Archive for the 'Crows, Ravens' Category

Nov 16 2012

About Rooks

When five rooks came to celebrate my blog’s anniversary last week they piqued my interest because we never see them in North America.

Rooks are Eurasian relatives of crows, found from Ireland to Japan.  At a distance they look like American crows with very long beaks but this is an illusion.  Their beaks look long because the skin on their faces is naked and matches the beak color.

Close up the skin is obvious and a bit disturbing if you’re not used to it.  When they perch with wings hunched and feathers puffed they resemble the Grim Reaper.  Actually, artists probably chose rooks as their model for the Grim Reaper and not the other way around.

Like blue jays, rooks can store food in their throat bags, then carry it elsewhere.  The throat becomes distended as you can see briefly in the video above.

Rooks are more social than their American relatives.  They nest communally in the treetops in collections called rookeries.  In North America we have no rooks but our herons use the same nesting technique so we call their groupings heron rookeries.

Like crows, rooks are curious and really smart but this can make them annoying.  To a rook, it’s normal to make holes to hide food but this is a liability if you keep one indoors.  Fortunately, few people do.

Early this year I enjoyed reading Corvus: A Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson in which she tells the story of her rook named Chicken, a very smart and engaging bird, but I agree with the Daily Mail which said, “Yet perhaps the best measure of Woolfson’s candidacy for sainthood is the permission she has given Chicken to dismantle the plaster and lath on her hallway wall so that the rook has its own food storage space.”

…You see what I mean…?

Smart… but not good pets.

(video by Goldfinch Garden on YouTube)

One response so far

Nov 09 2012

They Say It’s Your Bird-thday!

Look who showed up this morning!  It’s a British Invasion and they’re singing their own version of the Beatles Birthday song,

They say it’s your Bird-thday
We’re gonna have a good time…
Yes we’re going to a party party.
Yes we’re going to a party party.

Hello, Rooks! Thanks for coming all the way from Britain to celebrate Outside My Window’s 5th birthday.  Do you have any requests?

“Yes, we’ve been reading your blog and learning a lot of useful stuff about birds, weather, plants, flowers, and interstellar space.  Now we have 5 questions.”

1.  What numbers describe Outside My Window?
That’s easy.  The blog averages 577 visitors a day and creates 22% of all traffic to WQED.org.   (A big THANK YOU to my readers!)

2.  Which posts had the most readers in the past year?
Dorothy wins the prize. Top readership goes to Peter Bell’s amazing pictures of Dorothy attacking a bald eagle over Schenley Plaza.  Last year’s Falcon or Hawk? continues to win the top prize from Google search.

3. What spawned the most comments?
When National Audubon posted Have You Seen Any Blue Jays Lately? on their Facebook page it generated 63 comments, but the stand-alone prize goes to Mouse In The House with 26.  The mouse struck a cord, eh?

4.  What were your favorite photos in the past year?
Wow, that’s hard!  Here are three: Peter Bell’s Peregrine versus Bald Eagle (of course Dorothy’s always a favorite), Steve Gosser’s Chick at Tarentum and Chuck Tague’s Walking On Air.

5.  Which posts were your personal favorites?
Morning Glory clouds and Move-In Day taught me the most, but I have to say that my favorite was the coming home story of Beauty, the peregrine queen of Rochester, New York in Whose Egg Is This???.

“Oooooooo. Peregrines?!?  We do not like peregrines!”

Sorry, guys.  In compensation I’m letting you eat the entire cake.   (Now that they’re standing on it, it’s theirs!)

(party rooks by Joan Guerin)

p.s.  Do you have a favorite post?  A suggestion for new topics?  Leave a comment and let me know.

12 responses so far

Nov 02 2012

Prediction

Published by under Crows, Ravens

 

I predict that the first time most people notice that big flocks of crows are back in town will be during evening rush hour on Monday November 5.

Can you guess why?

 

(video of the flock in December 2010 by Sharon Leadbitter)

6 responses so far

Oct 10 2012

They’re Baaaaack!

Published by under Crows, Ravens

Pittsburgh’s crows are back!

The winter flock is building.  Hundreds gathered last evening near Bigelow Boulevard at Craig Street.  As sunlight faded in the western sky they left to roost  … where?

This morning Tony Bledsoe dodged the “rain” from their roost in the trees near Clapp Hall.  His guess at the size of the flock?  500.   And this is just the beginning.   By November they’ll build to a crescendo of crows.

Where do they gather at dusk?  Leave a comment with the news … or tweet me the location of Pittsburgh’s crow flock @KStJBirdblog  (hashtag #pghcrows)

 

(photo of hooded crows in Denmark, by Jens Rost via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original.)

15 responses so far

Jul 13 2012

Testing Their Skills

 
Last month Pittsburgh’s young peregrines made their first short flight.  This month they’ll become self sufficient and ready to leave home.

When they do, they’ll have adventures and most of them will be firsts:  the first time they’re alone without family, the first time they see the ocean or the Great Lakes, the first time they encounter birds they never saw at home.

I wonder what they’ll do the first time they meet a raven.

Ravens are slightly larger than peregrines and are acrobatic fliers though not as fast as peregrines.  In this video from the raven’s perspective, a peregrine and a juvenile raven wheel and joust in the air.  You’d think this would be dangerous for the young raven but his parents are unconcerned.

