May 14 2008

Little attacks Big

American Crow (photo by Chuck Tague)The last time I saw a crow it was being attacked by three grackles.  In fact every time I see a crow lately, it’s under attack.  What gives?  Why are little birds attacking big ones?

Pittsburgh’s huge winter flock of crows dispersed by the end of March.  Since then the remaining crows have been secretive.  No raucous parties for them!  They’re up to the serious business of nesting and they don’t want us to find them.  For all intents and purposes, the crows have disappeared.

Meanwhile, the songbirds came home to nest.  By now, grackles, starlings and robins have young to feed.  So do the crows. 

Crows prefer to eat meat if they can get it.  I’ve seen a crow raid a pigeon nest and carry two eggs in its beak back to its own nest.  They’ll also steal nestlings.

So even though the crows are keeping a low profile, the songbirds know that crows will eat their eggs and chicks if they get a chance.  Long before the crow can find their nests, the songbirds gang up and loudly attack the crow.  The noise attracts reinforcements.  If the attack works the crow leaves the area.

At this time of year you will often see little birds attacking big ones.  The birds they attack are threats to their nests:
Crows attack red-tailed hawks,
Grackles and blue jays attack crows,
Chickadees attack blue jays.

When they’re nesting, a bird’s best defense is a good offense.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Little attacks Big”

  1. Susanon 15 May 2008 at 1:58 pm

    A few afternoons ago, on my way home, I saw a crow fly over my car, followed by about a dozen or so other birds. I’ve never seen so many little birds following a big one before. I actually pulled off the road and got out of my car. The crow landed – it had a baby bird in its beak. I walked towards them, but the crow took off again, with the baby, before I could get close. The other birds were still after them. The thing that really surprised me, though, was that the little birds following were a collection of different types. I saw at least cardinals and robins, but it all happened so fast I couldn’t get too close of a look.

  2. Kate StJon 15 May 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Wow! Sounds like the entire neighborhood freaked out when that crow stole a baby bird!

  3. Helenon 30 May 2008 at 9:14 am

    A similiar thing happened this morning, two crows were being chased by an assortment of little birds, at least 12 (blue jays, some type of yellow birds, and what appeared to be female cardinals) these birds were screaming and dive bombing these crows. They were actually working together to attack these crows; I’ve never seen anything quite like it. They were relentless in their attack on the crows, I actually felt sorry for the crows and usually I can’t stand them. Certainly was an exciting bird watching experience.

    North Atlleboro, MA

  4. Kate StJon 01 Jun 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Today while driving home through the Shenandoah Mountains, I saw two instances of a crow attacking turkey vultures. I always think of crows as large birds but when you see one go after a turkey vulture you realize how small and comparatively agile they are.

  5. Sgt524on 06 Jun 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve seen several small birds attack a hawk and after minutes into the attack I saw the hawk turn and slam into the smaller bird as it rested on a limb. It was over in a moment.

  6. Barneyon 09 Jul 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I witnessed an assortment of small birds attack a crow who had corned a robin chick out of the nest but still unable to fly for great distances. Not only did the mother attack the crow but a whole host of small birds joined in the fray. The crow took off and came back with two comrades – it was a weird happening. I intervened and moved the chick off the road and into some bushes. I was amazed to see different species working together against a common foe.

  7. Richon 12 Feb 2012 at 8:24 am

    Three Crow Stories

    1. It was not busy on I-5 Northbound 50th St exit Seattle. As I drove up the onramp and saw a crow start to flap its wings and rush at a shinny black mole. The mole was forced into my wheel path and I swerved to miss it. As I thought about it I resented being used as an instrument of death by that feathered varmint.

    2. My wife and I were driving on a residential street and saw 20 or so crows attacking a single crow. We stopped to watch while four or five of them had the unlucky victim pinned in the gutter against the face of the curb and were savagely pecking at his eyes and head as the other fifteen crows seemed to be cheering the event. It was shocking and my wife said to me “Aren’t you going to do something” at which point I gunned my mighty Suburu Forrester Turbo right at them at which point they dispersed leaving the dazed victim to recover and head in the opposite direction.

    3. My little Black Poodle (20 Lbs.) charged a pair of crows in the neighbors front yard, yapping incessantly. The pair of crows easily averted the dog and flew up to the top edge of a work trailer at curbside and seemed to taunt the dog or at least keeping her interested. I was watching from the front door and heard a car speeding down the street toward us. The two crows, timing the instant perfectly flew down to the curb across the street careful to be in dogs view between all the parked cars and started beckoning the dog to come and get them. At this point I ran out and commanded the already charging dog to stop! which she did. Had she not she would be dead now.

  8. Ronon 22 Jun 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks for this–I googled small birds attacking crow and this came up. I saw a crow being attacked by about 5 smaller birds, maybe starlings but I’m no birder so I’m not sure. It was the strangest thing. It seemed they were trying to peck at a particular spot on the crow’s neck where it’s feathers were ruffled. They got at the crow in the air and on the ground. Finally the crow flew to the top of a small building, perching right out on the corniced edge which gave it some relief from the other birds. Soon, though, they bothered it enough that it took off again with 5 birds in pursuit.

  9. Samion 03 May 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Ha! I can’t believe I found this thread!! I had my own occurrence yesterday afternoon where I witnessed a crow “attacking” a young turkey vulture in the trees alongside the road I was traveling on. So, I did a search in google just now, “crow attacks vulture,” and found this thread! I was surprised lol.

    I was in the passenger’s seat in my mom’s Blazer and a bird with a HUGE wingspan flew directly over our car. I made my mom stop so I could see what was going on and to the right of the vehicle and myself, I witnessed the young vulture sitting on a low branch of a tree while the crow was on the branch above him. The young turkey vulture seemed confused and a bit scared but stayed in the same spot on the branch; didn’t move. The crow kept flying AT him and pecking him randomly on his back and tail-feathers. This happened a few times before the young turkey vulture flew off. When he flew off, the crow flew after him and was RIGHT on his tail. They made a quick swoop around the back of our vehicle and I saw that the crow was holding onto one of the young turkey vulture’s tailfeathers. They were gone after that. While this was all going down, there was an older turkey vulture (which my mother and I assumed to be either a sibling or the mother), flying in circles over the area and in the nearby trees on the other side of the road. I have to say, it was quite an incredible experience.

    I’m glad I found this thread, though! Gave me some insight as to why this odd occurrence was happening!!

    ~SamiCakes~

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