Sunday, October 05, 2014

Enfamilial Crow Language

As many of you know,  I've been watching Crows for decades.  And of course the Crows have been watching me back.  

That, as we know, is one of the issues with CrowsThey know they're being watched and being Corvids, therefore very smart,  they hold their cards close to the chest.

For all we know they could be playing cards but we just haven't caught them at it yet.  

Actually no, I don't think they likely play cards but we do know that they have been observed in the throes of  competitive pig riding, have crafty ways of getting nuts cracked by humans driving cars, and that they slide down snow covered roofs on bottle caps for the fun of it..

They also communicate vocally.  We've all heard Crows using their public, long distance language, the caw.

But I've always had a strong suspicion that Crows had to have a reasonably complex enfamilial language, a vocal system of communication used with mates, offspring and other intimates.

Red-tailed Hawks have it. 

 Marie Winn, the author of Red-tails in Love and Central Park In the Dark, recounted an occasion when she was standing under a tree in which Pale Male and one of his mates were perched and they were vocalizing to each other in an sweet musical way.  I heard Charlotte "talking" to her eyasses Big and Little on the Trump Parc nest from a nearby window.

Last week I was in the house and happened to be standing, yet again,  near a window and I heard this rippling musical sound that had to be a bird (It was coming from above my head), but it certainly didn't sound like any bird I'd ever heard before.

I  very slowly and carefully pulled the drape aside about an inch and peered up.

There is a Crow up in the Ponderosa Pine and her beak is opening and closing to the rythmn of the sound.

Unbelievable!  A Crow is making that sound?

My  apologies, the sound is very difficult to describe. 

We all have a general idea what "a trill" sounds like. Right?  It is fast and it undulates.  

Think of a trill.

Now take it down an octave or two and play it in your head at less than half speed.

Make it lovely.  Make it  musical.  

 I know, I know, we aren't supposed to give human emotions to animals we're watching but... it sounded happy and it sounded affectionate.

And as always when you absolutely must find a way to record something unexpected, the expected happens.

The cassette recorder won't work.  

Then the sound outside stopped. 


Two days later, I'm once again standing near the same window and I hear it again.

Yes!  But I still don't have anything to hand to record it with.

Okay, okay, how about video?  That has sound!  I don't dare pull the drape aside so just hit record.

The mic isn't sensitive enough.

The sound stops.

The next day I hear it again and I pull the curtain aside just a little wider than before to try and get the recorder to have less of a barrier.

The Crow looks down and sees me.  She caws the alert.  The Crows fly away.

I haven't heard it since.  

I've searched the web for any recordings.  I've found nothing so far.

If you do, please send it along.

Donegal Browne

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Central Park Juvenile, the first Monarch Caterpillar, Paper Wasps, Rare Fruit, Goldfinch Lessons, and My Achilles Heel for Hawks...Even Cooper's Hawks

Longtime Hawkwatcher Stella Hamilton spotted this unidentified Red-tail juvenile in Central Park eating self caught prey.  As all the juveniles have now branched out of their parental territories exploring and hunting it is very tough to figure out who belongs to whom.
The first Monarch Caterpillar on the new Milkweed plants.  Yes!
An approximately 2 foot by 2 foot paper wasp nest in a barn.
A closer view shows how beautiful and complex this cooperatively produced nest is.
"The" apple...the only piece of fruit on six fruit trees which where all covered with blossoms in the Spring.  There is no fruit of any of the fruit trees in town.  The common thought is a lack of pollination as there are so few Honey Bees.  In fact, I've seen only one this year.
Frantic begging from the other side of the window and Squirrel's flicking tail brought my attention to a group of  fledgling Goldfinch.  I regularly put sunflower seeds on the coal hole cover for the Chipmunk who lives in the coal hole and it had drawn the Goldfinch fledglings, one of which, the one down left in fact, is extremely unhappy. 


Well, he is frustrated and confused.  
 He has figured out that the meat of a sunflower seed, the yummy part, is eaten out of an open sunflower seed shell.
So he picks an open seed in his beak, ready to eat the meat, but it has been previously opened and eaten by a sibling.  

 He begins to beg in a screech.  Nobody responds so after a few minutes...
 ...he looks down and spies an unopened seed.  He picks it up in his beak but no meat.  

I surmise he hasn't learned that either he has to open the seed to get the good stuff or hasn't learned yet HOW to open it.

He drops the seed.
And totally freaks out in frustration.  He vocalizes insistently at full volume.  He rapidly flicks his wings in a begging gesture.  Then turns in rapid tight circles flicking and vocalizing. 

No one pays the least attention.  His siblings continue eating.  Dad who is up in the Spruce tree is keeping watch, as there has been a Cooper's Hawk around lately, doesn't even look down.
 He picks up another seed...
...and tries tapping and shoving it against the wood.  No good.
Another tizzy of frustration.  By this time Mom is looking at Frenzy Chick, and doing a demonstration of the how-to-get-the-seed-out-of-the-shell technique.
Then everyone looks up and all hell breaks loose.  The dozens of birds, Goldfinch, Purple Finch, House Sparrows, Downy Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, etc., who have been foraging in the sunflowers that grow in the area, in the two feeders, and on the ground take off at top speed in all directions.

A huge, beautiful, and skillful Cooper's Hawk in perfect feather appears out of nowhere and disappears from my view out the window.

One moment please.

1.  It is 48 degrees outside.
2.  It has rained all night and is still doing so sporadically,
3.   I'd been quite ill so I am observing all this while still in my pajamas so staying in and hoping to see what is happening from inside is the better choice.

Now back to the action...
I grab my camera, run upstairs, and look out the windows for the hawk.
I scan.  Nothing and nobody from this view or the others I've tried.  I run into the room that has a slight view of  the Ponderosa Pine if I lay my right cheek on the far right of the window and peer left. Bingo!  The Cooper's is just hopping from one branch to another which unfortunately is out of view.

I run back down the stairs, through the rest of the house and out the back door.  This is idiotic as remember, I've been sick, I'm wearing pajamas, no shoes, it's 48 degrees and very wet out there.
 I try sheltering by the garage on the wet sidewalk, better than  puddles or cold mud.  No sight of her.  Did she take off after hopping out of view?  Crap!  I start left into the puddles.

I still  don't see her in the moment with the naked eye but later upon bringing up the photo, she is there.
I keep shooting but still don't see her with the naked eye in the moment.  I keep going further left, North,  through puddles and then East through mucky grass, and I still don't see her.

I keep shooting.
 There she is.
I then take a dozen or so more pictures instead of getting inside and taking care of myself.

This is a cautionary tale with which I send my sincere apologies for the lapse in judgement which caused the lapse in the blog.  I have been quite ill due to my own foolishness.  

Here's hoping I'll use better sense next time.

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Tale Of Walking Squirrel Part II and Pale Male's Camouflage

 Photo courtesy of

Here is a grand example of the blending of a Red-taled hawk, Pale Male in particular, into a dabbled woods environment.
And Walking Squirrel keeps taking bites. 

  He's really stuffing it in.  And as Walking Squirrel is walking he has taken to remarkable stealth not often seen in a squirrel.  I saw him walk past a cat that wasn't more than two feet away amongst the foliage under the feeder and the cat never even noticed he was there.

Some chewing...

And Walking Squirrel's head goes back to swallow.  Even though W.S.  was using stealth, eating, and drinking, things weren't all they should be.  Therefore I was pleased today to see him swallow without his head back and also that as he went up the bird bath for a drink he leapt.  

Walking Squirrel is definitely on the mend now!

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne