Fledgling Fun

Crow babies are a particularly efficacious form of Crow Therapy. I know they’ve really helped to keep my spirits up during the long and strange summer of 2020.

Mabel, in particular, is having a busy time this year. Again.

She had three fledglings last year. Two survived the winter and have stayed with her and Gus to help with nesting season this year. Just as well, as she has another three to contend with this year!

Three babies. It’s a lot …

Normally she doesn’t come to the house, although our back yard used to “belong” to Mabel and the late lamented George Broken Beak. This summer, however, with three new mouths to feed, and the lure of a bird baths and an occasional sprinkler too strong to resist, she’s been coming back. There have been occasional spats with Marvin and Mavis, but Mabel’s clan have the numerical advantage, with four adult crows and the three rambunctious babies.

Young opera star in training

It started a couple of weeks ago when I was watering the katsura tree in front of the house and it turned into an impromptu corvid version of Splashdown Park.

Enjoying a nice cooling mist.

Learning how to sit with beak open to release heat on those hot summer days.

The triplets first fledged in around mid-July. Most birds don’t indulge the youngsters for nearly such a long time period as crow parents. The babies of smaller birds, like sparrows and finches, are expected to fend for themselves after a few short weeks. Their parents are usually keen to try and fit in a second round of nesting before the season ends, so it’s a short but intensive course on necessary survival skills, and then “good luck and off you go.”

Young crows, however, can be heard, loudly begging for food all summer long and into early fall.

The parents will start refusing to feed them after a few weeks, insisting they learn to forage for their own grub — but they do let the goofy youngsters hang around all summer — and often, as in Mabel and Gus’s case, right into the following year and beyond.

Mabel enjoys a brief moment to herself.

Scientific studies seem to suggest that this extended period of time with mom and dad contributes to the braininess of crows. You can almost hear the mental cogs spinning in the young crows’ brains as they gradually start to figure out the big new world around them.

Some things — like “is foliage a good snack?” — they just have to work out for themselves.

But a lot of the time, you can see them watching intently to see what mom or dad will do in a given situation — and carefully storing that information away for future reference.

I’ve had such fun watching Mabel’s babies this summer, I’m working on prints from some of the pictures.

The Rookie

Bedraggled

Bedraggled

I also had some buttons made from these new images, plus one of Mabel and a fledgling last year (The Art of Parenting) and I’m mailing them out, in random fashion, with all current  orders from my shop.

I’m not sure what it is that I like so much about buttons. I think it reminds me of the thrill of getting a free badge with one of my comics in England, back when I was a fledgling, many years ago.

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Being Adept at Adapting

2020 so far has been pretty tough for many of us, requiring all kinds of adjustment to ever-changing conditions.

Our local corvids sympathize. While free of covid worries (as far as we can tell) — they too have faced a lot of challenges in 2020.

The trees that had provided them with shade, shelter, nesting sites and a navigational landmark for the last 60 years suddenly disappeared in mid-nesting season. The bit of grassy wasteland they used as a refuge and a food source was dug up. The ear splitting racket going on 6 days a week makes it hard for them to hear each others’ calls.

Their small corner of the world has changed beyond all recognition since early summer, when construction of the sunken artificial turf sports facility for Notre Dame School got underway. For a glimpse of what used to be there, here’s a post from 2018.

Heartbroken and worried for the local environment as I am, I can’t help smiling when I see the local crow and raven reaction to the situation. I shouldn’t be surprised, as corvids have a long and illustrious history of making silk purses out of the sow’s ears that humans have left them over the centuries.

With no leafy branches to perch on, they sit instead on the construction fence and watch the crazy human shenanigans during the noisy construction hours.

Marvin and Mavis settling in for a new shift.

When, at last, the machines stop beeping, roaring and pounding for the day, the site then becomes a corvid beach resort of sorts.

Yes, that is rather a lot of water. To be expected, as the area once was marshland and has streams running through it, including Hastings Creek.

Some corvid commentary …

One Sunday a couple of ravens even stopped by to check out the “beach” scene.

