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Spring training on my roof - teaching the young to open clams

Story and photos by Steve Giordano
High on Adventure, July 2020

  Crow and bunny strife  

An adventure in my front yard:
Angry bunny charges a crow
who finds a safe perch.

Crow and bunny strife

  Crow and bunny resolve  


As I continue to "travel" at home and explore my yard for anything interesting to report, I'm hearing an adventure on my roof every day just after sunrise.

Most people's day begins with an alarm of one kind or another, preferably one with a snooze feature. Ours goes off well before six a.m. and sounds amazingly like a symphony of birds approaching the roof over our bedroom. What sounds in
sleep like a peep of chickens turns out to be on awakening a murder of crows having cawcawphony and clams for breakfast on the roof. Their big, strong feet, well-adapted for walking, stomp around chasing clams that roll down the shakes.

It sounds more like a food fight than a meal. The crows thump and thunder around chasing each other and the rolling
food, cawing their belligerence to each other and the world at large.

The main course is soon finished and the crows fly off to attack the fruit trees and garbage cans in the neighborhood. But they always come back in the afternoon with more clams.

Since this is clearly a problem begging a solution, I ran through all the possibilities in my mind. Even though they were a murder of crows, as opposed to a tidings of magpies, I didn't want to hurt them. I only wanted them to do their eating somewhere else, like maybe at the beach with the seagulls.

Which reminded me, there haven't been any seagulls our deck since I put the plastic owl on the railing. Why not put it somewhere on the roof? Maybe it would work the same magic on the crows. So I installed the owl in the rain gutter and sat back to watch for the afternoon feeding. Sure enough, late afternoon brought two crows, one with a large white object in its mouth. They flew, as crows do, in a straight line toward the roof. When they saw the owl they cawed in fright and veered to the other end of the roof. They only stayed a moment before heading up the street.

The true test would be at breakfast.

Is there a humane way to deal with the nuisance factor of crows? The local Cooperative Extension Service's Master
Gardener says it's difficult to discourage crows from their favored places - the key is to make somewhere else more attractive to them.

He has heard of plastic snakes to scare off crows, and one woman even made her own snake out of socks stitched together. She sewed on buttons for eyes and placed the scarecrow in her berry patch.

Crows are protected from hunting (although as a kid in southern California I remember hearing about a 25-cent bounty on crows) because they're a scavenger bird, just like seagulls. In fact, the two birds often mix together in the county fields during plowing and manuring, just as they do on the beach during low tides.

Easier pickings for the crows are road kills and the garbage we leave around - they help clean up our environment
for us.

Crows will also eat young birds and eggs - one was seen swooping to the ground at a local park, snatching a baby chick and flying off with it. They also rob the nests of peregrines, cormorant, pheasant and sparrows. Crows will intimidate puppies, causing them to shrivel to a corner while stealing their chow. They will also torment cats in the city
and owls in the wilderness.

Maybe my plastic owl wouldn't work.

The next morning went as you might expect, with the usual rooftop breakfast. If crows populate all parts of the world except New Zealand, what's the fascination with our particular roof? I'd sooner endure a siege of herons.

Maybe the Humane Society would have an answer.

Actually, crows were beginning to sound interesting. Aesop's fable of The Crow and the Pitcher, where the crow drops pebbles in the pitcher to raise the water to beak level, could be a true story. Crows have larger brains in proportion to their size than any other bird. They use sticks and spines to dig at their food, and they drop rocks to enjoy the sound effects.

The Humane Society's answer was for me to call a local bird rehabilitation expert. She said that all the crow activity now is due to the new youngsters. Adult crows are feeding them and teaching them the ropes.

We moved into their territory, not the other way around, she explained. Crows are opportunists, of course. They look down on us grocery store people, and think we're the crazy species.

While crows may be scoundrels, they are protective of their young. They have to be, because the next step up the who-eats-whom ladder turns out to be ravens. Ravens are at least six inches longer and will raid the crows's nests, taking babies and eggs. So crows do get their comeuppance.

But to finish my alarming story, I should mention the snooze feature. After the crows leave, there are a few minutes of quiet before the day begins again, this time with an uproar of jets that fly directly over our house. I'd be happier if the neighborhood ostentation of peacocks returned. At least their sounds are more melodic, well, maybe just more interesting...



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