Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wednesday Vignette: A murder of crows

Yes, it's the 4th of July, Independence Day in the US, but this post has nothing whatsoever to do with the holiday.  While fireworks have been going off every evening for the past month and I fully expect they'll continue for weeks yet despite the fact that private displays are illegal in this area, I haven't tried to capture any of these with my camera.  Still, happy 4th to all of you in the US!  Let's hope that the political landscape improves in the coming year so we can really celebrate.

My Wednesday Vignette this week concerns crows.  Specifically, large numbers of crows.  Last week, I was sitting at the computer in my home office at twilight when a cacophonous racket distracted me.  Almost simultaneously, a large number of crows, at least three dozen, possibly more, took up perches directly outside in the mimosa tree.  The didn't stay long.  As I located my camera and aimed it in their direction, they started to fly off.  I caught some of them flying out over the back garden's hedge.

I count at least 15 birds in this photo but the number that scattered about was far larger.  A group of crows is commonly called a "murder of crows."


They landed in the trees of nearby neighbors, calling out to stragglers.

They moved as a loose group, with those in the lead stopping at intervals, as if waiting for their cohorts to catch up


Then they congregated on the roof of a neighbor several houses down the road from us, where they hung out for a longer period.

You can see them arranged along the roof line, once again waiting for those behind them to arrive.  I don't think anyone in this house was home as no one appeared outside.  It would have been nearly impossible to miss their cries.

In less than 10 minutes, they dispersed again


They flew off to the south, still calling to stragglers and landing on different perches at intervals until I eventually lost sight of them.

Crows are social birds and commonly roost together at night in large groups.  They also change their roosts from time to time but apparently this usually happens in winter.  I used to take regular morning walks about a mile south to a large park surrounded by a housing development.  One house in that development routinely drew my attention.  Hundreds of crows occupied the area surrounding the house, most in one very large tree, but others spilling out onto telephone and power lines in the same area.  At the time, I wondered if the home's owners had a particular affection for crows, or if there was simply no way to get rid of them.  I know they have a reputation as smart birds but they're also very noisy and as messy as any other bird.  I wondered what I'd do if they ever chose to relocate to my house en masse.  When I first saw them alight in the mimosa tree, I momentarily feared I might have to face that issue as many other people have done.

According to the article I referenced, one group in Oklahoma numbered two million individual birds.  The murder of crows I saw was far smaller.  Why they were on the move in early summer is a mystery but it seems they found someplace other than my mimosa tree to roost.  Or so I hope anyway...

Yesterday, I was drawn to a distinctive cry emanating from atop my peppermint willow tree.  This call sounded like a "gronk" rather than a "caw" and the bird left a calling card behind.  I think this must have been a raven.  Thankfully, they usually travel in mated pairs rather than  groups.


For more Wednesday Vignettes, visit Anna at Flutter & Hum.


All material © 2012-2018 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party

22 comments:

  1. Fascinating birds, so much so that they have accumulated so much folklore and stories about them.

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  2. I wouldn't mind befriending one crow -- they're so smart and they might bring me little treasures and since I'm a packrat I would enjoy that -- but I definitely wouldn't want a huge group of them taking a shine to me and my garden. I had an incident with one several weeks ago in my backyard -- it was injured and died overnight on my backyard circle of grass, and whenever I went out to try to check on it three or four birds hanging out in the trees surrounding the garden would start up a racket and swoop down near my head. Once it had died I managed to get out and clear it up without getting attacked, but it made me sad. I found a huge cache of black feathers near the house foundation when I was clearing up plants for the painters recently, maybe from the same incident? Raccoon vs. crow?

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    1. I've read that crows will attend to their injured and their dead. It appears that they also have good facial recognition skills and will distinguish friends from foes so it's best not to get on their bad side! Owls, hawks, raccoons and humans are their main predators. Interestingly, crows and raccoons seem to steer clear of one another, which is good as it's clear they coexist here.

