The Birds


me hilary donna, cutting hilary

First question from my husband this morning was, “Did you hear the birds?” I’m obsessed with the wild parrots that live together on Chautauqua, just a few blocks away so I asked if it might be them. “No,” he said, “big black birds.” Then I went straight for it, saying with so much conviction he was floored: “Oh, it was probably a crow funeral in a tree”.

And then I went on. Crows have this super intelligence that no other animal has. They remember the face of any human that slighted them and they tell all the other crows in the WORLD about that human’s face and then he or she is fucked (among crows, anyway) for life. Talk about a vendetta. I’m really up on crows. I saw a Ted talk about them. Am I a black crow in my grudge keeping? I used to say I have the memory of an elephant but I’m changing it to the memory of a crow.

Cake I made for July 4th scroll to bottom for recipe

Cake I made for July 4th scroll to bottom for recipe

I had a very powerful crow experience once and here is how that day played out. It’s July 4th, a few years ago. I’m sitting with my friend Donna at the little table in my kitchen, drinking tea. Catching up. We had already done the cockamamie parade in the village — a quaint, small town celebration that I never miss even though my kids gave up on it years ago. Suddenly we had this surround sound of birds squawking. As we tried to talk over the cacophony I said to Donna that I thought it was probably the parrots. And then I told her about the parrots. I think I should just jump into the parrot story I like to tell and then, no worries, I’ll get back to the crows.

There was once this diet doctor who, okay, called himself an endocrinologist. I should mention that he was also Hefner’s best friend. I heard that he had moved into the Palisades near me, and on the first day of living here, his beloved parrot, while perched on the housekeeper’s shoulder, flew away. Shortly thereafter, my good friend, who incidentally had once dated this doctor, saw a group of women dressed as nurses staring up into a tree. She pulled over and asked what they were doing. They said their boss, a doctor, lost his parrot and they were going tree-to-tree to find it.

I hadn’t seen this doctor dude in decades, but I knew him from the days my friend briefly dated him in the 70’s, and read his name over the years in association with Hef and the “mansion.” One day, while swimming in my pool naked, I heard a loud catcall. It was daytime, so I crawled out of the water and quickly covered up with a towel. I wondered if maybe a gardener had peeked over the wall and couldn’t restrain himself.

At the time, I had some strange ear issue that no doctor could figure it out, so for the hell of it, I called the diet doctor.   I got his number from the LOST PARROT ad he’d been running in our local Palisades paper. I said, “Hi, it’s Fredde Duke. I know we haven’t seen each other in years — first of all, welcome to the Palisades – second, I heard you lost your bird, sorry — and third, do you happen to know of any good ENT’s?” Then I randomly mentioned that sexy whistle by the pool, and the doc went berserk. He said, “That’s Muffin!” (I’m changing the bird’s name to protect its privacy.) He knows that it’s “Muffin” because Muffin loves pools and naked women, having spent so much time at the Playboy Mansion. AND Muffin does the catcall, so he’s almost a hundred percent certain it was his bird. He was at my house in less than five minutes. He brought along his guilty, over-perfumed housekeeper with him to search the area around my home. He quickly demands that I buy lots of Dr. Pepper cans to put on the perimeter walls of my yard because Muffin is very attracted to Dr. Pepper cans. (As opposed to Hefner who prefers Pepsi.) What? And I did it. Just to appease him. Then each week for a month he sent the housekeeper to check the area around the cans — but nothing.

In passing, the doctor mentioned the House Ear institute.   They weren’t helpful at all. The parrot was never recovered and the doctor moved out of the Pacific Palisades. I like to think his parrot joined that shrieking green Palisades flock, living happily ever after – and every once in awhile he flies over Hef’s place for a quick peek and a horny whistle at some naked broads.

Getting back to July 4th. I walked Donna to my door to say good-bye. I opened it to a Hitchcockian scene. So many black crows hovering overhead that you could not see blue sky.   Their shrill cawing was deafening. I looked below them and saw an injured crow sitting on the ledge of tiles that separate the hot tub from the pool. I shouted to Donna, “Grab him!!!!” To my delight — and can I say I was impressed? — she picks up a towel and calmly lifts the huge bird and places him on the ground next to the pool. I, however, am not so calm. I have a feral cat that would love to eat this bird for lunch. So I say, “Now can you move it again but out onto my front lawn, away from Lucy?” Donna retrieves the bird again and places it out front. The other crows are going mad. I go back in my house, but can’t get the injured bird out of my mind, so I return to check. Still there. Again. Still there. Then a few hours later I walk outside and watch as it recovers enough to fly low to the lawn across the street.   Now, the thousands of birds that had come to its rescue are calmed. One by one, they head off to attend to other crow business.

Moral of the story: Don’t ever look at the crow as an inferior creature again. They are quite superior. They know when a traffic light is red — and when it turns green, they step across the street to grab some food on the asphalt. They are loyal and mate for life. No pre-nups. They have lots of parties that they don’t invite us to. If you don’t believe me, just look overhead to the electrical wires where they are having a rave. Sometimes I roll down my car window and yell up, “Another party you didn’t invite me to?” The word on the street among crows about my face is CRAZY CHICK — and the word about Donna’s face is SAVIOR.   Her crow karma will last an eternity.

