09 July 2014

Crow summer: 2014

Washcrow and Her, courting, early March.

It's been a very satisfactory year for crows, beginning in March when we were able to follow a courtship. Most crows remain single, and those who do not are usually in their 3rd year when courtship happens. I have no idea how crows are selected for courtship. Pairing is normally for life.

The photograph above was the only one I was able to get, and you have to take my word that they are courting. Courting usually happened in the mornings, on a power line where the sun would shine into the camera.  Washcrow would move close beside Her and nibble on the back of Her's neck -- properly called "grooming" -- the one part of Her she could not reach for herself.   She never groomed him.  This reminds me of the saying: In every love affair there is one who kisses the cheek, and one who extends the cheek to be kissed.

Grooming continued for several days, and then we would see Her settle down low on the power line, tilt her head sideways, spread out her tail & wiggle her bottom.  The Betty-Boop-gender-stereotyping was almost shocking.  

Why we call him Washcrow.
He has taught several other 
crows to wash food for the young.

We saw them inspect an unused nest, and then saw the occasional stick being transported to the upper reaches of a cedar two houses away.  Then Her disappeared.  The male crow feeds his nesting partner.  When the young hatch, the male and some of their relatives feed her and the infants. About three days after we realized there were young to feed, we first saw Washcrow first visit Ann's peacock-designed birdbath, and carefully soak food before he took it home.  

On 4 June, a Wednesday, we were having coffee in the yard with Aislinn, when there was a thud on the roof of the car and a homely little tailless crow said, "Wow!" He said "Wow!" several times, we said "Wow!" in response, and for the last month he has normally appeared when one of us calls "Wow" Wow is the grandson (granddaughter?) of Korax whom I introduced here last year.

 Wow on his first day out of the nest.

On 5 June, Tak appeared, tagging after Wow.  Tak spoke less frequently, with a lower voice. 

Tak and Wow, 5 June.

Then on 9 June, Sunday, Futhark appeared.  Four-plus weeks later, Futhark is still smaller than the others.  Wow is the most outgoing, Tak the shyest.  Futhark will look at us, cock his/her head, and then make quiet rattling noises, sometimes a sort of cuckoo-sound.  When the others are screaming to be fed, nothing distracts them.  Futhark can be distracted into conversation.  

Futhark, 1 July.  All three still have the distinctive red mouths.

At the time of writing, the three have not yet started taking the initiative in finding food, though they will follow their parents to the feeder, then sit there alternately gobbling mouthfuls of food, and screaming to be fed while their mouths are still full of food.  The parents are admirably dispassionate.  When the young beg for food, they assume the same submissive posture of the female in courtship.

Wow, Tak, and Futhark have made us exceptionally aware of   crow mortality in our neighborhood.  In the past week we have twice found masses of small feathers.  A month ago we found feathers that appeared to have exploded from a central location, their points driven into the ground.  A very young crow had encountered a mesh of power lines and transformers.  The two feathers on the left show the results of electrocution -- the blackening inside and the melted tips.  The two on the right show the results of having been chewed. 

The cooked and the raw.  

Hork, who was with us the past two years, has not been seen since February but Korax shows up several times a day with two young crows of his own. We have fewer crows at the feeder than we did last summer, but they are putting away huge amounts of food, more than on any day in the winter when we would have as many as 15 and 20 crows.  They get primarily cat food and corn meal, with occasional treats of suet, walnuts, bread.  Last year they stole all the blackberries, but this year it has only been the cherries.  Every year they get the cherries.  They seem to know which day we have scheduled to pick, and they get to the tree before we are out of bed.

But about the food-washing.  Because of the food-washing, I have been putting clean water in the birdbath twice a day.  Today -- the day of writing this -- I put clean water in for the first time in three days.  Abruptly, the young have to deal with adult food. It is still sometimes brought to them, but it is no longer softened.  

Futhark, even though he is conspicuously smaller than the other two, can definitely deal with adult food.  In fact, he is showing signs of delinquency.  We have, several times now, seen him fly up to a parent and jerk the food out of the parent's bill, without even pausing to beg.

Wow, Futhark, & Tak, or possibly Tak, Futhark, & Wow. 6 July.
Beaks open on a hot day.

 I thought I had finished writing this entry to post tomorrow, but while we were having our late-afternoon ouzo, Washcrow came as he usually does to keep us company.  This time Her landed beside him and leaned Her head against him.  Washcrow caressed the back of her neck and stroked under her chin.  Then they sat quietly side by side.

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