A crow ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Crows defend themselves well



What are those crows doing? Frequently I get asked about large numbers of crows flying in one area and making a big fuss over something. There are numerous reasons for this behavior. Sometimes they are gathering together late in the day to form a communal sleeping group in a chosen spot. This behavior is especially noticeable after the breeding season ends. Crows often move about in family groups as well. They are very social birds, extremely intelligent and can be great problem solvers. You can actually see on the internet individual crows in the process of solving extremely difficult problems if you type in “problem solving crows.” They are very amazing birds.

Each crow has a special character, is intelligent and worth knowing. Crows take good care of their young and will defend them valiantly against enemies. They will eat just about anything, dead or alive, that they can seize with their bills or feet: small mammals, birds, carrion, eggs, garbage, nuts, acorns, grain, fruit, fish and seeds. They have an important place in the wildlife community.

Crows like to mob any bird or mammal they consider a threat to them in any way. Eagles often are the object they pick on, and eventually the eagle will move away. Owls often get picked on as well. Nighttime-flying owls, such as great-horned owls, often sleep in big trees during daylight hours and then hunt for mice, rats etc. when it gets dark. If crows find an owl’s resting place, they harass the bird until it moves away from its chosen perch. If a daring crow gets too close to an eagle or owl, it may get killed quickly, but it usually escapes just in time. A young crow may not have enough experience and may get too daring and then end up a dead bird.

If you ever have come upon eagles and crows eating a dead carcass on the shore or in the woods, you’ll notice that there always is a respectful distance between the birds. The crows know they are living dangerously, but sometimes a young one will intrude on the eagles space and that crow may not live another day. The eagle is “king” at such a feast.

However, at nesting time, eagles, crows and other predator gets attacked by many much smaller birds, even hummingbirds. If a predator flies over or gets too close to the smaller birds’ territory, the smaller birds will go right after an eagle and even pull out a feather or two to chase away the larger bird. This usually works. The desire to protect a family is very strong in all creatures.

Did you know that a group of crows gathering together by the thousands after the breeding season is called a “floater flock”? At another time, a group of crows together is a “murder” of crows. Crows are very family orientated. Crows thrive in both cities and in the country. There is an interesting article about crows and how smart they are in the 2016 March-April “Audubon Magazine.” We have a lot to learn from crows.

I always have been interested by spiders. I don’t particularly like them running around on me, and I often am startled if they do, but I find them fascinating to see and watch on their webs. My back porch is the domain of big spiders that like to live in such places, forming their webs in corners or anywhere they think they’ll be able to catch a meal. The porch light attracts moths and other night-flying insects, so there is a plentiful food supply. Once, I was able to watch a large spider outside my bedroom window as it captured a large moth. Even faster than I can type this account, the spider seized its prey, wrapped it up and secured it in the web for later eating. Just recently, a friend sent me a fascinating video of a spider spinning its web. What intricate work the little creature did and how carefully the web was formed. Each spider has its own built-in web design. I felt privileged to see the small creature create the ultimate “zentangle.” The design was unique, and the work flawless.

While some animals, like our black bears, do go into hibernation in the winter, other creatures prepare in their own ways for the cold, snow and ice coming this way. Deer are wandering about and fattening up on whatever food they can find. Fur bearers now have heavy coats, snowshoe hares and weasels have turned white, and squirrels are storing away food. Termites cluster together deep in tree trunks or underground chambers, and garter snakes congregate in large numbers in rocky crevices below the frost line. They are one snake that seems to have built-in antifreeze and to be able to withstand cold weather better than others. Once in a while, you will see one out in a sunny patch of snow in late winter. Snakes are cold blooded.

Golden-crowned kinglets are busy now eating caterpillar eggs they find beneath the bark of trees. In summer, they catch small flying insects on the wing. In the winter when flying insects are no longer available, they feed mostly on scale insects and the eggs of plant lice and other small tree pests. Insects they particularly like are locusts, caterpillars, leaf hoppers, weevils and plant lice. They are definitely good neighbors.

Golden-crowned kinglets are the smallest of our New England birds except for the ruby-throated hummingbird. From beak to tail, they measure only three-and-one-half-inches long. The male golden-crowned kinglet has a conspicuous yellow-orange crown; the female has a yellow crown. Both have a white stripe over the eye.

You can see both the golden-crowned kinglet and the ruby-crowned kinglet here on Mount Desert Island. As its name implies, the ruby-crowned kinglet has a ruby crown. They are quite tame, and you usually can get quite close to them. With their colorful crowns showing, there is no doubt what they are. Kinglets belong to a sub-family of old world warblers. They have long, fluffy, thick plumage and are not bothered by cold weather. It is fun to watch them in the winter, stuffing themselves with insect food found in many tiny hiding places. Not all kinglets stay north in the winter, for some decide to leave us and even wander a far away as Guatemala.

Keep watching at this season for a bird called the Lapland longspur. This special bird coming to us in the winter is from the Arctic and northern Canada. In the winter, it does appear in central North America. They are a bird to look for on the ground in barren places, and they often are seen here with flocks of snow buntings. The bird’s crown, face, upper throat and chest are black. Down the side of the head and neck is a white stripe. Its neck is bright red. Check this one out in your bird book. In the winter, it can be seen south as far as Virginia. The Lapland longspur breeds far to the north and is nice winter visitor to see here. They also keep company with horned larks, another nice bird to see here in the winter. Right now is a good time to watch for these visitors.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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