It’s quieter in the mornings now. The varied chorus has gradually diminished as the different species of birds have completed their summer jobs of raising a new clutch of chicks, who, for the most part, are already off fending for themselves. But there are exceptions.
This morning as I drifted on the edge of sleep and waking, the distant rattle of sandhill cranes filtered through. In a semi-conscious state, my writer’s brain was trying to think of how to describe that sound. Closer by, the mourning doves began their gentle cooing, transporting me back to my childhood bedroom. And then, like an obnoxious alarm clock radio that has been misdialed, so all you hear is static, the crow family arrived with the volume set on high.
Adult American Crow Photo by Mike Link
Every summer, for the past three or four years we have become the epicenter of a crow territory. Since my last name comes from this bird, I probably shouldn’t complain, and for the most part they are not a bother. In the fall and later winter the flocks of big black birds will fly overhead on their way to a night time roost, cawing as they go. But where ever the roost is located, it is not near us and so there is little disturbance. As the breeding season nears, a pair will seek the best location for a nest, often returning to the same one for several years in a row. Once that site is chosen, the birds become extremely quiet and secretive.
Trying to find a crow’s nest is not an easy task, even though it is about two feet across and made with a large number of sticks and twigs. Building the nest can take up to a month, since they may begin one, then change their minds, and start another. And it isn’t necessarily just a mated pair doing the work. Sometimes the young from the year before are included in this task. They may even help feed the female while she incubates the eggs and possibly help feed the young.
Notice the stick nest and the pink mouths of the young.
The job of feeding four to six fast growing baby crows is no small feat. We have learned that putting suet out at this time of year is a crow magnet. Adults will awkwardly cling to the small Birdfeeder and take big chunks out of the block to feed their voracious young. The nestling stage lasts four to five weeks and this is when we begin to hear the loud begging cries – literally, they sound like a baby going “waaaaeh”, over and over and over again. By the time they leave the nest as fledglings, they’re as big as their parents, with grown up size vocal chords, and much to learn about finding food in the wild.
Juvenile crows are highly persistent and vocal when it comes to begging for food from their parents.
Every dawn and dusk the family lands near our front yard and the begging babies squawl and wail. Our neighbors, Bill and Sherry just down the road, were telling us about the noisy crows that show up every morning near their place. I’m quite sure it’s the same family, just moving from one spot to another in their endless quest to feed their family. Or possibly in the adult’s attempt to get away for just a few moments from their annoying youngsters. These are intelligent birds and I can’t help but anthropomorphize a bit when I think about them dealing with this part of parenthood. I’m sure a lot of human parents can identify with the plight of the crows. It’s about this time every summer when children begin to get bored with the unscheduled days and begin to whine about having “nothing to do”.
As I sat down to write this column, the crows arrived. I got up to look out the window to see if I could locate them and there, perched on top of a dead jack pine snag, sat three of the coal black birds. I couldn’t tell which one was making the racket, but then one took off with a hoarse, “caw”, immediately followed by a second one crying piteously in pursuit. The third bird sat on the tree, just silently looking around (one of last year’s young?) and then it too spread it wings and flew after the other two. They were headed towards Bill and Sherry’s place.
This incessant crying by the fledgling increases in intensity and pitch when the parents arrive with food and the best description I’ve read said that it sounds as though the birds are choking or gargling. One text I referenced said that this fledgling stage lasts only two weeks and then the birds are able to feed themselves. We can only hope!
By Kate Crowley