Closeup of the mock crow's nest showing ropes and other materials woven into it.

For Crows, By Humans

Walter Hood reflects on what corvids can teach us.

By Anjulie Rao

Photo of artistic model of a crow's nest hanging from a tree.
Hood Design Studio incorporated bottle caps into the crows’ nests to explore the idea of humans as scavengers. Photo by Liz Ligon, courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Crows—although they share a predilection for scavenging human food waste alongside other urban avian “pests” such as pigeons—carry a more mischievous reputation. The National Audubon Society cites their incredible intelligence and documented cases of the birds using tools, holding grudges, and performing funerals.

The Inspiration

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Walter Hood, the creative director and founder of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, California, began to take notice of the crows near his home. “I read a report that there was an increase in crows during COVID in certain places because we’re at home and there was an increase in waste,” he says. “I was amused by this idea of the scavenger in the city and thinking about, if I made something, how can I talk about waste-scavenging?”

The opportunity to “make something” came soon after, via an invitation from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to create a birdhouse for the garden’s For the Birds exhibition, a garden-wide outdoor art show that features birdhouses inspired by specific species. Now on view through October 23, the show includes more than 30 birdhouses.

For Hood, who chose to design a crow’s nest, the show presented an opportunity to both explore crows’ habits and to expand on scavenging. “Crows are great collectors,” Hood says. “In some places, where there is an abundance of one thing, they will collect them.” In Oakland, California, where Hood Design Studio is located, there is an abundance of Anchor Steam beer bottle caps from the local brewing operation.

Closeup of the mock crow's nest showing ropes and other materials woven into it.
Over several months, designers wove jute rope into an organic, nest-like form. No drawings were used to produce the nests. Image courtesy Hood Design Studio.

Making the Crows’ Nests

So his studio set up an amorphous mold and began a daily practice of weaving jute rope into the mold, allowing the “nest” to slowly take shape. As they added rope, they interspersed bottle caps—akin to the artist El Anatsui’s soda can pull-tab tapestries—to create nest forms that resembled those of crows: scrappy exteriors with a smooth interior, accomplished by using a steel base. The process was fairly sculptural and required no drawings, Hood notes.

Unlike the more formal birdhouses included in the exhibition, Hood Design Studio fabricated multiple nests, which are anchored in a gum tree using rebar and jute, retaining a naturalistic quality. The nests invite viewers to consider how animal behavior—the actions and adaptations of our urban “pests”—reflects on humans.

“I was collecting something one day, and a crow landed on the sidewalk, and it had a bag of McDonald’s. And the crow was trying to get French fries out of the bag. It says a lot about us, right?” Hood says. “They help us understand the context in which we live, and how healthy or unhealthy we are. For us, that was kind of the impetus. We landed on the bottle cap because we were scavenging in the environment.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this article, published in the October issue of LAM, incorrectly identified Walter Hood as a landscape architect. The error has been corrected here.

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