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)

Benoit the Young Crow - February 8th 2009

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Benoit the Young Crow Returns, after a Sleepover

Photo of Benoit after an overnight stay away from the family unit

Hey Susi, Benoit is back !!!!! When I came home this arvo, but Baba is still gone, and Benoit is looking rather lacking in feathers on the neck.

I maybe have worked out what happened.  After I did the special posting and collage, the day before yesterday ,  I went outside, and Benoit was really really excited. A lot of complex Crow talking  and wing flapping, like there was something exciting happening. Well, all last night, I kept seeing Benoit in my mind, and this morning woke to a dream where Benoit was telling me that about an arranged visit with the "big" birds. So, I think what happened was Benoit DID go to stay with relatives for the night - like a "sleep over for a whole day and a half, and THAT was what the darling little Crow was trying to tell me the other afternoon. That a sleepover was happening,  since Benoit was a "big bird" now, and could spend a night away from the family.  

The Mom and Dad Crows  really missed having Benoit and Baba about. Baba, although maybe not as bright as Benoit, is older, and he is still away. I think that he is ok - I hope so. Anyway, I am so so happy that Benoit is ok, if a bit worn out looking. I guess the "big bird" relatives probably gave Benoit a bit of a "right of Passage". And I'm not even sure if Benoit is a boy or girl. Anyways, Benoit - was happy to see me, and flew staight down to greet me when I just came home. Looking a bit worse for wear, and rather subdued, but ok!!!! 

And now I understand why the Mom and Dad were calling out so loudly all day yesterday - they were calling to the children who had gone on the "sleepover" far away with the other Crows. 
I have decided that I love and respect  crows more than ever now!!!!!
This has been one of the biggest learning curves in my life - learning that loving wild creatures means I must "let go" and be cool and detatched like the birds are!

Benoit Mandelbrot, the baby Crow, at home in Burringbar

Benoit at home in Burringbar, Mt Warning Caldera Region, NE NSW, Australia

On the left is Benoit's Father waiting under the full moon before Benoit took his first flight.
In the middle is Benoit, on 20th January 2009 and the smaller pic of Benoit is when he had just left his nest - late Oct/earlyNov 2008. The other photos are of some of his favourite trees in his Burringbar home (NE NSW Australia)
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Benoit Mandelbrot - a very Smart Crow

Benoit Mandelbrot - a very smart crow

Benoit Mandelbrot has been flying since late October, 2008. He is the middle sibling of three children born to two Crows that live next door to me in Burringbar, in the Mt Warning Caldera Region of NE NSW, Australia. The family is a tight knit unit. The Father Crow has done much hard work to raise his children, with his Wife, and soon the children will be independent. 
All three children of the Crows still have their baby voices, although sometimes Benoit and the older sibling Baba O'Riley can make some pretty convincing adult sounds. 

Over the December and January months, the children have vastly expanded their vocals, and eating skills. All three children have counted coup with the children of other birds in the neighbourhood - Kookaburras,Currawongs and Hawks. They do not fight with Magpies, although I notice that, when very young, the Crow children would "stalk" the adult Magpies. This was tolerated very kindly, by the "stalked" adult.

As told earlier in this blog, Baba was the first of the babys to fly up very high with a Sea Eagle.

At other times, the Crow children have flown, with their parents (particularly their Father) to chase adult Wedge Tail EaglesSparrow HawksGrey and Brown Goshawks and Kookaburras, but usually it is the Father Crow that continues the chase, and the Crow children retreat to safe arbours while he fights, chases and counts coup.

When the children first flew from their nest in the Crows Ash Tree, I couldn't distinguish between them easily. However, even when they were in their nest, I felt that there was often a little pair of eyes watching me, and had an intuitive feeling that one of the Crow children would become my friend.

From almost their first flight, there was always one little Crow that would give me an extra long gaze, focus into my eyes, and try to talk with me. Now, as I have learnt to distinguish the Crow children more, I can see Benoit, even in the air, or high up in a tree, by mannerisms and voice. Benoit even comes when I call.
 "Benoit! Benoit" I call, and Benoit comes flying down to me, and has a little talk. Swooping over my head landing only inches from me, but will not land on my hand. I have fed these babies, and their parents, after the Father Crow had a serious wing injury,and so, I guess that it is not unusual for them to come to me. Their parents, however, are quite distrustful of closeness to people, and prefer to stay at a distance. I put out clean water for them daily, which they love to drink, bathe and soak their food in.

Benoit's Father has sometimes come to me, asking if I will help chase a goanna. He was prone to do this when the Children were still in the nest. But that is another story.....

Meanwhile, back to Benoit, the smart little Crow.  Although second to leave the nest, Benoit has shown much intelligence, and is often the first to respond to the parent Crows' calls, a situation or opportunity. Benoit will often come down to me and just sit and talk with me. Looking into Benoit's eyes is like discovering another universe. The beauty, wildness, intelligence and sensitivity astound and amaze me. My respect for Crows has increased a thousandfold, since getting to know this family. It is funny, even as I write this article, Benoit is up in the "birth" tree practicing the "alarm" call, and play fighting with the elder Crow, Baba.  About a week ago, when Benoit came up to me, talking many different crow words, I repeatedly said "hello, hello". Then, to my astonishment, Benoit said "hello" back to me. TWICE!!!! What a smart little fellow Benoit Mandelbrot is.