Strangely, about a year before our crow incident, I had dream about Donna. Backstory is I think of her as being a lot like me. Fearful. Neurotic. In the dream, a bee was buzzing around my eye and it landed on my eyelash. I was terrified and pleaded with Donna to help me. She very calmly and gently picked the bee up by its wings and let it fly away. The dream was almost a premonition of the day she saved the bird. Now, like the Palisades crows, I think of Donna as fearless.


Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup superfine sugar (any sugar is fine)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup best-quaility cocoa

1 1/2 sticks softened unsalted butter

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2/3 cup sour cream

put all the cake ingredients together: flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, cocoa butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into food processor and process until you have a smooth thick batter.  I just throw it all in a mixing bowl and use beaters.


package of powdered sugar

1 stick softened unsalted butter

1 package 8 ounce cream chesse

1 teaspoon vanilla

Use a hand mixer to combine all ingredients and frost your cake.  Decorate it but I usually don’t.  Here is what I else I don’t do — give the whole thing away at a July 4th party.  I show up with the cake that I spent hours making and I put the cake out but when I leave that party, I take back a HUGE portion for myself of my own cake.  Ghetto much?  And sometimes I’m extra-shameless and before I go to a party, cut a slice for myself.  I just can’t wait to eat my own cake!!






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14 Responses to “The Birds”

  1. Augie Duke says:

    Incredible ladies you two

  2. Pauli says:

    Love this one. Why was the housekeeper guilty? Did she let the parrot get out? There are crows that share their bodies with the souls of departed ancestors. (See any Carlos Casteneda book) Fascinating rhythm to the story! FYI: I have a similar chocolate cake recipe and find it turns out best with just one teaspoon of baking soda. No baking powder needed. Xoxo

  3. Laura Plotkin says:

    Loved this story! Did you ever see a documentary, filmed in San Francisco, called “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”? If you didn’t, rent it. Trust me, you will love it!

  4. gabri ferrer says:

    great wisdom and too true… about donna’s fearlessness, taking back huge slices of your own cake, and crows. i would sometimes watch (when working at ASBH) as they took large seed pods, drop them onto camden drive, watch the traffic patterns, adjust the seed’s position, wait for a car to crush the pod and enjoy the fruits of their labor. pretty fucking insane, i say. (as is that cake recipe…) mmm.

    and, scene.

  5. J franklyn says:

    Ora and I both have bird stories which means our friendships will soar forever or we should never eat our lunches under a group of pigeons. Either way I’ve always believed that old souls inhabit those fragile flying winged beauties

  6. tracy says:

    A wonderful tribute to Donna and Crows….
    Yes… They are #1 in the 10 smartest list.
    And you are #1 on the love to read blog list….
    And I am again drooling over the cake that I have already enjoyed eating many times at your house…Yummy!!!
    Thanks Fredde for yet another enjoyable moment shared by you …
    Love it!!!

  7. Libbie lane says:

    Funny funny funny love this crazy story! Xx

  8. Renee Sherman says:

    Great story, Fredde. Years ago there were wild parrots that liked to hang out in my mom’s orange tree in BH. She loved those birds and looked forward to their frequent visits. I would hear her yell, Renee! Come! The beautiful birds are back! Thanks for the memories, Fredde.

  9. Fredde,
    This was so much fun to read. When my brother and his band mates were poor and young they decided to eat a crow from our backyard as some boyish double entendre. The crows came hunting those guys for years. Well Stated. Crows are badass!!!!

  10. Nicole Foos says:

    Love love love. All of it.

  11. jennifer dudley arbaugh says:

    Before we sold our house in Indian Hill, TEAMS of blackbirds gathered on our front lawn. Spring after spring. Hundreds of em. I have a personal vendetta vs most if not all birds. They have crapped on me in Trafalgar Sq when I was 10. Had radar in Zoo’s all over the world. Flew into my car windshield in Chappaqua and NOW the ugly black evil beasts in Cincinnati. My revenge….. two huge pans in each hand, banging em together whilst I scream “get the fuck off my lawn” always with my pajama’s in the early morn. They immediately took flight . My hearing was damaged for the day but I was victorious… Jennifer. Back in Charlevoix

  12. Joel Brokaw says:

    Crows are considered to be very auspicious in Tibetan Buddhist culture. They are always regarded as a good omen. Wonderful beings! Thanks for giving them the great p.r. they deserve….

  13. P says:

    after my mom died i was having lunch with a lady who found me stone in sb and ended up allowing me to crash on her couch. Her oldest son was my age and she took me in drunk and all. During this lunch weeks later this crow arrived on our table. It would not leave. It stood there as we ate our burgers. As we got up to leave the crow watch us and as we walked to her car the circle us. It was odd and was told years later it was considered a good omen depending the flight pattern. Thanks sue bandback for your aid. P out

  14. kimberly clark says:

    The pet parrot was named “Baby” and the doctor was a creep! Baby had to get away, I am sure and the crows helped her make the escape!

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