Birds: The Good, The Bad, and the Hungry

Over the past year, we’ve established a new kind of rapport with the birds who live on as well as protect our property.  Allow me to explain.  In the past day and a half,  we’ve had a fairly accurate bird reenactment of the Battle of Britain take place on the sculpture field in front of our house.  We have a threesome of bad-guy, predatory birds that are terrorizing the rest.  One is a common red-tail…common but potentially lethal, a Merlin (a type of falcon), think of an ME-109 German Messerschmitt, and a sharp-shinned hawk, the nastiest of the bunch.

As birders, Pamela and I have made friends with all the rest of the birds. In the past few months, with the aid of a crow call, I’ve learned to call them for breakfast, as well as warn them when an attack is in progress.



The sharp-shinned hawk is predictable.  He roosts on a limb of a dead tree at the edge of a pond, takes off and then swoops down for his strafing mission which takes place fast and quiet at an altitude of about 15 inches.  He bears down on our main feeding station and strikes with amazing speed.  The victims seem to actually explode in a puff of pale feathers which take about a minute to float back to the ground.  Well…that was until I learned the warning call.  Now, as soon as the hawk begins his strafing run, I sound the alarm and every bird takes off…crows included.

We have two families of crows and as the red tail or sharp shin swoops by, the crows…very much like Britain’s best WWII fighter, the Spitfire, launch as a four-ship formation in pursuit.  High in the sky, the four-ship of crows climb far above the hawk and then take turns diving and hitting the hawk, hard, over and over. Being of smaller mass, they can get away with this.

Most recently, the crows who are raising little crow babies come over early in the morning.  They land on the wire fifty feet from our bedroom and then one of them comes over right next to the window, looks in and Caws in a loud voice, till one of us gets up, gets the bag of bird-chow and boogies down to the feeding station.  None of the birds has any fear of us anymore, and they hang around till we’ve filled everything up for the day.

The four feeding stations for the humming birds plays out similarly.  If we forget to fill one of the feeders, they come over and tap on the window and then fly around in circles till we get the message.  Is this a one-sided relationship?  No, it is not.  Twice now within as many years, the hummingbirds have warned Pam of snakes in the area.  They’re black snakes (good snakes) but they’re big and the hummers are quite forthright in showing us what’s going on.

And often, if someone wanders onto our property to look at the sculptures, the crows let us know within a minute.

In the past year, Pam and I have erected an embarrassingly large number of birdhouses and bird feeders.  It’s noisy here from the sounds of songbirds singing, “Hey!  Wanna get lucky?” songs to their mates.

And we have the occasional humming bird war on our deck.  Four feeders and maybe a dozen hummers in feisty moods zinging by, inches away, chasing new intruders away.

The only misunderstanding we’ve had so far was short but scary.  We installed a new “sculpture” on our property, a huge bird’s nest, approx. ten feet across with pale blue eggs slightly larger than footballs.  The people who drive by LOVE it!  They stop and take pictures.  As we were finishing installation, however, a growing contingency of crows flocked around us and then landed in the trees above our heads.  If you ever watched Hitchcock’s, The Birds, it was a lot like that.  Thirty or forty very loud and very pissed-off crows.  After erecting it, we made a symbolic move of filling the feeding station to over full, and the crows finally came to the conclusion that the nest was a lot of baloney.

All is well, but if we sleep too late, the crows come now and peer in the window to see what’s going on.  …….works for us!

Pamela and Henry

P.S.  A few months ago, I alluded to one of the foursome of crows who lives very close to us as having a phobia about caterpillars.  He’ll walk twenty steps, then come in contact with a caterpillar and leap five feet in the air.  Happy to report, he’s alive and healthy, feeding the babies and still jumping at caterpillars.




P.P.S.   There’s a terrific documentary titled: Beak and Brain:  Genius Birds from Down Under, comparing crows to Kea parrots for their title to most intelligent birds.  It’s funny, insightful and I’d pit either of these birds against your average man on the street as far as problem solving goes.  It’s on Netflix and You Tube if you like our flying buddies and allies.

15 Responses to "Birds: The Good, The Bad, and the Hungry"

  1. Henry Harvey says:

    I just read this enchanting article. I felt the wonder along w/ you guys! Thank you so much for sharing and bringing joy to those around you through your knowledge and experience.

  2. Henry Harvey says:

    You are incredibly kind, Margaret, possibly the kindest individual Pam and I have met. And it seems effortless for you. …I have to really work at being nice. …tough job!

  3. Henry Harvey says:

    Good one, Henry!

  4. Henry Harvey says:

    My father had two crows that were like pets. He called them Gertrude and Heathcliff after Red Skeleton’s comedy sketch. I have different birds. Banana quits, pearly eyed thrashers and Ani’s . Egrets of course. Love your stories.

  5. Henry Harvey says:

    Great names! I remember Red Skeleton’s skits well. Jonathan Winters, too. I’ve always wondered who named some of these birds. Some of them give a mental image that’s a bit strange. Think of a thrasher….with pearly eyes. We sometimes come up with our own names. The phoebes on our property only roost on my sculptures…where they vote with their rear ends. One of my favorites is the pileated woodpecker, who looks like he should be called the Air Force bird. Looks like one of the Thunderbird precision flight team. Anyway, thanks for writing!

  6. Henry Harvey says:

    Is this a bad time to tell you I went to grad school for raptor biology? 🙂 Great post – love the giant bird nest and crow that jumps at caterpillars!

  7. Henry Harvey says:

    It creeps-out some folks, but I think it’s a blast to realize that our little house wrens, crows, robins, hawks are straight-line related to our pterodachtyls, just as much as a croc or an alligator to a T-Rex. The first thing my neighbor asked me when he saw the nest was, “Do I have to worry about my cat?” I answered, “Hell, yes!” Glad you enjoyed the post.

  8. Henry Harvey says:

    I miss watching the crow family from your porch. They’re such sweet birds!

  9. Henry Harvey says:

    And we miss having you, Melissa!

  10. Henry Harvey says:

    This is great! I love falcons and hawks and am getting into crows.

  11. Henry Harvey says:

    They’re smart, but better yet they’re funny…and social. The one who’s afraid of caterpillars is the same one whose job it is to wake us up every morning. Very similar to people.

  12. Phil says:

    I’m always surprised when I see and hear this tiny little Carolina Wren with its turned up tail puts out the loudest chirps on the planet. I witnessed once a group of crows hold a kangaroo court on a fellow crow who missed an alarm warning. It did not end well for the offender. I’ve had bad karma with Downy woodpeckers that poked more than 50-2″ holes into my redwood siding. I now have all new vinal siding…the only solution that worked. I’ve had many bird feeders around the house for years until the trees were cut down. I loved watching them. It is the best meditation technique ever. Highly recommended.

  13. Henry Harvey says:

    Hey Phil!

    All the woodpeckers annoy in the same way. The pileated just pecks slower, but with huge chunks lying on the forest floor. We had one that actually felled an old tree in the course of a summer. Yet they fascinate.
    Currently, the Harvey family is in a Stage-1 war with carpenter bees. On our deck they go in-between the joists and the gutters. We started out with over-sized (Texas) fly swatters that actually work, to an electrified thing that looks like a tennis racket, that was worthless, to….our weedeater that ostensibly is invisible to bees. Not our bees, to Black Flag, which seems only partially effective. Life is tough.

  14. Henry Harvey says:

    Hmmm … It seems to me, hawks gotta eat too.
    Craig Trueblood

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