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Birds of the Western Slope October 21, 2015

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Photo by Gary Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service American Crow

American Crow

If it sounds like a crow and walks like a crow, it's probably a crow. Well ... it might be a raven. These two are easily confused even though the raven is larger at 24 inches long and weighs about two and a half pounds while the crow is only 17-1/2 inches and weighs only one pound. This big difference in size should easily identify the two birds -- if you see them side by side. But most often that isn't the case.

And as I look out the front window, there's a bird shadow moving across our lawn. It's fairly large ... moving from west to east toward the east cottonwood. And there's another shadow. Now the two shadows become birds, going toward the cottonwood. All black, and as they land, I can see that the tails are rounded, like most bird tails are. So these birds are crows (ravens have a wedge-shaped tails).

But here come more crows. A family? From my copy of the Birders' Handbook, I recall that the pair may remain together (long-term pair-bond or marry for life). Often last year's young may stay and assist in raising the current brood so they're considered to be "groupies" while the ravens are solitary (alone or with their mate).

In the United States we have our American Crow, the Northwestern, and the Fish Crow. But there are other crows worldwide, all members of the Corvid group of birds. This large group includes ravens, nutcrackers, magpies, all of the jays and the crows. The ecological position of our American Crow is filled in Europe by the Rook, the Jackdaw, and the Carrion Crow. These European crows are often mentioned in literature as "the birds of death" since they followed armies and war. And as all Corvids, these birds fed upon the dead.

Now my crows are all on the lawn, behaving like a family. One of them flutters up into the west cottonwood to leisurely walk up a limb. Now my bird goes back to the lawn and begins begging from one of the adults. No luck. And suddenly they all fly. But I've had a rare bird experience.

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Evelyn Horn
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