While it was fun to see the ravens exploring the weird new landscape and drinking at the new “lake,” I can’t help worrying about the safety of the water as a thirst quencher. Part of the area’s history before the school was built was as an unofficial dump site. I see that tanks are now on site to remediate the water, so I’m hoping the crows and ravens haven’t been harmed by drinking and playing in it.

Marvin and Mavis are keeping a very close eye on proceedings — on wet days …

… and hot dry ones …

For now they’re keeping their opinions close to their feathered chests.

Although I rather think they might be muttering amongst themselves …

 

 

 

 

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Marvin and Mavis Nesting 2020

I know I haven’t written about my crow neighbours for quite a while. There are a couple of reasons, apart from the distraction of Edgar and the Cabin Fever series.

One: I have just SO MANY images and stories filling up my brain and computer, I’m having a hard time knowing where to start. But, since it’s also time to start thinking about the 2021 City Crow Calendar, it’s time for a dive into Crowlandia.

Two: it is nesting season, which fills me with a certain level of anxiety. Like most of us, I already have a bit of an anxiety surfeit,  so I was trying to keep a slight emotional distance from the rough and tumble of the bird reproductive season.

But I know it’s hopeless, I can’t stop myself from getting invested in the drama.

I’ll start with a bit of an account of Marvin and Mavis’s nesting season so far. I worry especially about these two as they are my regular visitors and, over the past years, I’ve seen them lose three seasons’ worth of fledglings — to racoons, falling-out-of-tree mishaps and bald eagles.

Marvin and Mavis’s nest, May 2019

For the last two springs, they built their nests high in the Notre Dame poplars.

While those trees have the advantage of height and protection from ground predators, they are also a favourite buffet for the local eagles and hawks. All of the local crows seem to have come to the same conclusion, as I haven’t seen any of them building nests there this spring, although they’re still popular with smaller birds.

Marvin and Mavis got an early start on this year’s nest building back in March, choosing a nice dense pine tree. I’m not sure what went wrong with that project, but by April they were real estate shopping again.

They turned their attention to the dark red-leaved plum trees on our street, which offer great camouflage for dark coloured birds.  A couple of problems arose there.

First of all, Mabel and her mate got an earlier start, with their substantial nest all finished in another plum tree weeks ago. With the added advantage of two youngsters born last year hanging around as nest helpers, they’ve been able to wage war on Marvin and Mavis whenever they start a new building project.

Marvin and Mavis warding off a Mabel clan raid from our roof.

On the lookout for incoming raiders

Marvin and Mavis persevered, however, and managed to start a nice looking nest in one plum tree at the far end of the block from Mabel and co.

While it’s wonderful that many people, forced by the pandemic to slow down and stay close to home, have started appreciating their bird neighbours in a new way, it’s also true that it’s given people more time to become very particular about their gardens. Unfortunately for our intrepid couple, the humans whose house they were building in front of decided they did not want to experience the thrill of a crow’s nest so close to them, and started to knock the partly built nest out of the tree. I did try my best friendly Crow Evangelist pitch to get them to leave it alone, and I thought I’d made some progress, but by the next day the nest that Marvin and Mavis had started rebuilding was gone again, so I guess not.

Having read the writing on the wall, M & M selected another plum tree. This is where they are now — trying to be very quiet as it’s rather too close for comfort to Mabel’s nest. Luckily, all of the crows now seem to have entered the “witness protection” phase of the nesting season where they’re all just trying to be invisible from any potential predators.

Mavis checking out the view from the new nest.

Fingers crossed for them this year. I don’t think they have eggs in there yet as both of them have been coming to the house to visit several times a day — for pep talks and some peanuts.

I’m trying not to draw too much attention to their nest as they try to keep a low profile, and hoping that things go well from now on. Fingers crossed for some little Marvins and Mavises this year, even as I try not to get my nerves too jangled at every twist and turn of the nesting tale. I’ll keep you posted …

Some other posts about crow nesting seasons:

 

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Cocktail Party Guests

Cocktail hour is quite a big deal these days.

The rules are as follows: once the dog and cat have been fed (and they are very good at keeping us on schedule with that) it’s cocktail hour.

Actually, that’s about it really. So … rule. Singular.

As it’s still a bit chilly out, the front porch is the best bet for sitting al fresco without a blanket. Toque and down jacket, yes — but no blanket!

