What Good is a Crow?

Sometimes in the winter, the extra high tides peak just when extreme winds blow the waves towards the beach and up over the edge of the road. Sand  churned up in the shallow water of the beach is deposited on the pavement as the waves retreat. At its most furious, the storm makes the road impassable due to waves carrying logs and sand, crashing on the pavement.

Something had to be done.  Why not use the logs that keep washing up on the shore to build a breakwater?

The only drawback was that access  was limited for people wanting to  spend time on the beach. Only a few pass-throughs allow access, but this is a small price to pay for keeping the beach material off the road. On the left foreground of the photo below, you can see the root system of a tree used in making the breakwater.

It makes a great perch for this crow to survey the beach and assess the possibility of nabbing a bite to eat.

Closer to the bluffs where the spit begins, people are enjoying the sunshine in spite of the cold brisk breeze.

Apparently they have brought some picnic food, and our crow is on the alert. See him in the foreground (below), keeping an eye on the people?

Those pebbles can twist a crow’s ankle. He hops up onto a better stand while he talks to us.

My name is Corby, I’m a crow,

A useful bird, I’ll have you know.

I clean up beaches, parks, and schools,

‘Cause people are such messy fools.

“A scavenger,” they say and sneer,

But really I’m an engineer.

A sanitation engineer,

Patrolling beaches without fear.

I’m much despised for baby theft

Of eggs and fledglings, moms bereft,

But on the beach and in the park,

With my intentions not so dark,

I use my observation perch

And beady eyes to scan and search

For chip bags, Ding Dongs, peanut shells.

I simply follow kiddies’ yells

For fast food wrappers, greasy hits

Of french fries, ketchup, burger bits.

I hop-skip over, spear a fry,

And poke some Cheezies with a sigh.

I fly up high, and watch, and call,

My cawing soon assembles all.

The local corbies cruising by,

Spy the garbage as they fly.

They’ve come to lend a helping hand

To clean the litter off the land.

They caw, “We are the cleanup crew,

Don’t look at us with eyes askew.

Don’t throw those rocks to chase us off,

You need us still,  you silly toff.

As long as you mess up the land,

Be thankful for the crows at hand.”

 

Great Blue Heron

Wouldn’t it be nice if all birds could be friends? But that’s not how it is in nature. Crows rob the nests of songbirds, cowbirds lay eggs in the nests of other birds and then fly off, knowing the surrogate mother will bring up the cowbird baby that will crowd out the original nestlings. Owls and hawks will kill other smaller birds. “World bird peace” is pretty much hopeless.

Two of the larger birds, great blue herons and bald eagles, live side by side on the west coast of British Columbia. You rarely see bald eagles killing a heron, but it does happen. Turkey vultures, crows, ravens, black bears, and raccoons are all nest robbers that will clean out a heron’s nest. Eagles will do the same but they also predate on great blue herons in every stage of the heron’s life. The eagle has great grasping talons and a beak made for tearing flesh, so what chance does a heron have?

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Photo, courtesy of Ken Thorne.

Many years ago, I saw how herons escape from eagles. While living on the Queen Charlotte Islands, I was standing in my backyard one day when I heard the croaking call of a heron in a tall tree nearby. An eagle flew in and the heron lifted off. I thought the heron would fly away as the eagle went after him, but instead, the heron reached up with both of his wide-spread wings and pumped air downwards. He flew higher and higher in a tight circle going almost straight up.

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The eagle also pumped his wings and pursued the heron, circling higher and higher after him. The heron went so high that he was a mere speck in the sky. Many meters below him, the eagle soared in circles but was no longer gaining in altitude. I think he had gone as high as he was able. The two birds circled at their respective heights for several minutes, and at last the eagle gave up and flew away. The heron came down after a while, to go about his business for another day.

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The great blue heron is the ultimate stalker. He is patient beyond belief, and will stand absolutely still for so long that you might wonder if he is alive. Then he moves one leg up out of the water and hesitates. After a moment he puts the leg down, just a little closer to the fish or frog he is stalking. His folded up neck reminds me of a boxer holding his fist close to his chest, ready to fling out his arm to throw a punch at the right second. The heron’s sharp grabbing beak is his weapon for securing his dinner. His patience usually pays off and he scores a snack for his dinner.

I saw this fellow today at the shore below my house. I also took the picture of the eagle soaring over the trees beside my house today.  I sure hope these two can keep out of each other’s way and both settle for a meal of fish instead.

Snacks, Sadly

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Just outside my bedroom window is a rhododendron that has a little history of its own. Twenty-two years ago, my neighbour planted several small rhodos in front of his fence on the road frontage. Our soil is very sandy here and when the deer came along to nibble on the leaves, they would invariably pull out the whole plant. The scenario goes like this: I’m arriving home and across from my driveway I see a rhodo uprooted, lying there dying of thirst and heatstroke on my neighbour’s frontage. I get out of the car, pick up the rhodo and go knock on the neighbour’s door. I present him with his casualty, he thanks me, and I go on down my driveway.

Next time I come home from town, the scene is repeated. The deer have nipped the newly planted rhodo and pulled it right out of the sandy soil. I get out of the car, pick up the rhodo and go knock on the neighbour’s door. I present him with his casualty, he thanks me, and I go on down my driveway.

The third time this happened, I brought the rhodo to his door and his son was visiting. He took the rhodo from me, grumbled, “Thanks,” and tossed the plant to the side of the house.

I felt bad for the poor rhodo. I’m sure it died.

Next time one of the neighbour’s rhodos was pulled out of the ground, I picked it up, put it in my car, and drove the rest of the way down our long driveway. I planted it in front of my bedroom window and watched it grow for twenty-two years. Sadly, none of the neighbour’s rhodos survived. My rescued rhodo thrived.

Here is what it looked like last spring.

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A couple of weeks ago my husband discovered a robin’s nest inside the foliage of the rhodo, and today I upset the parents long enough to steal a photo of their home and children.

 

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Now for the sad part. Every year the robins try to raise their chicks in our yard because we have a lot of trees and shrubs. Every year I have to watch as the crows steal the eggs or worse yet, the chicks once they’re hatched.

crowThis year, the crows have been hanging around as usual, even nesting in some of the tall fir trees next door, just waiting for the robins to hatch so they can snatch the babies to feed to their ugly nasty children. I would agree that everything has to eat, so the crows should be forgiven, but crows will eat anything, they’re scavengers, so they don’t have to eat robin babies.

The other sad thing is that this year the sharp-shinned hawks have been nesting in a grove of trees nearby and they also love to kill small birds. It upsets me, but I can accept this as they are limited in what they can find to eat. They’re not scavengers.

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 Still, I hate to think that these poor baby robins will most likely become snacks. It has been several years since a robin has been able to bring off a hatch here and have chicks survive. One couple even nested three times last year in an attempt to raise babies. Only the crows were happy.