Maybe the peregrine and raven are testing their flight skills.  Maybe the peregrine is a juvenile too.  Maybe that’s why they’re playing.

(video by Rick Boufford at The Raven Diaries, www.theravendiaries.com)

7 responses so far

Jun 04 2012

Two Kinds Of Crows

Published by under Crows, Ravens

It used to be easy to identify crows in Pittsburgh.  Every crow was an American crow (Corvus brachyrhyncos).  But not any more.

In recent years fish crows (Corvus ossifragus) have been expanding their range northward from the coastal Southeast. The first I’d heard of them in western Pennsylvania was when Marcy Cunkelman said they were common in Indiana, PA.  I found this odd because Indiana is land-locked.

What was a fish crow doing without fish?  They earned their name by scavenging on beaches but fish crows aren’t picky.  They’ll eat anything.  They must have made an easy transition from dead fish to discarded hamburgers.  Perhaps one spring they followed some American crows to western Pennsylvania — and so they are here.  This year, they’ve been reported nesting in the City of Pittsburgh.

Fish crows are smaller than American crows but they’re impossible to tell apart except by voice.  As Birds of North America Online says, “The only reliable difference between the two is vocal.  The Fish Crow sounds like an American Crow with a bad cold.”

I’m sure you can imagine an American crow’s call without listening but here’s a recording to prepare you for the difference.  “Caw, Caw, Caw.”

The fish crow’s call is two nasal syllables:  “Uh-oh.  Uh-oh.”    (Click here to hear.)

Easy?  Yes, except at this time of year.  Baby American crows have nasal voices too (yikes!) so the call you hear could be a baby crow.  There’s still a difference, though.  Baby American crows call with a single note.  (Click hear to hear.)

So, now that we have two kinds of crows, you’ll have to wait until they speak to be sure of them.  “Uh oh!”

(photo of a fish crow by Chuck Tague)

6 responses so far

Jan 26 2012

Raven or Crow?

Published by under Crows, Ravens

Ravens are rare in Pittsburgh but they’ve been seen this winter.  We’re also seeing thousands and thousands of crows.

How do you tell the difference between a raven and a crow?

Watch this video from The Raven Diaries and you’ll learn how.

The video was created by Rick and Diana Boufford who live in Newport Beach, California where there are both species of birds.  Visit www.theravendiaries.com for more information.

(video from The Raven Diaries via YouTube)

4 responses so far

Jan 19 2012

Surfing The Roof

Three readers alerted me to this video that’s sweeping the Internet.

In Russia, a hooded crow repeatedly surfs down a snowy roof, riding something that looks like a Frisbee.  When the video begins, there’s already a surf-track on the roof, evidence that he’s been doing this for a while.

Crows just want to have fun.  ;)

(video from YouTube)

9 responses so far

Jan 10 2012

12,000 Crows

Published by under Crows, Ravens

Though they’ve moved away from residential neighborhoods and are keeping a relatively low profile, Pittsburgh’s East End crow roost has attracted some attention lately.

Perhaps it’s because sunset is later so we see them during rush hour(*).  Perhaps it’s because they’re noisy.  Perhaps it’s their sheer numbers.

Jack and Sue Solomon counted them on December 31 for Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird Count.  Knowing the crows gathered above Bigelow Boulevard, Jack and Sue waited at dusk in a parking lot opposite Liberty Ave. and 25th Street and watched the hillside above The Strip.   Their estimate?  More than 12,000 crows.

What does that look like?

Sharon Leadbitter filmed them at twilight last Friday.  The first video (23 seconds) shows them flying overhead at Polish Hill.  The video below (2:18) shows them filling the trees above Bigelow Boulevard near the French Fry sculpture.

The flock is raucous only at their staging area.  After dark they fall silent and leave the trees to roost in parts unknown.

If you want to witness this for yourself, January is the time to do it.  Next month the flock will begin to break up.  By March they’ll be gone.

(video by Sharon Leadbitter)

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(*) The days are getting longer.  Sunset today is at 5:12pm, even later than it was on November 12 when I last wrote about Pittsburgh’s crows.

9 responses so far

Nov 12 2011

Black Ornaments

Published by under Crows, Ravens


Where do the crows go to roost?

In Pittsburgh they really don’t want us to know.  They’re loud and obvious at their pre-roost staging areas but that’s not where they’ll sleep.  After the sky is dark they leave the staging area and fly silently to the roost.  Black birds in a black sky.

Wednesday evening Karen Lang noticed them near the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall around 6:00pm.  Though it was dark she could see their profiles against the city-lit sky and estimated 1,000 crows were on Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall roof and the nearby trees.

Peter Bell saw them, too, so he brought his camera Thursday evening.  From his vantage point on the 12th floor of Chevron Science Center, the roof looked like this while the crows were still arriving.

There were also on the trees.

And perfectly lined up on the roof, a couple of crows per tile.

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Last night I went to see for myself. Their dark profiles were visible from Fifth at Bigelow but when I moved up Bigelow for the same view as Peter’s pictures, the streetlights’ glare made the crows hard to see.

That’s how the crows like it. When things get too hot for them, they move their roost. 

Some night we’ll discover that Soldiers and Sailors roof is missing its black ornaments.

(photos by Peter Bell)

9 responses so far

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