Photo 2020-04-12, 5 33 32 PM

Geordie, with  black and white tux colours and serious expression, does a passably good imitation of a maitre de in a very high class establishment.

Photo 2020-04-12, 6 22 22 PM

How are the first sips tasting, madam?

Really, it’s a highlight of the day. The only thing that could make it better?

Friends coming over, of course — but that’s not possible right now.

Or is it?

During cocktail hour a couple of days ago we noticed that we DID have company. Marvin and Mavis, after a hectic day of nest building, were enjoying the corvid equivalent of cocktail hour with us.

Bobbing gently in the breeze in the Katsura tree by the porch, they sat together, dozing, preening and softly chatting for a least half an hour.

Just as we were making a move to head inside, they flew off — only to replaced a second later by the next round of cocktail party guests — a pair of collared doves.

It was almost, almost, like sitting on the patio of one of favourite restaurants, enjoying a drink and some people (or in this case, bird) watching.

It’s the little things . . .

 

 

A Message in the Sky

It isn’t a dove, and it isn’t carrying an olive branch.

Probably too early for that, as we bob about in our socially-distanced arks on a vast sea of uncertainty, fear and loneliness, with no land yet in sight.

But it did feel, when I saw this crow flying over, trailing its lovely garland, that I was seeing some sort of message.

Perhaps: “Life is going on for us, and it will for you as well one day.”

Or maybe: “Look out and up, and there is beauty.”

Possibly: “My neighbours are going to be SO jealous when they see what I just got for the nest.”

As you may know, I’ve been photographing crows for many years now. I especially like to watch them in the spring when they’re collecting material for the nest. I love the silhouettes they make against the sky with twigs of various shapes in their beaks.

I have also watched them struggle to get just the right branch out of a tree. It’s not an easy task, as they have to first break the twig off and then wrestle it out of the tangle of branches on the tree. They often lose their prize, or just give up and look for an easier one.

This is, by far, the most impressive and lovely thing I’ve ever seen a crow manage to acquire.

Crows are known to sometimes present miscellaneous material goods to people who befriend and feed them. The crows of my acquaintance never do that, but they do give me wonderful things.

The fact that this determined crow* managed to haul this ridiculously long and beautiful garland out of an ornamental plum tree; that they happened to be poised on a roof with it just as I walked by with the dog; that they chose to fly off with it right in front of me — you must admit that these are a series of rather special gifts.

So, in a spring season like none we can remember, these pictures are gifts from the crows to you, via me. With love.

 

 

 

 

*This crow is either Mabel, or one of her family.

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Young Ada The Crow

Ada is only 7 months old, but already one of my most trusted Crow Therapists.

She lifted my mood earlier this year, when I was feeling a bit down about being in a cast, and about world news. Of course, none of us knew back in January that 2020 was only just getting warmed up!

Ada was our 2019 late summer surprise, hatched at the very tail end of the 2019 baby crow season — happy news in a year that saw many nest failures.

I first spotted her on the daily dog walk in mid-August last year, gape still very pink and eyes still blue  — hallmarks of a fledgling not long out of the nest.

I was worried that she had so little time to catch up with the other 2019 fledglings to be able to fly to the roost with all the other crows by fall.

Another challenge — she had a touch of avian pox on one foot. You can see the pink spot on the photo below.

Luckily, by December her foot had healed completely, as you see in the next photos, and she was keeping up with her cohort just fine.

She experienced some firsts in late 2019/early 2020.

Her first torrential downpour, which left her less than impressed.

She saw her first snow in January, and seemed to prefer that to rain, overall.

Or perhaps she had just acquired that philosophical attitude towards weather, essential for both crow and human mental health in a Canadian winter.

I’m calling Ada “her” — in this case, with no evidence of her gender. With many of my other local crows, observing them at nesting time has allowed me to see who sits on the nest at incubating time, but with Ada, it’s just a random guess. She could just as easily be a young Adam, but I have a 50% chance of being right.

In any case, she’s a feisty and curious young bird.

Ada theCrow being curious.

She’s still hanging about with her parents, but they’re no longer pampering her when it comes to getting food. When she was young, they would answer her calls for food.

