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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Raptors & Crows

The trees, empty of their summer folliage, continue to provide perches for the neighborhood birds.  The regulars, chickadees, gold and house finches, bluejays, nuthatches and of course the very vocal titmice, are usually available for easy entertainment.  All that peace and apparant harmony can change in an instant when a hawk appears, turning the feeder area into a raptor diner. Last fall this hawk spent the afternoon staking out our sugar maple, halting all other activity and keeping things pretty quiet around the house.  I don't know what type of hawk it is but, with my very limited skill, I would say maybe a shap-shinned.  The tail appears to me to be pretty straight across, not as rounded as the books show for a coopers hawk.  My problem with this is that it seemed larger than a sharp-shinned.  I thought it bigger than a crow.  Maybe some of my readers can help identify it.

Raptors are not uncommon in our yard.  A couple years ago, Jeff was working in the yard when he noticed a strange screaming noise.  He was having trouble locating the direction of the sound. He soon realized that it was almost overhead.  There, perched on the electric pole was an osprey with a fish clutched in its talons.  It appeared to be directing all this commotion at Jeff.  Once he stopped and noticed the bird, it flew away.  Was it showing off? Bragging that it had filched a fish out of our pond a half-mile away?

I'm still trying to make friends with the Crows, but am not progressing very quickly.  The idea may have hatched when I read something Julie Zickafoos said. In her book, Letters from Eden she wrote that some coastal crows learned to recognize her car and followed it expecting her to give them a treat when she returned home.  Recently I heard the NPR story about  people who banded crows in the nest.  This was understandably traumatic for the crows who remembered the faces of the banders and harrassed them, evidently telling their crow friends and relatives to also harrass the evil banders. 

That report let me to a Youtube video about a man who taught a crow to use a vending maching for peanuts.  The video is called "Ted Talks:  The Amazing Intelligence of Crows - Joshua Klein."  The author devised a machine that would disperse peanuts if a coin was dropped in a hole.  The crows were offered a mixture of peanuts and "coins." Later the peanuts were inside the machine while the coins were situated near the hole.  The crows accidently knocked coins into the hole and were rewarded with a treat. The coins were then scattered on the ground.  The crows had, by now learned to associate the coins with the peanuts, so they figured out that they could pick up the coins from the ground and drop it in the hole thereby "buying" thier treat.  Well, I figure that if they are this smart, they should be able to learn to like the nice lady (me) who walks to the top of a knoll, makes cawing noises in a strange dialect then leaves meat, rolls and peanuts for them.  That doesn't sound so hard. Does it? 

Well so far, If I "caw" long enough, the crows will come to check out what all the racket is, rewarding me with a view of their dark sillouette low against the sky.  Gray mornings like today are the best.   This morning when I called them in, I could see them circle me, just over the tree tops.  A group of four had gathered behind the barn.   I couldn't quite see them, but did hear them.  They split up in a couple pairs.  Each pair flew through the trees until they were on either side of me, though still not close.  They flew across as I dropped some sirloin that had been in the freezer too long, as well as a few whole grain dinner rolls left over from Thanksgiving.  As usual, I added some handfulls of raw peanuts.  As I watch out the window, no crows.  If I see them at all, it will be later in the afternoon.  I suspect that they don't trust me yet. 

In the summer, I threw out left over popcorn right beside the house.  Most days a crow appeared very soon to eat it up.  the crow may have been less picky, because it had nestlings close by.  The popcorn was salted, and probably not the most nutritious thing for the birds, but I figure they steal enough corn out of our neighbor's fields that they have already made the decision about wanting the corn.  I just can't resist watching them pick out the popped kernals from amid the blooming clover.  If you didn't know the truth, you might think they are picking the clover and eating it. In fact, in one of these photos it appears that the crow actually did pick a clover, stem and all along with the popcorn.

1 comment:

Julie Zickefoose said...

I'm with you--that looks like a sharp-shinned hawk to me. The straight, not rounded, tail end and the head proportion (smallish) makes it look like a sharpie. It could be a big female, who'd approach crow size.