CROWS REALLY ARE fascinating creatures. After I wrote a column last week about a dead crow we found in our backyard, I received lots of interesting comments from people about their own experiences with crows, but none more compelling than the one from Nancy Foster of Waterville.

She said that in the early 1950s, her cousins Joy and Lee Bureau had a pet crow named Smokey, and he was smart and mischievous and so well-known about town that when he died, his obituary appeared on the front page of the Morning Sentinel.

“Smokey wreaked havoc with the police as he was always stealing parking tickets off car windows in downtown Waterville,” Foster wrote. “I remember that he would fly into Woolworth’s and pick up a sparkly bracelet and fly away. Stores back then didn’t have air conditioning — doors were commonly left open.”

I had to know more about Smokey, so I called Lee Bureau and we had a good long chat about the crow, who was a celebrity in Waterville.

Bureau’s sister, Joy, befriended the crow which had fallen out of a nest. She at first kept it in a cage, where she fed it and talked to it every day and taught it to say “Hello,” Bureau said. Smokey then learned other words much to the amazement of everyone, and he recognized faces, particularly those of Bureau family members.

The family lived on North Street. Lee Bureau, who was 15 at the time, slept outside in a tent all summer, he said. He had a newspaper route and had to get up at 4:30 a.m., and Smoky would act as his alarm clock — flying into the tent every morning and pecking and pulling at his blanket. If that didn’t work, the crow became more aggressive, said Bureau, now 80.


“He’d jump right up on my head and take his beak and stick it in my ear, like there was something in there,” Bureau recalled. “It was just a riot — 4:30 a.m. and he gets me up. I’d get on my motor scooter, and he’d ride on my shoulder. I’d go over the North Street bridge, and there was something about it he liked. He’d spread his wings and disappear and I kept going. I’d see him off in the distance. He’d play games. When I’d slow down, he’d come back and he’d be on my shoulder and we’d be eye-to-eye and he’d make funny noises. The bird was amazing. He knew my paper route better than I did.”

While Smokey lived on the Bureau property, he also flew around town and especially liked Rummel’s ice cream stand on Silver Street.

“People’d feed him. They didn’t know what to make of him. He had quite a vocabulary. People just couldn’t believe it. He flew all over the city. People would call up and say, ‘Your bird’s over here. He took clothespins off my line.'”

Sometimes, Smokey would remove clothesline catches, which caused people’s sheets to drag on the ground, according to Bureau.

“He liked little things — eyeglasses, nickels, combs — shiny things. He had a secret place down by the high school, a three-story apartment house, in the eaves of the building. Everybody kept saying he’s got his stuff up there, but nobody dared to go up.”

Bureau’s father, Harvey, finally got a 40-foot ladder that reached up to the spot and they found the stash, he said.


Smoky loved raw hamburger and when he got hungry, he’d fly home to get some. Bureau said the crow could see hamburger from a long distance.

One day, the crow plucked $200 in cash from Bureau’s father’s T-shirt pocket as he was talking to the local football coach in the driveway and flew up to the chimney on the roof next door. Fearing Smokey would release the money from his beak and drop it into the chimney, they took action.

“My father said, ‘Quick, Lee, go get some hamburg,’ so I ran in the house and got some hamburg. Smokey saw the hamburg and dropped the money and the money was rolling down the roof.”

One of the most amazing things about Smokey is that he knew what classrooms Lee and his sister attended all day at the old high school — now Gilman Apartments on Gilman Street.

“He’d land on the window sill and peck on the glass,” Bureau recalled. “He knew where my sister was. My French teacher was scared to death. I said, ‘Don’t be afraid. It’s just my pet crow.’ I went to the window, and he’d walk back and forth on the window sill outside and then fly off.”

Bureau credits his sister, Joy, who died many years ago, for spending so much time with Smokey that he became part of the family and could learn to talk.


Smokey, who was Bureau’s best buddy for about three years, ultimately met a sad end in 1952.

It was winter and the crow lived in the garage when it was cold, but as temperatures dipped to 15 below zero, the family got worried and put him in their cellar, where he would fly around, talk and play games, according to Bureau.

But one day, he pecked open a bag of ready cement and ingested some and died. The family was devastated, Bureau recalled.

“I was really bent. I didn’t realize I could be so attached to a crow. It was sad — it really was.”

Smokey was featured in the Morning Sentinel several times. A photo with his front-page obituary shows then-police Officer Joe Plisga directing traffic on Main Street downtown as Smokey struts across the street.

“There’s people that remember him to this day,” Bureau said. “They see me and say, ‘Aren’t you the guy that had that crow?’ So many people have their own stories about him. He was absolutely amazing. Crows are so smart. You wouldn’t believe the things that Smokey would do — carry a twig a long ways and hop up on the table to give it to me when I was doing a project. It was quite remarkable. I had so much fun with that crow.”

Recently, Bureau went to Wendy’s restaurant on Main Street, and there was a group of crows walking around. He saved some of his hamburger for them and he looked one, right in the eye, and talked to it, he recalled.

“I could see my crow,” he said. “They’re such beautiful birds.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: