Saturday, May 14, 2011


(This post is partially a follow-up to my earlier Corvid post Dog Days, Raven Nights.)

Since we were talking about Corvids, let's talk about crows.  

There is a local Seattle writer -- Lyanda Lynn Haupt -- who wrote a great book called Crow Planet.  I was lucky enough to see her at Elliott Bay Bookstore just after the book came out.  (She also has a wonderful blog focused on "new home economics" called "The Tangled Nest".  Everyone should check it out.)  Lyanda Haupt shares one of my great interests -- the way we interact on a daily basis with wildlife, and the often surprising ways that we share our urban space with other creatures.  

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness
Crow Planet
In her book, she recounts how she decided to treat every trip out of her house, around town, the way a naturalist would treat going into the field.  She took her binoculars with her everywhere.  And of course, living in the city, the easiest creature to observe is the crow.  They are so amazing, and so creative, as Ms. Haupt maintains, that anyone who spends much time observing them is guaranteed to see them doing something that no one has ever seen or recorded before.

I'm not really fond of binoculars.  I prefer my camera.  Since moving from Ballard to West Seattle, I've had less chance to observe crows than I used to.  They're here, to be sure, but they are not the dominant form of wildlife that they are in Ballard.  The crows here co-exist with a much wider range of bird life than they do in more urban areas, including other highly intelligent, assertive species like Steller's Jays.  And for some reason, the crows that are around don't like my front yard, which is much lower than the sidewalk and forms a closed in depression.  They prefer the open, sloping yards on the other side of the street.

Crow business.
Yesterday, however, I got a great opportunity to observe a crow going about his typical crow business.  (I say "he" -- honestly, it is nearly impossible to tell the sex of a crow.  I've held them in my hands and would have no idea of their gender.  Typically male crows are a little larger on average, but the variation in crow size is great enough that size won't really do you much good in sexing them).  

Lulubelle and Zeke survey the neighborhood.
 It was a beautiful afternoon and there was a Mariners game on the radio (they lost it in thirteen innings -- the second overtime loss this week -- sigh).  My dogs were enjoying the afternoon on the front deck, and I knocked off work a little early to join them.  At one point my dog Lulubelle started barking ferociously -- which usually means there's another dog around -- or she's seen the rat or a squirrel -- but this time she was barking at a crow which had landed on top of my old blue Subaru.  Her ruckus scared the crow away, but a few minutes later he was back, and this time he landed on my neighbor's trash can.  After that, the pictures pretty much speak for themselves.

Crows are omnivores, of course, like humans.  They will eat just about anything.  (But they can be picky.  For instance, a study at the University of Washington found that given a choice between fried potatoes in a plain white sack, and the same potatoes in a brightly colored fast food sack, crows will almost always go for the fast food sack.) 

In some of the pictures, this crow seems to have blue eyes.  That might just be a trick of the light, but if his eyes are really still blue, it means he's still a young crow,  a fledgling.  But I didn't see any other crows around at that time, and it would be unlikely for a fledgling to be out all alone.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt, by the way, has written two other very good books.  Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, and Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent.  I would encourage all bird and wildlife lovers to check out her work.  She has a wonderful sensibility for the urban naturalist.


Hawks and Crows
Dog Days and Raven Nights
Sizing Up Songbirds

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