The Greener View: Crows
Question: Every morning for the past few weeks, we have had a flock of crows sit in the trees above our house. They make a huge racket and wake us up. It is almost like a scene from a horror movie. What are they doing? And how can we make them stop?
Answer: You are not being singled out. They do not care at all that anyone is in the human house. They do care who is at home in one of your trees, in a birdhouse or in the backyard.
Crows have taken it upon themselves to be neighborhood tattletales. They have few natural enemies, but they love hassling the ones they do have. There is probably an owl hidden in an evergreen tree, or there could be a cat prowling nearby. The cat may be let out of the house at the same time each morning, or it may follow the same routine of where it goes each day.
Many bird species will make a special call to let others, both of its species and of other species, know when a predator is nearby. They make different calls for mammal predators and avian ones. Most birds will then retreat from the area until the predator is gone. Crows, blue jays, magpies and ravens are in the same family, and they travel in loud, often raucous, flocks. When they find an owl, they will buzz over its head, sit in nearby trees and make a racket. They try to drive the predator from its territory.
If they find a hawk that's slow and generally eats small mammals, such as the red-tailed hawk, they will follow it in flight and dive bomb it. Small birds have better maneuverability than large birds. Small songbirds will dive and attack crows to drive them out of their territories. Crows will do the same thing to the owls and hawks. None of them will attack the larger hawks that eat birds, like the sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawks. I have seen small birds attacking crows and those crows attacking a hawk, all flying over a field together. Crows will even surround a red-tailed hawk on the ground and harass it.
Crows have a very organized family structure. They stay in specific territories spring through fall, where sometimes the previous year's offspring help to raise the new batch of young. They lay about five eggs that are 1 1/2 inches long. Both sexes build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed the young. Crows eat just about any plant or animal matter they can find. They are often seen along roads picking at dead animals, but you rarely see a crow killed on the road.
They are very intelligent and observant. They are reported to be able to count how many hunters enter and how many leave a wooded area or blind. They can even tell if they are carrying guns or just carrying sticks.
Q: Back in July, we noticed that all of the robins in our neighborhood had disappeared. They had been nesting, and when the young left the nest, all of the robins left our area. We assumed they had migrated early, but all of a sudden, huge flocks of robins are back. They are eating all of the small crabapples in our trees. Where have they been for the past few months? Shouldn't they have flown south by now?
A: When robins are nesting, they are very territorial and the whole population stays very spread out. They spend a lot of time near people and are very visible. When the young leave the nest, all of the robins gather in flocks and spend more time in smaller forested areas -- and some do head south.
As food begins to disappear in the more natural locations, they look for any source of food they can find. The crabapples are getting softer and easier to eat now that they have had a few frosts. Don't worry, they will move farther south very soon. Some robins do spend the winter in northern states, like Michigan, if they can find enough food. They will eat berries and small fruits. Some will even come to suet feeders, if the feeder allows them to reach the suet.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at email@example.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.