Sunday, April 7, 2013

On Crows and Coyotes

On of the most intelligent animals on the planet - here looking particularly noble
For most of the winter the nature preserve played host to several hundred crows. The number varied somewhat depending on how much snow cover there was. Pretty much the rule is that whenever the snow covered the area’s fields and hampered the birds’ abilities to find insects or seed, that's when the flocks would resort to our hospitality. At the nature preserve the main attraction for them is our well stocked bird feeders – well, at least they are well stocked until the crows get there.  Normally, they also take advantage of other naturally occurring food sources around the property, but this year there was very little of that to be found. Besides the bird seed, the only other things I would see them feeding on would be the fruit of sumac trees and the dead remains of animals. Scavenging opportunities tend to be limited, but when a carcass is discovered, crows are always ready with utensils in hand.
Crows usually have a lot to say - and they say it with a wide variety of vocalizations
Crows make "cawing" sounds, knocking calls, clucking calls, staccato trills and more
In mid-March when the large winter crow roost in Utica begins to break up and all the crow families return to their home breeding territories, the number that visit our preserve falls precipitously. At this time our own resident pairs become territorial and begin chasing off interloping pairs and un-mated juveniles. Crows have complex social behavior. Pairs will mate for life, and very often they retain one or more young from the previous years’ brood to help with the rearing of the new season's clutch. In this respect they are much like beavers, which also retain juvenile "helpers" for several years.
A Red-winged Blackbird scolds a crow that enters his breeding territory
A pair of family members perched together at the end of the day
Currently, at the preserve we have several resident crow pairs which are currently busy building new nests. We also have some raucous flocks of young adults getting into trouble almost everywhere they turn. They have left on their own accord or have been forced out of their parents’ territories, and they have yet to find mates or establish their own territories. These non-aligned crows will band together and try to eek out a living while enduring being harassed and frequently chased away by the resident pairs.
Crows scatter from the bird-feeder table

Less than a minute later, they're all back
Believe it or not, but some of these unaffiliated youngsters will return home to their parents’ territories once in an while. Individuals have even been documented as making regular weekly visits back home. However, most will be welcomed back for a short stay only, and then it's back to the young flock of hooligans. Eventually, these young adults will find mates and establish territories of their own, but by then the flock of outcasts will be infused with a new generation of the unaligned and the chased.
Some Crows gathered at a deer carcass
Coyotes feed on the carcass primarily at night
Last month a young deer died on the property and its carcass elicited a lot of activity from the crows during the day, and a group of coyotes at night. I mounted the trail camera at the scene, and was able to capture ‘round the clock feasting for about an entire 24 hour period. After that there was little left of the carcass, but even so it continued to be visited by a variety of interested parties.
A coyote remained at the site for around an hour after sun-up
The Coyotes return a few days later during a snow storm, but there's not much left of the deer
A group of 3 coyotes spent a lot of time at the carcass. The deer had died beneath a tangle of low trees and brambles, and so one of the coyotes decided to drag it over to an open area a few yards away. She did this by first biting through some intervening branches – this cleared the path and made the job of dragging easier. For a while the 3 coyotes fed together on the deer, but they didn't remain for long once the sun came up. In the early morning, the crows returned to begin the scavenger day-shift.
The bob-tailed Raccoon walks by the remains of the carcass, but doesn't stop

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