Owls and Crows

We had some bird drama in our neighborhood this morning, with a Great Horned Owl making a move for a crow’s nest. Here are some photos taken by my husband Steve and neighbor Clay and a little story I wrote about it. 

The rain woke us up this morning before dawn.  It came in a sudden, massive waterfall and stopped five minutes later. It was a strange weather cell that released over our house and then dissipated. 

I fell back asleep.

Still in that fuzzy state between sleep and wakefulness, I heard the loud squawking of crows.  A bunch of them. 

This was notable because while there are a few crows in our neighborhood, I’ve never seen a murder here. (A “murder” is what you call a group of crows.)

Still lying in bed with my eyes closed, I pondered getting up to see what all the racket was about. I had the thought that if it were cardinals calling from out my window, I’d get up to look. Or finches, or chickadees. I probably wouldn’t bother getting up to see a loud mockingbird, unless I thought there were others involved. I wouldn’t get up to see a bunch of gulls calling, but I might think about having shrimp for dinner. By the time I got back around to thinking about getting up for the squawking crows, I fell asleep again.

When I woke up for good, my neighbor had posted on FaceBook:

Well, that’s pretty exciting! I do not see or hear many owls around here. I was regretting not getting up to see the guy myself.  

Like some of the FaceBook commentators, I worried about the owl. Owls aren’t normally found sitting on the ground, in the daylight. So he must be injured.  The crows were picking on him, taking advantage of his weakened state.  Maybe the owl was a baby learning to fly and the crows pounced on him. My mind created all kinds of drama, with the owl as the noble victim.

I found the crew later in the morning while walking my dogs. The owl had perched in a large live oak tree at the end of the street. Two crows were giving him hell, squawking and bouncing from limb to limb, coming within inches of the large predator.  

Again, I felt sorry for the owl, assuming he was injured and trapped.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t he fight back? Or fly away? He was just frozen. 

I noticed a nest at the top of the tree. Was it a crow’s nest or an owl’s nest? I did not know.

And that’s when it occurred to me to consider an opposite storyline. 

Could the owl be the mean one? What if he was planning to steal an egg–or a baby–from the crow’s nest?  What if the crows were crying foul because they have been served an injustice by a big bully of an owl?

Indeed, such is the case:

“If you hear an agitated group of cawing American Crows, they may be mobbing a Great Horned Owl. Crows may gather from near and far and harass the owl for hours.  The Crows have good reason, because the Great Horned Owl is their most dangerous predator.”

All About Birds

Stan Tekeila’s Birds of Texas Field Guide says the Great Horned Howl has no nest; it takes over the nest of the crow.

No wonder the crows were making such a racket.  They were perfectly happy in our neighborhood, and now they are being pushed out.

Funny how that wasn’t the narrative that first came to mind. I was prepared to believe all kinds of unlikely things before finally checking the facts.

Aldo Leopold writes of the virtue of elusive birds. In my backyard, owls are elusive, and therefore memorable and worthy of attention. 

Crows, on the other hand, are easily seen and forgotten. They, along with mockingbirds and gulls “have the mediocrity of the obvious.” 

My instinct is to drop everything to get a picture of an owl, but I won’t bother getting out of bed to see what’s riling up the crows.

In birding, I’m learning to pay attention to the details of a bird’s behavior.  I’m also learning how quickly my own storytelling notions can settle in before I have all the facts–the facts of science and the facts of my own observations.  

Noticing what I’m noticing becomes a scientist’s and philosopher’s pursuit. A birder’s too, it seems.

The next time I hear a bunch of crows squawking, I will get out of bed and take a look. 

Thanks to Steve Dudley and Clay Shafer for owl pictures!


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