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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Watching a young crow learn the game

By Jamie Lutton

By now, I can spot a young crow pretty fast.  This morning, I was getting my coffee from the the TNT stand, when I saw this skinny, small crow standing in a mud puddle in the parking lot behind the stand. I noticed that it was sort of hesitant looking, looking around. A fat, mature crow landed at my feet on the sidewalk, begging for a treat. I threw him one, and I saw this young crow fly over, and land by the older, fat crow, and honk-crow at him, asking for a bit. He did not flutter his wings as if he was a baby, but he did open his beak and honk.  The adult ignored him. I threw the young one a treat; the older crow grabbed that one, too, and the young crow flew up into the tree.   He seemed shy and easily startled.

I looked at the young crow, held up a dog biscuit, and tossed it down. Again, a different older crow took it. I then tossed down several, and at that point the young crow flew down, hesitated, then grabbed one, in concert with several crows, jumping for the treats.  I believe he was a youngster because of his high-pitched, honking caw, and how he tried to beg from the older crow. After that,  I walked about, listening to the crow calls, and I heard young crows in many of the trees. The high pitched honking tone is unmistakable, once you have heard it from a young crow.

The tree across from my shop must have a healthy young crow, as his honking is so loud that he nearly drowns out the sound of the other crows.

Several of the trees around my shop and home are filled with the sound of young crows, honking. 

I don't see nearly as many crows as I used to in the winter. I think that they are feasting on all the open garbage bins I see everywhere, and the garbage strewn about the summer streets. There is so much garbage everywhere, overflowing, spilling out onto the ground. And often restaurants use plastic bags for their food garbage, that the crows can easily rip open with their beaks. There is a waste disposal company that has its clients use plastic bags, which is insane, as that is like spreading the banquet table for the crows.

We are lucky, in a way, that we have the crows, because if it was not for them, there would be bits of food everywhere, and/or a lot more Norwegian rats running around in the daytime. I think about the 19th century and earlier descriptions of London and other European cities, and how rats were visible on the street, eating garbage, all the time. You could not scare them away; they were completely bold.  Businesses used to keep rat-terriers to try to control them; they were far too big for cats to tackle .

We are lucky that we have a local bird that is so fond of garbage.  There is not that much left at night for the rats, though we still have some. I observe rat-catchers going into restaurants all around me; and have talked to the exterminators. They tell me that all the buildings around me have persistent rat and mice infestations, and that at night, you can see them trotting about. .

If we want to see 'fewer crows' about, restaurants, street garbage bins and such would have to be a lot more serious about disposing of food waste. As it is, old food is everywhere on the ground, if you happen to look around for it, next to and piled by waste containers, and it bits and pieces on the street, dropped from human hands. I wish that we would do more food recycling; I know that they have this in place for homes, but  not yet for apartments and restaurants. Then this food waste would go into making mulch, and not into the mouths of crows.

I like watching and feeding the crows, but I know that they are a sign that the streets are really dirty and pocked with food waste. Only Dick's drive-in has food recycling, as far as I can tell (I am sure some other places are doing this, but it is rare to see big RECYCLE bins  like they have).  I assume the city fathers are eventually going to have mulching of restaurant and condo waste in place, enforced by law.

I feed the crows only enough to get a few to notice me, anyway. There are many, many crows who make no notice of me; flying high in straight lines, on important crow business. I see them flying in straight lines, high in the sky and wonder what they are about.

I saw two crows get angry with each other this morning, before my coffee, just near my apartment. One collided with another at high speed in the sky, about 15 feet off the ground - BAM - and then they both retreated to their respective trees, and scolded each other.  They were, I think, arguing over territory; as each one came from a completely different direction, scolding as they flew, flying chasing each other across the sky, till they collided, clung to each other for a moment, spinning in the air,  snarling/cawing like mad cats. This encounter happened very, very fast.

Perhaps they were both coming to ask me for a treat, saw each other, and got mad over territory; decided to have it out.. Well, that day, neither one got a treat; they were CAW-CAWING at each other, angrily,  while a few stray black feathers drifted down.  I waited for a bit; but they were too busy being mad to have a dog biscuit with me.
              
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