Now it’s every crow for him/herself. If I drop some peanuts for Ada, she’s often shoved aside by Mom and Dad, so she’s learning to be faster and trickier — vitally important crow lessons.

She’s also kindly demonstrated for us the all-important cough into your sleeve/wing technique.

Here is my most recent photo of her, taken on a dog walk earlier this week.

You can see that, for a 7 month old, she’s already acquired lots of crow personality and intelligence. As she edges  closer to me you can see in those eyes the subtle risk/benefit calculations being made in real time.

I imagine she’ll be sticking around to help her parents with this spring’s nesting efforts, but after that she’ll probably find a mate and move to a new neighbourhood. I’ll miss her when she goes, but hey — she might end up in your neighbourhood and be your new crow therapist!

 

 

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The Inheritance

Another crow probably came before, but George Broken Beak was the first I knew of to claim the golden ring.

George, fall 2016

Mabel inherited it, and since George died in 2017,  only she has been allowed to perch there. Until very recently.

Mabel, February 2020

The coveted golden ring is actually a yellow metal loop on a yellow metal pole — one of a pair used to suspend the chain that guards the local elementary school parking lot.

A relatively humble throne, but apparently of great significance in the local crow pecking order. I have never seen, for example, Mabel’s new mate, Gus, sit upon it.

In January, Mabel on her post with Gus and one of the kids below.

As recently as February, Mabel seemed to retain exclusive rights to the perch. One day I was walking by and noticed  one of Mabel’s young ones come in for a landing on the revered ring. His claws a-l-m-o-s-t touched down before he remembered himself, making a last minute mid-air flight correction to land on a spot more befitting his station.

Whew, that was close …

Mabel must be getting on by now. Her one bad eye looks worse, although she is still apparently able to see out of it, and she still seems to more than hold her own with the other neighbourhood crows. But some sort of succession plan seems to be in the works.

Family meeting on the railings.

Just last week I walked by and saw a crow that I assumed was Mabel in her usual spot. But no, it was one of the youngsters, and Mabel was sitting by and watching with equanimity. In the photo below, the crow on the furthest spot from the post was Mabel, supervising and making no effort to chase the young one off.

Practice percher

The Heir Apparent, apparently.

I’ve been by a few times lately to see one of the young ones on the perch. I can’t tell if only one of them is favoured with the honour, or if they’re taking turns.

I’m hoping that, in spite of this apparent abdication, Mabel will be around for many years to come. She still seems to rule the neighbourhood with with a determined personality and impressive feather floofing technique.

I can usually tell it’s Mabel from a distance just from her silhouette — the fuzziness, and the attitude.

Mabel, Queen Boudicea of Crows

In looking for the first photo in this post, of George on his yellow perch, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of memories of him and Mabel together.

Here’s just one of the photos of the two of them I found …

And here is Mabel, keeping on keeping on all these years later.

I photographed her just this afternoon in the plum tree, with spring just around the corner.

 

logo with crow

 

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In Other News …

Partly to distract myself from the actual news, partly to distract you, here is a long overdue local crow news update.

Finally out of my foot cast, I’m really appreciating being able to get about and check what’s going on with my various crow pals.

So much to catch you up on! I think it’s best I divide this into instalments lest I overwhelm you with it all.

Let’s start today with the general crow mood.

Apparently, one in three crows already think it’s time to get started on the nest.

Three crows silhouette

The air is full of pre-nesting season energy. In previous years I’ve noticed Marvin and Mavis starting to gather twigs as soon as the blossoms are fully out on the plum trees on our street. Almost there now!

In the meantime, there are lots of crow-diverting things going on.

And it’s always worth going to see what the commotion is about.

On one dog walk this week we first saw the conductor with his orchestra.

A walk down the alley where they were performing revealed the reason …

Raccoon under gate

By far the most spectacular gathering was a few days ago when a whole street was suddenly full of crow fury. Trees up and down the block were venues for cacophonous corvid conventions. No “social distancing” or Skype meetings for them, obviously.

All the fury was directed to one chimney, and once I got to the right angle I could see a lone raven trying to enjoy a leisurely brunch on the conveniently flat surface.

