Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Far Away Vocals

I have a disability.  I suppose you could say that I have had one for four years now, but it didn't feel that way until last summer.  During the year and four months I've been away from Grand Forks, while trying to make myself physically stronger; facing daily, ongoing pain; and having multiple doctor appointments each week, the crows of Grand Forks faded from my mind. Then suddenly, there they were again.  I was in my beloved apt. on a Sunday morning, listening to the raucous.

Unlike the crows in Schenectady, New York, I never felt I was a part of their world, and felt that I would never be.  I was merely an observer and nothing else.  I saw them ever so still in the cold and the snow.  I saw them facing each other while they talked to each other, one warm day...like two gabbing women.   I saw them grabbing at that pretty flower...that pretty flower that they seemed to like so much.

I have so many questions that have never been answered.  Why were they dark brown at times instead of black?  No doubt that was due to the angle of sunlight, but I never saw that before in my life...not in Schnectady, not in New York City. Were Sunday morning conversations between kin or just friends?  What were they talking about?  Why was Sunday morning full of so many vocals?  Why were the type of vocals they used limited compared to crows in Schenectady?

But here in Vermillion, there are no answers.  There's only silence.  It's thick, like pea soup.  What makes the crows stay away from Vermillion?  Why won't they come into town?  I have no clue.

Crows actually engage in many type of calls, more than 20.   In addition to types of sounds, they can also vary the loudness and pitch of their calls, depending on what they want to say.    At least one type of crow is even known to "curse!"  While listening to CAWS, "you may also hear crows making a 'subsong': a mixture of hoarse or grating coos, caws, rattles, and clicks. These are arranged in sequences that can be many minutes long, given quietly and with a rambling, improvised quality." (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).  Crows can also imitate the vocals of other creatures, even ones of humans.  Micheal Westerfield writes that, "crows use specific sounds under specific circumstances. Alarm calls, assembly calls, distress calls, and many others have been noted. One problem in interpreting these calls, however, has been the fact that different groups of crows, belonging to the same species but in different geographical areas, may not use or understand all of the same calls."

My days here in Vermillion grow short and I long to be among the crows once more.  I can't wait.

All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, American Crows

Michael Westerfield, The Language of Crows

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Screaming Blue Jay

While lamenting about the absence of crows from my surroundings, I started to think of blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata).  Sure, American crows don't roam the skies here in town, and it's been over decade since I've seen a fish crow (which was in upstate New York),  but every once in a while a scream will fill the air.  The scream today seemed to say, "I'm here!"

These beautiful, chubby birds are certainly one of the larger, noisier birds you can find at the feeder.  And like crows, they are screamers, saying their name over and over again.  The signature, loud JAY call is not the only sound this bird makes.  Blue jays can also express harsh, rusty whistles.  Anita Carpenter writes,"devilish bluejays can mimic screaming red-shouldered hawks, while loving bluejays will 'tea-kettle' to each other (Wisconsin Natural Resources).

When it comes to color, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on what the main color of this bird actually it is.  It has been said that this bird is mostly black.  One source states that these birds are actually brown.  It has been said that this bird is mostly gray.  But sources seem to agree that it is the sunlight falling on the bird and scattering that causes this creature to appear blue.  This pretty bird sports more than one shade of blue, a thick head crest, and underside of gray, and black markings on its face, its blue tail and its blue and bright white wings.

Like other corvids, blue jays like the company of other members of their species.  "They are fairly social and are typically found in pairs or in family groups or small flocks (National Geographic).  Blue jays can be found all over the Eastern half of the United States, in a variety of places, including the forest, a park, or even in a garden.  They eat a variety of foods, including insects, acorns, and nuts...and they will come to bird feeders for suet.

To see a picture of a blue jay and to learn more, please click here.