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  3. When we first moved to this garden there were so many crows that they scared me a bit. But I decided that I had to get used to them and realize it was a shared space. They got decimated by West Nile and are only coming back in number again in the last few years. I think a group of them is so striking because they are really big birds when you see one walking around on the the ground.

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    1. I don't mind the crows or the ravens (even bigger!) but, in a large group, they're more intimidating. We most often see mated pairs, which frequently nest in trees on our property and neighboring properties. West Nile killed a lot of them here too but they never entirely disappeared.

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  4. A la Hitchcock and Bodega Bay! Crows and that film are inextricably linked in my mind - lol!
    The crows around here seem to be small family groups only. In winter, larger murders of 1000 or so can be spotted in the valley along the CT River. I really wouldn't want that in my backyard, though. Whew!
    Ravens fascinate me, we see them so rarely. Last summer, there was a mating pair on a nearby ridge. Once while gardening, one 'kronked' as it flew about 30' feet overhead, I looked up and called out, 'Hello, Mr. Raven!' (I do crazy things like that ;) ) But, I'll be darned if he didn't tip his head to look at me, circled around to give me a closer look, before heading on his way. No one can dispute these are smart birds!

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    1. I'm getting better at telling the difference between crows and ravens but both seem to be common visitors here. I'll have to try having a conversation with the next raven that shows up ;)

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  5. Crows can be a nuisance in those large groups. We get them in our neighborhood during the winter. I am glad they just use our trees as gather points before they go to roost around the lakes etc. They can be messy. We had a pair stay in the neighborhood to nest this summer. As soon as the young fledged they took them away. I am glad as they can predate smaller birds nests.

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    1. I read that crows like very large trees, 60 feet or taller. As none of mine are near that height (at least not since a neighbor pushed us to remove the Eucalyptus that was here when we moved in), hopefully they'll continue to move on to more hospitable locations.

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  6. They live in matriarchal groups. Here they usually show up late in summer. Husband says there has been a huge group of them hanging out in San Diego Creek near Alton in Irvine.

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    1. I've no problem with the mated pairs nesting in our trees but I do hope they continue to roost elsewhere when they come together in larger groups.

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  7. We often have a couple around, but I'm not too hospitable as they raid the nests of smaller birds. I think I would be more than a bit unnerved if a whole murder arrived! ;-)

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    1. I think I might throw up my hands and put the house up for sale if a huge flock moved in and we couldn't encourage them to move along. I wonder if a house with a murder of crows would even sell?

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  8. That first photo is quite remarkable Kris. We have a couple of very tall Fir trees behind us and they do swoop in for a chat every now and then, it’s quite remarkable. A few years ago one was hit by a car in the street in front of us. It managed to get out of the street and into the hellstip next door, it’s friends were all gathered round making the most distressful noses. They did let Andrew near and he got it with a towel and we put it in a crate and took it to our local Audubon society where they were fairly certain the could save it. Unfortunately we don’t know what happened after that.

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    1. Good for you and Andrew! The bird's watchers must have somehow understood you had no ill intent. They're known for defending their injured and dying comrades.

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  9. I like the first photo very much, with its bands of colour and light, and the silhouetted crows, but I’m not very keen on the birds themselves. They make such an awful sound en masse. This morning while I was out in the garden groups of black cockatoos flew over, but sadly I didn’t have a camera with me and I knew that by the time I got it, they’d be gone. Still, it was a sight to enjoy.

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    1. Although I frequently see mated pairs, this was the first time I've ever seen a large group on the move. I'm just happy they decided not to roost in our mimosa tree for the night.

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  10. It sounds like a scene from Hitchcick's film 'The Birds'. If birds just organised themselves a bit we'd never dare go out of our houses. They'd rule the world.

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    1. That movie popped into mind the moment I saw them land in our tree!

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  11. Don't go into that attic Tippi Hedren! Interesting creatures. Every so often we see a few in our neighborhood but nothing like the huge numbers talked about in the linked article.

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    1. Oh, if there were 2 million birds roosting in my tree, you can bet I'd be moving out of here, Peter!

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