Crow With Knife Meme Turns One: The Odd Backstory and Continuing Adventures of Canuck

A crow that is not the famous Canuck the Crow, the one that stole a knife from a crime scene, sits on a tombstone at Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetary) in Vienna, Austria, October 25. Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters

One longstanding complaint of writers is that language is severely limited—that at times it's impossible to compress the world into letters and sentences. More to the point: Is there a German word for a crow wielding a knife that it swiped from a crime scene?

Scratch that. Even if there were, it wouldn't begin to encompass the life of a Vancouver crow named Canuck. He's a salty character, like an ornery uncle who shows up to Christmas smelling of cigarettes and brandy, lugging gifts that fell off the back of a truck. Canuck plays the ponies. If you're down on your luck and need a loonie, he'll spare you one—but you'd better repay him with interest in a week.

One year ago, Canuck became internet famous. (Please note: What follows is in no way an exaggeration; there is no personification or hyperbole of any kind. These are facts and things that happened in the real world, God bless it.)  

It started with a shootout. 

Police in Vancouver arrived to quite a scene: a McDonald's parking lot, a car engulfed in flames, a man with a knife. Officers shot and arrested the man after an apparent confrontation, then cordoned off the crime scene with red tape.

Enter Canuck. 

The crow swooped down, a thief in broad daylight, and snatched the knife left in place at the crime scene. But like many a career criminal with more gall than foresight, it wasn't a clean getaway for old Canuck. 

A CBC segment last year about the incident featured a hilariously straight-faced reporter describing how it played it out.

"Witnesses say officers chased the crow for about 15 to 20 feet until the crow eventually dropped the knife and police got ahold of it," said CBC reporter Meera Bains. "Police have confirmed this. They do say this crow was quite persistent but they did manage to get ahold of the evidence."

At this point Bains did crack a small smile, but recovered to add: "The crow also persisted and hung around the crime scene for a while. He was seen hanging out on the burned car and trying to get into the camera gear of some of the media that were out there."

The bird wasn't charged with any crimes (although I have a suspicion about who would have represented Canuck, had it been necessary).

What did come to light was that this crow was not just any crow—this was no plain bird that squawks the days away on a telephone wire. It was local legend Canuck, identifiable by an orange tag on his foot. Pictures of Canuck surfaced and a meme was born. A photo of our hero, somehow grimacing even while possessing no mouth or teeth, with a knife in his beak, was too funny for the internet to ignore. Outlets from The Washington Post to the New York Daily News to ABC News wrote about Canuck.

It was a brief run-in with international notoriety. But the meme lives on—if you have Twitter (or live on it, like some of us), you've almost certainly encountered the photo of Canuck, sinister and be-knifed, likely accompanying a joke of some sort. (A popular one involves imagining he's angry about someone trash-talking Edgar Allen Poe, seemingly misidentifying Canuck as a raven.)

But the crow has long been famous locally. Before pilfering the knife, he attacked a cyclist and appeared in a previous CBC piece about the incident. Canuck life's began with a tumble out of his nest. He was apparently nursed back to life by a human, and as a result has little to no fear of people. Crows don't have fingers, but if they did, Canuck's would be as sticky as the digits of a kindergartner who just polished off a honeybun. He has been accused of stealing cigarettes, rolling papers, lighters, change, keys and anything else that's loose and can fit in his beak. He's also a regular at the local horse track.

"We're thinking maybe he's got a gambling problem," said Shawn Bergman, who described himself as Canuck's best friend after the knife incident.

It has been a bit rough for Canuck in the year since stealing the weapon. The bird was at a kids' soccer tournament in March when a father whacked it with a flagpole, appearing to knock Canuck out as children "screamed in terror," according to local paper the Vancouver Sun.

But after a stay in an animal hospital, he's returned to his stomping grounds outside Bergman's home, resuming his ruffian life (one that's followed by 50,000 people on Facebook). But maybe he's mellowing a bit with age—crows in the wild typically live just seven to 10 years—because's he's got a friend he hangs with now named Cassiar.

The newest video on his Facebook page shows Canuck just ambling about with his friend, perhaps indicating his thieving days are behind him. More likely, though, is that he's planning his next heist with an accomplice.