Throw Back Thursday (TBT) is on Friday today because of the short work week.
In the seven years since I started writing about Pittsburgh’s winter crows I can see that they’ve changed their ways. No, they’re not less boisterous and gregarious. No, they have not stopped gathering in huge roosts. But they’ve made adjustments in where they roost and the flight paths they use to get there. The huge flocks don’t fly over my house anymore.
Back in January 2008 the crows roosted at WQED and caused quite a stir which I addressed with my favorite poem called Crows by Doug Anderson.
(Click here to read…)
p.s. I carry the Crows poem with me wherever I go. I’m probably the only person you know who carries a poem about crows in her purse.
As birds fly overhead they notice things we humans cannot see because we’re stuck on the ground with a narrow perspective.
Most birds ignore our activity but crows pay attention to humans and watch for things of interest. How else could they find out it’s Garbage Day and show up just in time to poke holes on in our garbage bags?
In February 2011 there was an early morning mystery on my street. At dawn, the crows leaving the winter roost flew over my neighborhood and saw it below. Each flock paused, circled above, and cawed loudly. Click here to read what happened that morning. The crows were the first to know.
This fall Pittsburgh’s winter crow roost has settled in the Hill District above Bigelow Boulevard near Cliff Street. Because of its location very few crows fly over my neighborhood at dawn.
If there’s a mystery this winter it will have to wait for us humans to discover it.
In Gifts of the Crow John Marzluff, who conducted the face-recognition experiments at University of Washington, tells how the same American crows that harass the mask-face fly to perch near Lijana Holmes when she arrives on campus. She feeds them a breakfast of eggs and meat every day. It’s not just the food. Crows know who their friends are.
Not only do the crows trust him, they’re willing to raid his pocket that holds the treats. Watch at 2:30 as a hooded crows thinks about the pocket and at 3:40 when a carrion crow spends time pulling out the treats and throwing away the peanuts.
Here’s a scary thought. If you’re an enemy to crows, they remember your face and harass you.
John Marzluff from the University of Washington shows how they remember their enemies in this clip from A Murder of Crows.
He investigated the phenomenon because he, like other crow researchers, was routinely harassed by crows after he captured and banded their young. Were they remembering his clothing? No, they remembered his face.
Perhaps you or a friend have experienced this too. For instance…
Mike Olaugh of Minneapolis left a comment on my blog about blue jays and added this note about crows. “The Crows … are ubiquitous no matter the conditions. We are near a cemetery and they have lived there for a century. I learned when I first moved here 20 years ago to leave them alone. They ganged up on my car and dropped on it en masse for a whole season. (I was trying to get them to stop roosting across the alley.)”
The crows recognized Mike and did something to drive him nuts until he left them alone.
Moral of the story: If you harass crows, you may have to wear a mask.
(YouTube video excerpt from PBS NATURE posted by Simon and Schuster as a promo for Marzluff and Angell’s 2012 book Gifts of the Crow)
Not everyone is as enthusiastic about winter crows as I am. If you walk or park your car beneath the roosts you’re surely disgusted by the mess they make. What to do? Move the crows.
Central New York state has lots of experience with crow wrangling. At times Auburn has had 70,000 winter crows, more than two and a half times their human population of 28,000. Years of trial and error have shown that killing crows doesn’t work but moving them does.
So now, Central New York gets ready every autumn to move the crows to locations that aren’t so bothersome. This August 2012 video shows a seminar in Baldwinsville, 20 miles northeast of Auburn … as the crow flies.
Tired of being outdone by celebrity bald eagles and peregrine falcons, ravens have decided to get into the act.
Last October a pair of common ravens chose Wellesley College as the smart place to be. Over the winter they scoped out the campus and evaluated future nest sites. By March it was evident they’d made a wise choice when they built their nest on a high fire escape at the Science Center. Their platform is enclosed by glass on three sides so they have great views and less wind.
They also have electricity, an Internet connection and night lights — perfect for a webcam — so Pauline and Henry are now celebrities.
Named for the founders of Wellesley College, Pauline and Henry’s choice probably shocked the local raven population. “What were you thinking!? Humans are unpredictably dangerous! We never nest that close to them.” But their unique choice has given them shelter while we get a window on their world.
Pauline laid two eggs in March, one hatched in early April, and now their nestling is growing every day. Unlike peregrine falcon chicks, raven babies are not cute, fluffy and white. Instead they’re born naked and awkward with a very large mouth. When the parents come to the nest “the mouth” opens to show off its red interior. In the weeks ahead the mouth will stay red but the body will transform into a feathered juvenile raven, one of the smartest birds on earth.
Smartly clothed in black, Pauline and Henry are happy to share their lives with you on camera. Click here or on the screenshot above to watch them online.
First published last August, it compares the flight styles of peregrines and ravens using slow motion high definition video. You’ll see how the peregrine is built for speed and precision, the raven for aerobatics.
Another difference, something you can’t see, is in their attitude toward the flight exercise. Both are trained birds but they have completely different reasons for participating — and it’s a difference between the two species.
The peregrine is all business. He’s hunting and focused, no playing around. He associates with his trainer for business reasons and has a radio tag in case he decides to leave.
The raven is out there for social reasons. He’s spending time with his favorite “raven,” doing some cool maneuvers to capture airborne food, flying along with his mate. (The raven considers his trainer to be his mate.)
The radio tag is also a subtle key to these individual birds’ personalities. The young peregrine could hunt anywhere. If he breaks training he’ll fly away. The raven is so bonded to his “mate” that his trainer knows he’ll never leave.