While family pets tend to be furry and four-legged, one local man grew up with fairly unconventional pets.

Jeff Bloom had pet crows in his childhood, and has just released his first children’s book about one of Squawker’s adventures.

Squawker: Free as a Bird is told from the crow’s perspective as he learns to fly.

“Birds can’t fly when they’re born,” Bloom said. “They have to be taught how. They watch their parents fly, they watch other birds fly; they know essentially what’s involved, but they don’t know how because they’ve never left the ground.”

In the book, a person – based on Bloom’s father – teaches Squawker to fly, using his dad’s tried-and-true technique.

“My dad would hold them between his legs and heave them up in the air, and they don’t know what to do. They’d go up, tip over, get their wings out at the last second and slow down just enough that they don’t hurt themselves too badly when they hit the ground. They’d just get their wings out earlier the next time.”

He said it wasn’t challenging teaching the birds to fly, even without being able to demonstrate, because crows are very intelligent.

“Our crows hadn’t had a chance to see their parents fly at all. They walked, they ran, they barked like dogs because they weren’t raised by crows. They even imitated the cat and meowed.”

Bloom said his family had one pet crow a year, which they always called Squawker. When the bird got the “mating bug” in the spring, it would take off with other crows and, just a few weeks later, Bloom would have a new, baby pet bird.

The idea came from his father, who’d also had pet crows growing up. And he said they made excellent pets.

“They never needed any exercise because they always got it themselves. Birds are a lot of fun. Squawkers – crows – are a lot of fun,” he said. “They were hilarious, absolutely hilarious.”

Bloom has an arsenal of Squawker stories based on the experience of raising the birds, and the next two instalments of the Squawker series already written – they just need to be published. The next book, Squawker: the Piano Party, follows the crow’s adventure in pecking away at a baby grand piano toy.

“He was not a virtuoso, but he thought he was,” Bloom laughed.

The pet crows also exhibited a distinct sense of humour. Bloom said one Squawker liked to play pranks on the family’s eight cocker spaniel puppies as they were feeding.

“He’d sit up on the open door of the porch, he’d wait until everybody was feeding, he’d walk in amongst the puppies, get one’s ear and drag the pup into the middle of the porch,” Bloom said. “The pup would be just screaming. Dad would look around and there’s Squawker sitting on the top of the door, going ‘I don’t know what happened.'”

Growing up outside of Kamloops, one Squawker even tried to join a kit of tumbler pigeons, which have the odd ability to flip over in flight.

“Our crow would get up there and fly with them and try to do the same thing, only crows don’t do that,” Bloom said. “He’d just mush in the air. He never did learn how to tumble.”

As a teacher, Bloom has had plenty of opportunity to test out his close to 30 Squawker stories on his target audience (ages three to nine) for the books.

“I’ve told [the stories] for 38 years to all my classes in school,” he said. “I always have the kids in stitches, telling stories about Squawker.”

But it wasn’t as easy as putting the words on the page to get the book where it is today. Bloom said the story, which he originally wrote four years ago, underwent 16 rewrites and countless edits, and even more edits once he started seeing the words on the page with illustrations by Kamloops artist Darlene Loewen. He said it took several tries before they got on the same page with the style of the illustrations.

“I actually sat down with her and I just told stories about Squawker for an hour or so. Her very next picture was this one,” he said, pointing to a page in the book.

Bloom said working with local publishing firm We4 Productions gave him a good amount of creative control over the finished product.

“The book is what I wanted it to be and more, and in a sense is what I got because I chose it,” he said.

Bloom will have a book launch next month for Squawker: Free as a Bird.