Monday, July 24, 2017

Caw Wars

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 26, 2017] ©2017
Is it just me or have the last few years brought a preponderance of crows to our area?  It seems like every morning we wake up to caw wars.  These are some seriously noisy little suckers. 
The first question anyone asks about crows is whether they’re actually ravens which have more cachet.  This is, after all, La Jolla. The Jewel is not a town that has crows and rats. We prefer to think of ourselves as a community with ravens and…no rats.  Sorry on both counts.
Here’s how you tell a raven from a crow:  A crow’s tail is shaped like a fan while the raven’s tail is wedge-shaped, not that I’ve ever been able to get any of the plethora of winged ones populating my yard to slow down long enough to tell.  The big giveaways are that the crows travel in groups (as opposed to the ravens in pairs) and are far louder. Far, far louder. At 5 a.m., I’m tempted to stick my head out the back door and yell, “Geesh, you guys!  Do you have any idea what TIME it is?”
Over the 44 years I’ve lived in my house there have been sudden influxes of bird populations, some human-induced. For Henry’s fourth birthday, I hid five pounds of peanuts in the shell around our front yard as one of the game activities. Whoever found the most got a prize. The kids lost interest about three peanuts and two nanoseconds later.  But it turns out that blue jays LOVE peanuts in the shell.  For at least the next decade we probably had the most flourishing blue jay colony in North America. They’d even come up to Olof on our patio table in the morning as he was reading the paper and eat cracker bits out of his hand.  And then one season they just disappeared.  I tried “reseeding” the yard with more peanuts but just got rats, who, it turns out, like peanuts too. Actually, we’ve discovered that rats like pretty much everything.
Our next foray into wild bird-dom occurred the fall we were remodeling our kitchen in 1999.  Construction workers using our guest bath (we were at work during the day) reported being startled by the sound of a bird slamming into the bathroom window every 30 seconds or so. Upon investigation, the bird, whom we dubbed Psycho Finch, was attacking his reflection which he thought was another bird.  You’d think he’d give up on that idea after the first day but no, it went on from dawn to dusk for weeks. How he didn’t have brain damage, I don’t know. Closing the shutters just made him switch to one of the south-facing bedroom windows on either side.  Project Wildlife suggested hanging a scary-looking plastic bat from the eaves to dissuade it but Psycho Finch just used the bat to rest on, happily bobbing up and down on its elastic string between attacks. 
We were very glad when Psycho Finch suddenly disappeared but lo and behold, the next fall at the same time, the same thing happened.  We called that one Son of Psycho Finch. The following year we even had Grandson of Psycho Finch.  But then the lineage seemed to die out. It’s good to know that natural selection can prevail.
One of my most popular columns ever was about Quick and Quack, the two mallard ducks that show up every spring to poop in our pool.  But this year they didn’t come. Global warming?  Too much competition from crows? (Cleaner pools?)
Given that we are bird people (we have an outdoor aviary and an abundance of bird feeders), it was not surprising that we were Project Wildlife volunteers for several years on the baby song bird team.  The little guys needed to be fed every 30 minutes from sunup to sundown with a mixture I injected into their squawking gullets with a needle-less syringe. People who called my office would ask, “Are you in a forest?” Unfortunately, someone finally complained to HR (my boss?) and my Project Wildlife career was over. 
So now we seem to be in our Crow Phase. There are a lot of mature trees both on and around our property and it is my observation that these guys are pretty territorial about which branch belongs to whom. Watching this from the safety of my Adirondack chair, they look like avian F-4s engaged in dog (er, crow) fights. Our cars have been underneath some of these battles, as have our brick walkways. I do my best not to put myself in the line of fire.
The crows certainly enjoy congregating on the power lines that run next to our house, and their fondness for extracting insects from our lawn seems to suggest that we have inadvertently provided them with an ample food supply. 
Now, if only they would eat rats…

Crow on one of our trees
Crows congregating on power line next to our house
Quick and Quack make their yearly pilgrimage to our pool, 2015
Baby song birds from Project Wildlife

Not pictured: Psycho Finch, Son of Psycho Finch, and Grandson of Psycho Finch
(they never stood still long enough)


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