backyard. I used to help my mother. We taught Shakeyhead how to pull clothespins. He would light down and yank them up with his beak. I would follow along and fold the sheet, the pillowcase, the towel and so on.

Shakeyhead loved it. He loved it so much he started helping the neighbors with their laundry. Yank. Yank. Yank. And with a shoulder shrug down would fall a shirt.

That’s when trouble started. People complained about our crow. I heard my parents talking about it, about taking Shakeyhead to the country.

I decided I needed help. I needed my little sister to like Shakeyhead. So one day in the backyard, I had my crow on my arm. I asked Mary, who was just four and had long cotton top hair, to come over. I said, “He won’t hurt you.”

I don’t know what happened. I think Mary shook her head No, and the crow shook his head No, and it scared Mary, so she turned and ran, and that scared the crow. He tried to fly away—or at least I think he tried to fly away; my wife has another theory.*

Anyhow, somehow Shakeyhead got all tangled up in Mary’s hair, and there she was running and screaming and my crow bouncing up and down and flapping his wings behind her, all the way to the backdoor where my parents were standing and shaking their heads No, no more Shakeyhead.

My father took him to the country. I brought him into the house on my arm, a terrible betrayal for which I felt terribly guilty. My father snatched him in a pair of muleskinner gloves and stuffed him into one of my mother’s hatboxes and tied it up with twine. I could hear the scratching and pecking against the box. I felt that I was in there with him. This relocation happened three times, and each time Shakeyhead was perched on the banister of the porch when my father drove up the drive. I think they went as far as Prairie Grove the last time.

Finally my father found some humane folks who had an aviary around a tree in their front yard, and he convinced them that this Ozark crow was peculiar enough to keep company with their parrots and cockatoos.

I remember going there once. I held Shakeyhead on my arm as in the old days and scratched him under a wing, which he loved more than doing laundry.

After that visit, we drove by, never stopping, though I begged and begged. Shakeyhead would be perched on a limb inside that huge wire cage, and he would see me hanging out the window, and his head would turn and turn and turn as we drove by, and my head would turn and turn and turn until we were gone.


I don’t know how Elijah felt about his crows. He was a preacher, thrown out of his pulpit. He had spoken against the royal couple of Israel, against Ahab and Jezebel, and he had prophesied bad weather, a drought: never a popular sermon with the farmers in the congregation.

Elijah was in trouble and all alone, hiding out by a river. Some crows came to the river. They brought him something to eat—meat they took from the marketplace or grain from the barns, maybe a robe or two from someone’s clothesline.

God sent those birds to Elijah. I think God sent Shakeyhead to me.

We had just moved from base housing at Camp Pendleton, where I had a lot of friends, and this was a new place, and I didn’t have any friends. We weren’t going to be here long, just until my father finished a few courses and could find a teaching job.

God sent me a friend down from heaven.

God does that, you know: sends us the people (or the birds) we need to love. Just look around.

* Becky is right: the crow, caught between flight and fight, did both. Domesticating wild animals comes with risk and is often illegal. There will never be another Shakeyhead.

The Rev. Cooper is a retired elder in the Arkansas Conference.