Monday, July 9, 2018

All About A Crow's Nest

Here is a recent post from the Union Bay Watch Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time local photographer and birder.

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work.

Baby Crows
Crow on eggs - May 4th.
 A crow's nest is a term almost everyone has heard. For hundreds of years the phrase has been used to describe a lookout point high above a ship. A place to watch for approaching danger. Fittingly, there may be no other species on earth which watches for danger as devotedly as crows. None the less, one of the most dangerous times in the lives of young crows are the days they spend in the nest.

The parents do everything in their power to defend their young. Sometimes they will even attack people who are simply passing by. Usually, crows' nests are well hidden, especially when large deciduous leaves fill the branches above the nest. 

Before this Spring, I had never even glimpsed inside an active nest. I am especially grateful to my friend, Whitney, and my new friends, Emily and Bryony, for providing access which enabled a brief weekly observation of this nest.

The first hatchling - May 11th 

When I glanced into the nest all I saw were the beautifully speckled eggs. I was surprised that the color of the eggs was not more similar to twigs and sticks of the nest. The color did virtually nothing to hide the eggs from prying eyes. 
Ever so slightly, an egg shifted. I wondered if I really saw movement. Was it just my camera which shifted in my grasp. A moment later, I saw the hint of a little pink foot and then abruptly a young bird's head flopped into view. 

Hatchlings hoping for food - May 17th - Day 6

Six days later the egg shells were gone. Two young birds remained. Obviously stronger, they were now holding their heads up. Their eyes were still closed and their bare skin was now grey-brown with highlights of pink. The colors of the young birds were definitely less obvious than the eggs had been. Their most notable parts were the bright red mouths. It was hard to imagine them being any more defenseless than when they were blindly begging for food. 

By the way, this may be one of the few times you get to see crow's ears or at least the holes which they apparently hear through.

This particular nest tree was rather small with surprisingly little foliage overhead. With great regularity gulls could be heard and seen as they negotiated the wind currents above the nest. I had serious doubts about the survival of the nestlings.

 Hatchlings with early feathering  - May 24th - Day 13

At almost two weeks of age, the bird on the left appeared to be opening its eyes, ever so slightly. The bare pink skin of their bodies was now hidden. Feathers were beginning to grow. The most consistent part of their appearance was still their gaping red mouths. Appropriately, the joint where the upper and lower bills meet is called, The Gape.

Young Crows - June 1st - Day 20

In their third week the young birds were identifiable as crows. They no longer looked naked, however their feathers were still not sufficient for flight. The larger bird might even have been showing some awareness of the world beyond the nest.
Young Crows - June 8th - Day 27

By the fourth week, the young birds were certainly aware of the life outside the nest. Their feathers now covered their bodies and heads in all the right places. Soon they would be able to fly. By the next visit a week later, the nest was empty.

Over the next few days Emily and Bryony saw the parents feeding the young in the general area somewhat near the nest. Much to my surprise, the young survived the threat of passing gulls and other predatory birds, in spite of their relatively 'open air' nest.

While I cannot be sure if I found one of these new fledglings, I did find a crow of a similar age. The young bird was highly inquisitive.
However, it did not appear to be having much luck at finding its own food.
In addition to the young bird's behavior and its feathers being not quite as black as an adult, this photo shows two or three other characteristics which indicates the bird's youth. 
When your parents are bringing you all your food and keeping an eye out for danger you can close your eyes and work to your heart's content on preening and cleaning your new feathers.

It would not surprise me if new feathers growing all over your body, while pushing older feathers out of the way, might create an itch or two and a need to scratch.
At one point the young bird got a hold of one of the small feathers it had removed. It looked like the crow was attempting to set the feather down on the branch. But sadly the moment it let lose of the feather, the wind gathered it up and took it away.

The young crow seemed to have a wistful look in its eye as it watched the feather disappear over the waters of the bay.
Curiosity is certainly a sign of intelligence. If the current batch of young crows can survive the next few weeks, their odds of survival will continue to increase. They need to stay out of the grasp of predatory birds like the adult Barred Owl mentioned in the post two weeks ago. They also need to learn to stay out of the way of automobiles. Life in the city certainly has positive and negative challenges.
Watching the antics of young crows over the next few weeks could be very entertaining for us, even though it may mean life and death for them. Binoculars will be very helpful in identifying them because they are already nearly the same size as their hard working parents. 
Keys to identifying young crows include, being fed by another crow, exhibiting a high level of curiosity, having a red gape, having a blue-gray iris, losing small downy feathers and possibly even scratching a lot.

Take a look at the following two photos and see if you can figure out which one is the adult and which one is a new fledgling. Both birds have their nictitating membrane closed, which covers their eyes when they are potentially exposed to some type of irritation.
 The key difference is the hint of a pink gape in the second photo.
Even here, from this rather odd angle, the pinkish red gape is apparent, which implies this is a young bird and not yet a parent.

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