Judging by the feathers that floated from the “table” it looked as if a mid-sized bird (possibly a robin) was on the menu.

Even though the raven wasn’t feasting on one of their own, and even though they’re a relative, the crows were in full attack. The raven is permanently on the crows’ naughty list because they will, when the time is right, snatch crow eggs and fledglings.

In spite of their best efforts, the raven spent a good fifteen minutes in the chosen spot finishing their meal.

 

The owner of the chimney came out, wondering why her house was under attack. While I was explaining what was going on the raven finished their snack and flew off.

Today was quieter — a blustery day, so a lot of just-for-fun windborn antics and posing.

Tomorrow I’ll update you on the specific news re. the various crow groups. Quite a few to get through — Marvin & Mavis, Mabel and family, The Pantses, Art and his family, Young Ada — so I think I’ll tackle one a day till we’re up to date.

Think of it a little corvid gossip to break up all the COVID19 news.

 

logo with crow

 

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Peanut Diplomacy

Peanut Juggler

Diplomacy —peanut and regular — is tricky. It’s only now that I sit down to write about this topic, I’m forced to face how much actual time pondering the the pitfalls and potential of the practice.

Here’s how the Merriam Webster dictionary defines run-of-the-mill diplomacy:
1 : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations. 2 : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility

Pretty similar, really, to my theory of Peanut Diplomacy:
1: the art and practice of initiating and maintaining diplomatic relations with another species (in this example, crows.) 2: skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility (towards yourself, or amongst your diplomatic counterparts.)

Marvin feet with peanuts

Why Peanut Diplomacy?

Let’s face it, unless you have inadvertently tipped a plate of french fries onto the sidewalk, you are of little specific interest to the busy crow population. If you want to open talks with them, peanuts are a great place to start.

Marvin with peanut

Benefits of Peanut Diplomacy

Practiced with finesse, the art of judicious peanut distribution has many benefits. You can have the thrill of being greeted daily by your new crow friends. I am sure they love you for yourself, but the peanuts really help them discover your interesting side.

Over time you can come to observe individuals and small crow families and learn to appreciate how different, funny, and interesting they all are.

Marvin the crow Fencewalker

Pitfalls of Peanut Diplomacy

As with political diplomacy, things can easily go sideways. You don’t want to bring any harm to your new crow friends. You also don’t want your neighbours starting to hate you.

Crow skirmish

Peanut Diplomacy Tips

Keeping the Peace

One of the things you don’t want is to create friction amongst various factions of your new friends. In the years I’ve been engaged in the PD field, I’ve always managed to keep the backyard visitors to one family of crows. This takes a bit of diligence, watching out for “your” crows to be nearby before you put out the peanuts and bringing the treats in again if “invaders” try to horn in.

Over the last decade there have been several peaceful coups.

First we had Eric and Clara and their offspring. They moved down the street, of their own accord and Hank and Vera took over. H & V didn’t come back after the mating season one year and we entered the George and Mabel years. Since we lost George in 2018, Mabel has moved down the street and found a new mate and we now have Marvin and Mavis as our corvid garden guardians.

George and peanut

George and his specially adapted peanut collection technique.

Currently, there is some local tension because Mabel has two juvenile crows from last summer and, while Mabel herself (well versed in the rules of territorial rules) doesn’t come to our garden, she doesn’t discourage the two teenagers from exploring this end of the block. Marvin and Mavis are not pleased, so I’m careful not to put peanuts out unless they are right there. I’d hate to see them attacking Mabel’s young ones because of me.

Juvenile Crow

One of Mabel’s kids optimistically hoping for peanuts in our garden.

Mabel Updo

Mabel takes exception to the intruder.

Sentinel Marvin

Marvin on sentinel duty

A subsection of keeping the peace, is distributing peanuts while out walking. In effect you and your peanuts become mobile territory to be squabbled over. I try to avoid this by observing the local boundaries and never dropping peanuts in the “no crow’s land” between domains. Some years it’s more difficult than others to keep the peace.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants didn’t have any surviving fledglings last year — but their neighbours did, and the larger family is trying to horn in on Mr and Mrs P’s corner. We had a few near “diplomatic incidents” when I tried to leave a few nuts for the Pantses earlier this year, so now I either walk another way, or if it seems quiet, try to leave a few nuts near them but out of sight of the bossy neighbours.

