Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Winter is the time of hunger and cold. Even during the most severe low temperatures, blinding snow, and high winds the Crows must forage diligently to keep their relatively large bodies fed. They don't hunt ready made meals like the raptors, nor do people put out Crow buffets as they do with the seeds and suets for the other winter birds.

I can't tell you how many people in Wisconsin have told me that they HATE Crows.

Why do they hate Crows?

Because they say, the Crows tear up their trash.

It's almost a phobia--teeth clench, eyes flare. Now I've literally watched for years, waiting to see Crows disrupt someone's garbage. But all I've seen are the Crows of winter working carefully through the snow looking for something to nourish themselves in the cold.

And it isn't as if I'm just not catching them at it. I've also not seen the tell tale clues of ripped garbage bags and blowing trash.

The Crow turns her face into the wind and continues her search for food.

Southern Wisconsin has just had yet another winter storm. This bout brought 7 more inches of snow, followed by below zero temperatures. Tomorrow is to bring a further foot of snow. And yesterday I watched the Crows forage endlessly and methodically across the park without the look of much success while sinking knee and thigh deep in the snow.

Today was garbage day. A little before noon, I looked out the front window, and low and behold there stood a Crow on top of the neighbor's lidless garbage can determinedly trying to rip the garbage bag open. Four Crows stood below the can looking on with focus. I ran for the camera.

Unfortunately, when I raised the camera to my eye, the Crows took to their wings and fled with speed. One Crow, up left corner of photo, landed in a tree though almost out of my sight line.

Drat! I took a second to rearrange the string of Christmas lights and when I looked up again, three more Crows were now perched in the tree where the first had landed.

Two Crows fly down and land on the bag. Note the debris at the foot of the can.

Then inexplicably the two Crows fly to the snowbank.

The rear Crow is looking up with focus. Did something fly over?

Then it's back to work.

Three Crows remain perched in the tree. The Crow on the bag retrieves a wad of something wrapped in paper toweling and throws it to the ground where the second Crow goes down and begins to unwrap the find.

A third Crow flies in and the Can Crow throws down something unrecognizable and the third Crow flies away with it.

Second Crow watches Third Crow take off.

Suddenly there is the rumble of a garbage truck coming down the street.

Can Crow flies into the Mountain Ash in my yard and though our eyes meet doesn't fly off immediately which is unusual.
The other Crows sit in the perch tree as the trash truck approaches. I look back at Can Crow, he looks at me, and then flies over the roof of the house. I head for the glass door and discover Can Crow in the back yard foraging through the snow.
Silly me, I think, well that is that. I grab my coat and head for an appointment.
Only later did I realize that it wasn't the garbage truck that had come down the road. It was the recycling truck that had appeared. It would have emptied the green and yellow recycling bin. The garbage would have continued to sit there waiting for another company's truck (different color and shape) to pick it up. There was still more time for raiding which I missed.
Could that be the reason the other Crows waited perched in the tree.
Could Can Crow really have distracted me on purpose?

Whatever the answer to those questions, because the trash raiding is so rare and conceivably dangerous due to attracting negative human attention, I believe the Crows only engage in the activity when they are desperate for a meal.

Remember Squirrel One and his attachment to the red bowl? In the comments section, blog contributor Karen Anne Kolling suggested that perhaps One saw red bowl as a sort of infinite bowl of plenty. Contributor and squirrel rehabber Carol Vinzant suggested that perhaps he wanted a sled and wouldn't that be a wonderful documentary. It was all in fun of course, but it once again brought to the fore that we really don't know what an animal may be thinking and why, beyond the basics, and even there we tend to assume. In fact I'd been turning and turning the episode around in my mind since it happened without being able to even theoretically come to a conclusion.
Carol Vinzant made a simple but brilliant suggestion. Find another red bowl, bury it in the snow like the original, and see if Squirrel One reacts to it again.
Unfortunately I don't have an identical plastic bowl. It was in my parents house and may well have been for ages. I do suspect though that it may have been a bowl that some product was bought in. Whipped butter? Holiday Whipped Topping? Frozen something? Therefore if you recognize the bowl as a product container let me know. Or if you happen to have one you don't need anymore and would like to donate it, we'll figure out a way to get it here.

Juncos seldom get off the ground to feed.

But now a few visit that do fly up to the feeders immediately before and during the snowstorms.

And like Mrs. Goldfinch previously, Junco dallied on the feeder, sheltered from the snow, after eating.
For whatever reason, I seldom see the opossums these days, but the bunnies, perhaps four or five of them, visit every night to eat sunflower seeds.


Karen Anne said...

Not that I want to reduce the amount of food available for crows, but if the people getting all worked up about crows ripping into their trash bags would, duh, use trash containers with lids on them, the problem would vanish, no?

I looked up what crows eat, and the answer seems to be, just about anything. They also apparently get a bad rap for eating corn from fields, when it's actually believed they do more good than harm by also eating insects there.

Most people have probably seen the video of a crow making a tool to retrieve a container containing a food item:

Donegal Browne said...

Karen Anne,

Exactly! That is the answer. And that is what I have suggested to the folks who are hysterical about Crows in their trash.

How about a can with a lid?

The exact same solution I suggest to those who insist on poisoning rodents.

With Crows one doesn't even need metal which is the way to go with rats. A plastic trash can with a plastic lid does the trick perfectly for Corvidae.

Crows are smart but a big plastic lid is tough for them to deal with at their size. Though I suppose it is possible that a group Crow effort might someday overcome the unsecured plastic lid. But that can be dealt with if and when it happens.

It's interesting because upon the suggestion is made about a lid, people's faces often go blank. Here they've been having a mental time consuming war with the Crows who aren't dummies and don't even raid the trash that often, when a plastic lid and can totally solves the problem. As you say, Duh, I can see it run through their minds. Though for a few the Crow loathing is so societally ingrained they'll still take pot shots at them, lid solution or no.

But some folks transition from the blank look to a smile and they get themselves a lid. They're relieved that they no longer feel the community pressure to keep peeking out their window at their trash can every garbage day until it's picked up to avoid the negative rep for allowing the least scrap of debris to possibly blow about the neighborhood.

There are times when what the rest of the community is doing just isn't sensible. But in places that tend toward the conventional sometimes folks just follow along with the community answer without giving "the answer" any thought.

If there get to be enough lids a tipping point will be reached and then a lid will be "the answer". Ta da!