One of my favourite pastimes is to sit in the evening warmth, and watch the first stars appear, with the children of the Crows all sitting nearby. This is a peaceful event, quite often.... but not when the Hawks arrive with their children, to inspect the old crow's nest in the birthing tree and attack the children of the Crows! No, on those evenings, everyone is alert, and when it becomes too much, the father Crow will take the children and his wife off to the nearby family of Crows that live a kilometre or so away, and spend the evening there! I don't blame him. The Hawks are fierce, relentless and can severely injure a baby Crow. But, somehow, I feel that Benoit will survive Crow childhood and grow into a very wise old Crow.

Benoit Mandelbrot is indeed a very smart and brave Crow. 

Photo: Benoit Mandelbrot having one of his first flights in early November 2008

I am the crow that calls out the law
I am the eagle whose wings ever soar
I am the earthworm, humble unseen
I am a miracle in god’s greatest dream.

Baba's ( the eldest baby ) First Big Flight - One week out of the Nest

"Valley of the Crows", Burringbar, Mt Warning Caldera Region, NE NSW, Australia
In the 9 weeks since the children of the Crows have had their fledgling flights, from their birth tree to the neighbouring Eucalypt, I have watched them venture further and further away.
They have more recently, at about two months out of their nest, taken long flights away to the major gathering of Crows (murder) down in the valley some miles away.
I have now seen the Crow children fly with their parents, high on the thermals, chasing Sea Eagles, Wedgetail Eagles and Hawks. This has proven to be rather dangerous, at times. 
When the children were very young, they also "play fought" and counted coup with Magpies and baby Kookaburras, while their parents watched on. 

During the first week out of the nest, the eldest Crow child, Baba,  had flown with it's father, high into the sky thermals, chasing after a Sea Eagle. 
On this day, sky was cloudy, and rather windy.  As the Sea Eagle passed their nesting trees, the father Crow swooped into the thermal, below the ascending Eagle, feigning attack. He was staying slightly away from the eagle, while the little baby Crow (who I believe was Baba, the eldest baby) flew much higher and further away from them, watching from above. 

Suddenly, the thermal took the baby Crow even further into the sky, with the Sea Eagle following skillfully, closing in on the baby. In the blink of an eye, both were far away from the father Crow, who instead of taking the air up, returned to their Eucalypt tree, and waited. 

Far above us, the baby Crow soared, higher and higher. The big Sea Eagle, over twice the baby's size, was in pursuit, occasionally flying to attack him. 

The father Crow waited in the Eucalypt below. The other two children and their mother were nearby, in their nesting tree, the Crow's Ash. The family waited.

The baby Crow was now circling far away to the north, with the Sea Eagle. They were approaching the clouds.   In a flash, the baby Crow veered suddenly into a fluffy grey cloud.

The Sea Eagle dodged quickly into the edge of the cloud too, after the baby Crow, then came out. After making another pass into the cloud, the Sea Eagle then kept circling slowly higher back into the blue sky, alone. Meanwhile the baby Crow had completely dissappeared. 

It was half an hour, before Baba, the baby Crow appeared again, and the family was all together, on the power lines outside, above the road. I thought to myself - baby Crows, are indeed amazing flyers, and very courageous!

The Crow Family (mother to the left, father to the right, children in the middle)

Children of the Crows, Burringbar, Mt Warning Caldera Region

Jeckle (father), Benoit, Baba and Lucy on the 1st of December, 2008. The Children of the Crows have been flying out of their nest for about 6 weeks at this stage, and they already have  had many adventures.

If you look carefully at the photo, you will see that the Father (left in photo) has a white scar on his right wing. He damaged his wing by firstly fighting a big goanna, then some local kookaburras. 
His wing hung badly for some months, and he came to me for help in feeding his three children. I left out clean water for them daily (sometimes I change the water twice a day), and put strips of meat, some corn, peanuts, avocado, mandarin, orange, soaked sultanas and barley seed for him, to help feed the children, himself and his wife. 
The crows, at this stage did not let me come close to them, and are very "wild". One of the children, Benoit, the second sibling to fly from the nest, began to strike up a friendship with me not long after this photo was taken.

Crows Ash Tree, Burringbar

The Crow's Ash Tree is on the left. This was the Crow family nesting tree. To the right is a Eucalypt. This was the first tree that the children flew to, when they left their nest.
The father spent much time, at night, sleeping in the Eucalypt, before the crow children left their nest.

Sometimes,while he guarded the nest, he would stay awake all night, calling to ward off the owls that flew nearby.  

Crow Magic

Crows lives have long intertwined with human life and human stories. 

Their symbolism includes death, battle, law, greed, bravery, magic and a variety of omens.  

During the winter of 2008, two Torresian Crows built a nest  in the Crows Ash tree that overlooks the valley to the south east of my home. 

The two crows have reared three young Crow children who, after leaving their nest late October, are now almost fully grown.