Crow Regurgitates Peanuts

Mr. Pants “unpacking” some peanuts he’d just picked up.

If I find I’m suddenly feeling like an extra in Hitchcock’s The Birds, being followed by a small murder of crows, all ignoring the customary boundaries, then it’s time to change my walking route for a week or two to break the pattern.

Portion Control

If there are challenging conditions out (snow covered or frozen, or drought-baked ground) I will offer more nuts. For Marvin and Mavis, when Mavis had pox on her foot, I put out more nutritious food too until she got better. Generally though, I try to just put out enough peanuts to assure my crow pals that I appreciate their letting me take their photographs, and value their friendship.

Marvin and Mavis snack

Marvin and Mavis enjoy their Valentine’s Day brunch

I don’t want them to come to rely on me for food — for their own good, and so I can sometimes go on holiday without fretting about their survival.

Mess Control

I’ve often read that crows prefer peanuts in the shell, and they do! But all those peanut shells end up everywhere. In your roof gutters. Even worse, in your neighbours’ roof gutters. In the interests of human diplomacy, I find it’s better to offer shelled, unsalted nuts. Good quality cat or dog kibble is good too.

Extra Peanut Fun

While Marvin and Mavis always get a “no strings” breakfast, sometimes they come back for visits later in the day and then we have some fun with doing tricks for peanuts.

I “trained” them to pose with my crow calendar at times during the last couple of years, but a favourite is putting the peanuts in more challenging spots. Here Marvin competes in the Picket Fence Challenge.

Marvin Fence Walker 2

Marvin Fence Walker 3

Marvin Fence Walker 4

Marvin Fence Walker 5

 

I’m sure some of you are already accomplished peanut ambassadors, so do forgive my ramblings. And, if you’re just thinking of exploring the world of peanut politics, don’t let me make it seem too complicated. Have fun and make friends!

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Crow Collective

In spite of local squabbles, crows will come together for a crisis. Instantly.

Border skirmishes, crow etiquette lapses, hereditary rivalries  — all forgotten in a corvid heartbeat when the alarm call goes out.

Peregrine falcon in the ‘hood!

People sometimes consider crows’ mobbing behaviour towards larger birds as somehow mean. The collective noun, a “murder” of crows, is referenced, darkly.

To me, it’s one of their more admirable features — having the sense to know that they’re stronger together, and the ability to put aside individual differences in the face of a common danger.

Raccoons, coyotes, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and even their own cousin, the raven, are considered enemies by crows. All of these creatures will snatch and eat juvenile crows and/or crow eggs, thus earning themselves a permanent spot on the crows’ “naughty” list.

It’s not that they’re really naughty, of course — just doing what nature dictates — going out grocery shopping for the family. The same applies to crows when they feed on smaller birds, and on through the spiralling circle of life.

While nesting season is over now, and most juvenile crows are now smart and fast enough to stay out of the way of the falcon (who is more likely on the lookout for a tasty pigeon) the crow response to a “sometimes-crow-predator” in the neighbourhood is automatic.

Every crow drops what they’re doing and flies off to join the collective effort to repel the enemy. Their job is to convince the “threat” that crows are just way too much bother and get them to move along and become someone else’s problem.

Individual crows will swoop very close to the offending predator. Sometimes too close for their health. Generally, however, the bird of prey will make a pragmatic cost/benefit calculation as to whether it’s worth the caloric output to chase a provocative crow. Most often they decide to wait out the mob for a while and eventually move on to a quieter spot.

All in all, I think “collective” is a much better, and more descriptive, word for a group of crows than a “murder.”

Apart from group defence, another advantage of crow mobbing behaviour is that, if you pay attention, you can catch glimpses of things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

For other posts about crow-revealed nature sighting:

Raccoons: Wall of Sound

Owls: Owl Dreams

Owls and Poets: Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry

Ravens: Raven Tutor

Missing Dogs: A Christmas Miracle — With Crows

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.