Friday, February 14, 2014

Of Hawks, Crows, and Cormorants

With the ice finally gone, Superdawg and I set out to do Great Backyard Bird Count No. 2 of the day in an extended backyard -- through the neighborhood, and part of the nearby wooded area. The rules allow counting while on the move as well as sitting and watching a feeder. But for maybe half our 40-minute walk, we didn't see or hear a single bird.

Probably a good reason for that is that they all were back at our home-base feeders. All the storms have made them ravenous.

Finally, we spotted three familiar birds soaring high in the sky -- Red-tailed Hawks, the most common hawk in South Carolina, and one that is especially numerous in the winter. This majestic bird uses pockets of air to fly amazing distances in search of prey without any flapping of the wings.


Next, I heard the unmistakable caw-caw-caw of the American Crow. Didn't see it, but a Crow is easy to identify by sound (though, like the Mockingbird, it can also mimic other sounds like the crying of a baby or whining of a dog).

Crows deserve more respect than they get. As an example of their cleverness, my "Compact Guide to South Carolina Birds" (Lone Pine Publishing, 2007) reports that crows often drop clams or walnuts from great heights onto a hard surface in order to crack them open for feasting. In addition, young crows reared in a prior year sometimes will return to the home base to help their parents rear their siblings. How's that for family values?

We had one more easy sighting on our walk -- the Double-crested Cormorant perched on a post in the middle of a neighborhood pond. This is the amazing fishing bird that can swim underwater as well as any fish, and catch them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This one guy is nearly always at the same post every day. Inland, there are thousands of them at Lake Marion, so many that fishermen consider them a menace and the state is authorizing an open-hunting season for them. In great numbers, I suppose they could be a nuisance, but it is a pleasure to see our familiar ones set up for fishing every day, no matter how wretched the weather.


Now back on the home front, we have supplemented the sunflower seed with a fruit-and-nut mix that is  especially appealing to songbirds. There should be quite a crowd at the morning feeding.



 © Robert G. Holland  2014

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