Google Analytics

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Root of the Animosity

Many people seem to be puzzled by the apparent hostility that crows exhibit toward hawks, falcons, eagles, owls and other assorted birds of prey.  I have even heard people go to the extreme of saying that they “hate crows” after seeing an energetic mob of these corvids dive-bombing a bird belonging to a genus that is more revered by the viewer.  What they don’t realize is that they are only seeing part of the picture.  If you watch both parties involved in this ongoing conflict for a long enough period of time you will soon discover that crows are only exhibiting due diligence by responding en masse to drive raptors out of their territories.

Less than a half hour ago, my wife and I saw the side of corvid/raptor relations that is missed by the casual observer.  As we took a late afternoon walk in our neighborhood our eyes were drawn skyward by a cacophony of caws sounding out in alarm.  A Bald Eagle passed about 100 feet over our heads.  At least 20 crows were in hot pursuit, some close enough that they were making the eagle take evasive action as they repeatedly dive-bombed her back and tail.  

As the eagle approached a tall fir tree she flapped three times to pick up speed.  She momentarily put some distance between herself and her pursuers, and as she passed the top of the fir she quickly banked right and, swinging around in a broad circle, angled slightly down.  She landed hard in the branches about 10 feet from the top of the tree, and the fury of the crows intensified by an order of magnitude as she did so.  The eagle was only on the tree for a second or two, and she launched back into the air just as the angry crow mob descended on her.  As the eagle cleared the tree, her talons came into view.  They held the body of a nestling crow.  The young crow’s head dangled lifelessly as the eagle gained speed and headed off to the northwest with the adult crows still in full pursuit.  

As the eagle disappeared from our sight, some of the crows began to break off their pursuit.  One of them circled back and disappeared into the upper branches of the tree from which the eagle had snatched her prize.  I wondered if this had been the eagle’s first visit to the nest.  If not, I suspect that she will return as she likely has young of her own in need of food.  If she does, she will receive the same angry, frantic reception as she did today, and I would hope that whoever happens to be watching will hate neither crow nor eagle for their role in the dispute.


  1. Nice Kevin. Without describing them you brought the completed image out - each parent returning the nest, one to a loss and the other with food and open eaglet mouths.

  2. It's the circle of life. I watched a crow work to bring down a fledgling starling last week. It's hard to not intervene; I had to keep reminding myself that this, too, is part of nature.

  3. Excellent post - and so very true. I have watched eagles here in Discovery Park dive below the canopy of Big Leaf Maples to reemerge with crow nestling gripped in their talons. Inspecting under the eagles nest post season revealed a carpet of crow feathers most with sheaths intact. Glad someone else has witnessed this as well.

  4. A couple of weeks ago, a huge crow ruckus brought my whole Wedgwood neighborhood outdoors. A Red-tailed Hawk had discovered a crow's nest. I've heard a lot of crow-ruckuses but never one like that before. More than a hundred crows screamed and dived for at least a half an hour. Bit by bit then, they wandered off, leaving only the locals -- and the busy Red-tail. And that's why crows don't like raptors.

  5. Excellent post! I heard a bunch of crows suddenly start cawing while I was working last week in my in-home office. Upon opening the curtains from the basement room, I looked in time to see wildly swaying fir boughs in the next door tree from which emerged a bald eagle flying towards our backyard. I was so startled that I didn't think to look at the talons. Given the crows' alarum, I suspected immediately that the eagle had gone for a nestling. This was in Maple Leaf, BTW.