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Thursday, November 29, 2012

A murder of crows

Crows are present in my neighborhood throughout the year, but they tend to be mostly invisible for much of that time. In fall and winter, though, they become very much a part of the backyard bird scene. They show up in noisy, boisterous groups, called "murders" and often make themselves obnoxious to the other backyard birds.

I often see them patrolling the ground under my feeders, looking for fallen seeds. They even visit the birdbaths for a drink and an occasional splash.

They are large birds, with a wingspan that reaches almost 40 inches. That, along with their loud voices and their mischief-making personalities, makes them a dramatic presence in the yard

The American Crow is the much bigger cousin to our Blue Jay. Their personalities do have much in common. They both tend to be neighborhood sentinels, always on the alert for predators and quick to cry the alarm. Both birds are implacable foes to owls and hawks and will "mob" - i.e., gang up on them and harass them - whenever they find them.

I've seen a couple of examples of mobbing by the crows just this week. I've already written here about their harassment of a Red-tailed Hawk on Sunday and of how they chased a tiny American Kestrel that they dislodged from its perch. Yesterday, I saw three of them tackle that same Red-tailed Hawk again.

The hawk was lazily circling over my yard, probably looking for his lunch. The bird seems to have taken up winter residence here, probably attracted by the large number of very well-fed squirrels in my neighborhood. The crows had gathered in the neighbor's big pecan tree and were socializing and perhaps eating the pecans when they noticed the hawk. They immediately rose into the air and gave chase. I suppose I should say they tried to give chase. The hawk was singularly unimpressed with their efforts and continued his circling until he finally moved a couple of yards over and the crows lost interest and returned to the pecan tree.

Crows really are fascinating birds. As a family, they are considered to be among the most intelligent of all birds. The New Caledonian Crow, for example, has been documented to use tools in order to obtain its food. The intelligence of the American Crow may be proven simply by its survival and abundance. Many times throughout our nation's history men have tried to extirpate it, even going to the extreme of dynamiting its roosts, but the versatile crow continues to outsmart its enemies and to adapt to whatever living conditions it finds. Its natural habitat has long been woodlands, farms, and fields, but it has learned to thrive in towns and even cities.

And I am here to testify that it is doing very well indeed in the suburbs. I'm quite happy with that. It would be a duller backyard without them. 

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