Crow conversation

By Kate Crowley
The lovely morning chorus of spring time and summer has been replaced by the loud and definitely non-musical conversation of crows and blue jays.  I should know better than to throw stale bread out into the front yard before going to bed.  It is a guarantee that shortly after dawn the crows and jays will arrive and begin to discuss with one another just who will fly down to harvest the manna from heaven.  The mild temperatures have allowed sleeping with the window open and there are trees close by that the crows like to perch in while they peruse the surroundings.  When I finally give up on sleep and listen, I wish I could understand crow ‘talk’, because something is definitely being discussed. 
Crows have a varied and broad collection of sounds they can make, but the one we hear most often is the ‘caw’, but this too, can sound different when repeated in a fast and higher pitch.  This is what I heard from the crow sitting in a nearby tree.  It would issue this higher pitched call four or five times and then pause.  From further away another crow would answer with a similar number of ‘caws’.  Back and forth went the calls. I got up to look for the nearest bird but couldn’t see it.  Then I went to my office so I could look out the window at the yard and there were the pieces of bread, taunting the hungry birds.
I spotted the crow at the top of a dead jack pine, but I also frightened one that had been somewhere in the front yard and it flew west, past the perched crow, who quickly followed the first.  We have found the crows to be extremely cautious and wary when in our front yard. If we move just a few inches when standing in front of the window, they take off.   
Now that the breeding season is over the crows will gather in family groups and join up in the evenings with other families forming large flocks and roosts of hundreds. I’m thankful they have not chosen our woods for a roosting site because these places are famous for the noise only hundreds of screaming crows could produce.  Just one crow calling near our bedroom window grates on the ear.  Some of the crows in this area may fly a bit further south as winter comes on and food becomes less available, but we always have a few in the area year-round.
During the past unseasonably warm weekend we were able to sit on our deck and watch the small flock of warblers flit and dart around the nearby branches of the birch and maple trees.  We had commented about the pleasant lack of mosquitoes, but there were still lots of little flying bugs in the air.  I used my binoculars to look at my horse in the pasture and in the late afternoon sun in the golden halo around her body I could see tiny flies hovering about. This is exactly what the warblers’ need as they proceed on their thousand miles journey. 
I could not identify the little birds, much to my frustration. First of all they refused to sit still and secondly they are all wearing their drab, mostly brown to greyish feathers.  I could distinguish white wing bars on some, but the light did not allow me to see any other colors.  A good guess is that they were mostly yellow-rumped warblers; the first to arrive in spring and the last to leave, but there may have been a blackpoll or two mixed in the lot.

Even if I couldn’t give them names they were a pleasant and entertaining sight, along with the downy and pileated woodpeckers that flew in to check out our suet feeders.  Soon the leaves will be down and the birds will be easier to see again, but the variety will have shrunk dramatically. This stretch of balmy weather has not only been pleasant for all of us, but it has given the birds a good boost in calories for their arduous journey ahead.


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