Thursday, February 26, 2009

Baba, Benoit and Lucy - the young Crows at Burringbar, Mt Warning Caldera Region, NE NSW, Australia

The Crow Family that lives next door to me has taught me amazing insights into the world of Birds. Crows have long interacted with humans, becoming Totems to many cultural groups of the world, patiently cleaning up battlefields, dead animals, roadside kill and rubbish in parks and school grounds. Plastic in their diet has become a huge problem in cities. The chronic use of pesticides, fouled water supplies, habitat destruction and other scientific legacies have caused many challenges for Crow populations. Crows are extremely intelligent creatures, revered by cultures round the world, and significant to some aboriginal populations along the Murray-Darling System in Australia.
Benoit, the Young Crow, comes to visit (27.02.09) - Burringbar, Mt Warning Caldera Region, NE NSW, Australia
The young Crows that live next door to me are now 4 months out of their nest. Their eyes are still yet to turn a clear blue like their parents. Their voices are still slightly quieter and huskier than their parents. However, they are often seen spending time by themselves now, and quite often, their parents seem far away, in another valley, or further along the ridge where we all live.

Benoit, the young Crow early February, 2009
The Crows appear to live harmoniously with most of other birds, even the small variegated and blue wrens, honeyeaters, brilliant blue and white kingfishers, whipbirds,  honeyeaters, finches, silvereyes, magpies, spangled drongos, doves, pidgeons, whistlers and flycatchers. 

Their agreements with the kookaburras, currawongs and magpies appear to be constantly re-negotiated, depending on the time of year, and the age of each species' young. Now, I do not doubt the crows' ability to steal eggs or attack a vulnerable weak bird, but mostly, there appears to be a peace and harmony in the neighbourhood.

There are, however, times when the crows call loudly. From what I can tell, the loud calls relate to locating and messaging each other from afar, warning calls for other birds and animals, territorial calls, and negotiating - general "bird business" calls.

The Crows do not tolerate Hawks nearby.  They and the Hawks will chase at each other, somewhat fiercly at times. This sometimes happens with the kookaburras and currawongs as well, but only occassionally.

About 6 weeks ago, the nearby Sparrow Hawk parents brought their three new babies over to the Crows Ash tree that houses the Crow family's old nest. This nest is rarely visited by the Crows, but as soon as the baby Hawks came upon the nest, the Crow family went into action. 
The Baby Hawks, jumping and poking all over this nest, so high up in the tree,  then began to settle happily in the tree, trying to establish it as their own. 

Well, of course, the Crow family did not tolerate this. The Father Crow went into direct attack mode. The Crow children all fought the Hawk children, and the Father Crow attacked, and was in turn, attacked by, one of the parent Hawks. This was a very time consuming and long air battle, with occassional "face-offs" taking place on the power lines nearby. The parents would land very close to each other, and look right at each other for some minutes, and then the whole aerial battle would start again.

The Father Crow (left) and the adult Hawk (right) in aerial battle (Dec. 2008), next to the Crow Family nesting tree
It was the Father Crow who did most of the extreme aerial battling, and by the third day of the Hawks visit, the Crow family was getting no peace.  Then, an interesting event happened.

Late one afternoon, a large Wedge-tail Eagle appeared above, in the sky, thermalling eastward. The Father Crow took off after it (he was about 1/4 of its size). He attacked at this Eagle, again and again. chasing it high into the sky, above a neighbouring Crow family's nesting ground, a couple of km, further to the east. As he approached the other Crow Family's territory, those Adult Crows from that territory also came out to chase the huge Eagle. Eventually, the three adult Crows chased the Eagle far away. The Adult Crows then all returned back to the Eastern Crow family territory, and the Father Crow (Benoit's Father) didn't come back for some time.

Meanwhile, the children, Baba, Benoit, Lucy and their Mother, sat in the trees near their nesting tree, and waited. 

About half an hour later, the Children's Father came back, and took the family - Mother, Baba, Benoit and Lucy over to the neighbouring Crows' territory, and they appeared to spend the night there. I think, in hindsight, that this Eagle fighting and show of strength, was done by the children's Father, to illustrate his usefullness, and then a visit and stay over was negotiated, on this basis, so the Family could have a rest from waking up every morning, and having to deal with the Hawk Family's presence.

As I write this, the Hawks have once again been "showing strength"in the area, and the three young Crows, and Parents are out calling loudly, and doing "Crow strategy" in the territory, to warn the Hawks to stay away. The Children of the Crows are now young Crows, able to fly and fight and defend alot better, than at the beginning of the year.

Their young voices are assuming the hard qualities of an older crow, they can all call out very loudly now, and their vocabulary has become rather complex and involved. I can still distinguish the parent's calls from the children's calls, but possibly not for very much longer.

Meanwhile, Benoit has taken to becoming my "friend".  Benoit has been coming down to "humbug" for food.  I have been throwing out dog bones from the butchers, soaked barley grain, corn cobs and orange for the Crow family to scavenge from.  Benoit comes down from the trees and has long conversations with me. Crow vocabulary is indeed complex. Occassionally Benoit tries to copy my speech pattern, and I, in turn, try to mimic Benoit's

When I dig in the compost, I throw worms out for Benoit. Bending over to find a worm, Benoit has taken to hopping on my back, and looking over my shoulder, waiting for the worm to be thrown out onto the grass.

If I am out in the yard, and Benoit flies in to visit, sometimes Benoit will land on my head. This feels rather strange for me - hence, the photo below show my "wierd look" as Benoit perches atop my head, and tries to "work out" what I am about.

Benoit checks out my Sahasrara Chakra, (25th February, 2009)

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