A. Carpenter, Wisconsin Natural Resources, Feb. 2003, What Color is a Blue Jay? http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/html/stories/2003/feb03/jays.htm

National Geographic, Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/blue-jay/

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds,  Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue_Jay/id

Wild Birds Forever, Learn About Blue Jays, http://www.birdsforever.com/bluejay.htm

eNature.com, Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata, http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?recnum=BD0026

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day Dreams of Grand Forks

It's been over 9 months since I left Grand Forks.  And lately, I been thinking about it...and the crows that lived there.  I was so excited when I found out Grand Forks had crows, as I had been deprived of them for so many years in South Dakota.  Then- BOOM, all of a sudden I was in Grand Forks, and there they were.  Although they were quite different than the crows in upstate New York, I was just happy to be around them again after many years.

Before my life got crazy, there were those Sundays when I'd listen to them talking outside my door.  Those were precious times.  But with work and grad school, those times disappeared.  Now, they are just a memory.  For 3 1/2 years, I had them back in my life.  Now, they are gone again and I miss them so.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Back in South Dakota...and Magpies!

It's been weeks since I left the crows of Grand Forks.  I think about crows and the interesting things they do.  I long to be with them again.  I'm sure I will...one day. I decided to keep the blog going because there is still very much to say about crows...about the whole Corvid family.

Magpies are VERY human-like. They are quirky and mischievous.  They'll work together, in cunning fashion on a poor, unsuspecting creature to take its food away.  They can talk like humans by imitating the voices they hear.  Magpies even hold funerals for members of their species.

Magpies are gorgeous birds.  The wings and tails of these black and white birds sport a shiny greenish-blue hue when the sun shines on them just right.  They have extremely long tails.  Black-billed magpies (Pica hudsonia) have black beaks.  There is bare skin near the eye that is also black.  Their yellow-billed counterparts (Pica nuttalli) are smaller.  The area of bare skin near the eye is much more pronounced, being yellow, and different birds show that the patch of skin varies in size and shape.

Black-billed magpies and yellow-billed magpies can both be found in California.  While black-bills can also be found in the western half of the United States and all over the world, yellow-billed magpies can only be found in California.

The holding of funerals for magpies who have passed away is an action that has been covered by various people. Dr. Bekoff of the University of Colorado states that "magpies feel grief and even hold funeral-type gatherings for their fallen friends and lay grass 'wreaths' beside their bodies" (The Telegraph, 2009).  Dr. Bekoff goes on to describe a funeral he witnessed:

"One approached the corpse, gently pecked at it...and stepped back.  Another magpie did the same thing...Next, one of the magpies flew off, brought back some grass and laid it by the corpse.  Another magpie did the same. Then all four stood vigil for a few second and one by one flew off" (The Telegraph, 2009).

To read more about magpies found in American visit the following:

Audubon, Guide to North American Birds
- Yellow-billed Magpie:  Pica Nuttalli
- Black-billed Magpie:  Pica Hudsonia

Cornell University, All About Birds
- Black-billed Magpie:  Pica Hudsonia
- Yellow-billed Magpie:  Pica Nuttalli

The Telegraph
'Magpies Feel Grief and Hold Funerals'- (Oct 21, 2009)

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Living with Wildlife

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Returning to South Dakota

As graduation from graduate school approached, I thought about the crows. I still do.   I think about the times I could have done observations and taken notes, but I did not.  During my last months in Grand Forks, work, school, health problems, and looking for a job that I would take after graduation were all very time consuming and they all cut into my personal time, including time I could have spent on the crows.  I did notice a rather large group of crows flying overhead one day, which I thought was strange for springtime. I missed opportunities.  I'm not happy about that.

I'm back in South Dakota, where crows do not not roam...at least not in this area.  Time approaching the day of the move was intense and once again, little time was available.  Now, I look forward to so many things in my life I neglected when I was a graduate student.  With bags and plastic totes everywhere, my life feels somewhat chaotic, but when it's quiet and my mind drifts back to Grand Forks, I will think of the crows, and their interesting and entertaining ways!  My stay in South Dakota will be temporary.  Wherever I go from here, I will be sure to look for the crows.!

Friday, December 25, 2015

It's Been a Long Time

It's been a long, long time since I've posted anything.  This past semester was particularly grueling and there didn't seem to be time for much of anything.

