For the Birds: Crows and their deserved reputation

Photo by Chris Bosak An American crow in Danbury, CT, winter 2019.

It’s like clockwork.

At 6:45 p.m. the crows glide in and land on the upper branches of the mostly dead, huge maple tree in the front yard.

It’s not a massive number of crows like you’d see in the winter at dusk; rather, it’s a small gathering. First two adults land, then two youngsters follow. They sound a few seemingly innocent caws, but their disagreeable reputation as egg-eaters precedes them.

The crows’ arrival puts the other birds in the neighborhood on alarm. Robins sound off from the surrounding trees but remain out of view. Cardinals, also unseen, use their high chip alert calls to keep in contact with each other. Orioles join in but keep their distance.

Blue jays and grackles are more aggressive in their attempts to drive the crows away from the neighborhood. The blue jays squawk and dive-bomb. More jays emerge from the trees and join the effort.

Usually it’s the grackles that get the crows off their perch, starting a battle of large black birds against medium-sized black birds.

For an instant, I almost feel badly for the crows. They appear to be merely looking for a place to rest, but the other birds want nothing to do with them. Then I come to the realization that I would do the same thing if I were a robin, cardinal, blue jay or some other type of songbird with a nest or young in the vicinity. Protecting your family comes before anything else. It’s Nature 101.

Crows have a well-deserved reputation for finding the nests of other birds and eating their eggs or even youngsters. Their presence, whether they are actively hunting or not, is cause for alarm for other birds. Even if the crows are merely resting, they could be scanning the area for nests and future meals. As another bird species with young near, why take the chance?

I’m not saying I dislike crows. I have a certain affinity for the smart birds, especially since they remind me of the Great North Woods, where they are also abundant. But the fact is, they eat eggs and baby birds, and I wouldn’t trust them if I were a songbird.

Besides, crows are just as wary as birds bigger than they are. Crows are notorious for chasing hawks and owls out of an area. If a crow spots a resting owl, they will gather in large numbers and become very vocal and aggressive toward the owl. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to find an owl or hawk — listen for a large group of agitated crows and follow the sound.

The action doesn’t stop there in the neighborhood even as summer wanes. The evening chorus also includes various woodpeckers. Northern flickers and red-bellied woodpeckers — both of which have loud, unique calls — are common visitors to the dead maple, as well. It must be loaded with grubs, insects and other goodies for the woodpeckers.

It’s time well spent, sitting on the deck listening to the birds go about their business. At about dusk, the din of insect calls joins in. Then it gets really loud and interesting.

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