Yesterday I was walking to the post office, in a hurry.  With my ice treads I made my way to the post office, which closes very early in this area.  There was quite a commotion in the sky, but I didn't have time to look up.  It had to be one of the most intense situations.  The crow calls were different.  There seemed to be a lot of emotion behind them.  I just wish I had had the time to look up.  I had made it to the post office two minutes before closing.  It made the right decision to keep on going and not look up.  But gosh, I wondered what was going on in the sky that day.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Details on the American Crow

"Crows are perhaps the best-known birds on the continent" (Mahnken, 1996).  They are large, dark birds, reaching 18 inches in length.  They have been described as black, with a purple or green sheen when the sun shines upon them.  However, as I stated before, the crows in Grand Forks, North Dakota appear brown in various angels of sunlight. Otherwise, and almost always they appear black. I have not witnessed a sheen of purple or green on them.

Egg laying events occur only once during the breeding season (one brood), and several are laid.  Eggs are bluish to olive green and are covered in brown marks.  Females will keep the eggs warm for 18 days.  Nest are usually built in pine trees toward the top.  Nests are big and bulky, with twigs and branches.  Most of the nest seems to be arranged in a sloppy, chaotic manner. However, it seems that care goes into the making of the middle of the nest, which is cup-like and lined with soft materials, such as, grass, feathers, dog hair, and deer hair.  Crows will pull hairs right out of animals for their nests.

Crows engage in courtship behaviors.  However, "courtship among crows begins with fighting in the flock" (Mahnken, 1996).  However, things take a turn for the better.  "The male walks toward the female, bows, ruffles his feathers, and spread his wings and tail.  He lifts his head up and then lowers it.  It's all very courtly, and his lady is impressed (Mahnken, 1996).

Crows are known for their mobbing behaviors- "calling on gangs of crows together to harass a large hawk or owl on a perch or drive it out of the area.  Catches up to a soaring hawk and repeatedly drives on it from above, often forcing it down into the shelter of trees below" (Alsop, 2001).  However, as I've indicated previously, I've never seen this or any type of mobbing behavior in Grand Forks.

Crows eat a variety of foods, which is why the species has persisted well throughout time:  "fruit, insects, mammals, fish, carrion, will come to seed and suet feeders" (Tekiela, 2000).  Crows can contract avian pox and West Niles disease.  West Niles disease can have devastating effects on crow populations.  However, overall, the species seems to still be going strong.

Crows are highly intelligent, and very human like.  They can use tools and mimic human voices.  Crows of one family will pitch in and raise the younger ones:

"A family unit usually includes a mom and dad and several “kids” hatched in previous years, and can include up to 15 birds! They include goofy, immature one-year-olds and some adult sons and daughters. Sometimes these kids stay with their parents for more than five years. In addition to the nuclear family, crow groups sometimes include extended family members such as nephews, brothers, and half-brothers of the mom and dad. We’ve also seen crows “adopt” the kids of unrelated neighbors" (Townsend, 2010).

Crows are fantastic creatures.  There is so much more to them that this posting presents, especially language.  Much more on language will be coming, in the future!

 Crow and Flower- Grand Forks, ND; Taken by Sharon Lee Hudson


.  Armstrong, B.  Bob Armstrong's Nature Alaska, http://www.naturebob.com/ 

.  Alsop, F.J. (2001).  Birds of North America:  Eastern Region.  DK:  New York

.  Townsend, A. (2010).   The Young and the Restless:  Watching Neighborhood Crows, All About Birds.  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/the-young-and-the-restless-watching-neighborhood-crows/

.  Spruch, G.M. (1983).  Such Agreeable Friends:  Life with a Remarkable Group of Urban Squirrels.  Morrow:  New York.
.  Tekeiel, S. (2000).  Birds of New York:  Field Guide.  Adventure:  Cambridge, MN.

.  Manhnken, J. 1996.  The Backyard Bird-Lovers Guide:  Attracting, Nesting, Feeding. Storey Books:  Pownal, Vermont.