Saturday, September 16, 2006

Mother's Little Creatures

September in my neighborhood is usually a time for me to get re-acquainted with our smaller furred and feathered citizens.

I usually have a handful of nuts in my jacket pocket this time of year -- almonds, filberts, and walnuts in the shell. My neighborhood is full of clowns in fur coats, as I suspect most neighborhoods are. And if I see one, I usually toss a couple of nuts over. Amusing, watching them try to figure out what to do with this sudden, unexpected windfall ("It"s a NUT! Do I eat it? Do I take it home to the wife? If I do, will she expect me to bring one home every day? Maybe I should bury it...where? What to do....what to do...").

There are also a lot of crows around, and a Stellar's jay. The jay hangs around because people with dogs usually feed their dogs outside on the balconies. He waits until the dogs aren't around, then he raids their food dishes. No sneak thief, he. He announces his intentions for about five minutes before he swoops gracefully in to the balcony railing, looks around, and with a triumphant screech, hops right down onto the side of the dish. If you watch the windows, you'll often see a frustrated mutt on the other side of the glass, hopping back and forth, wanting to teach that blue bandit such a lesson...

The crows follow me. They've come to know me, and I often get a winged escort when I'm outside.

At the first location where I usually see a squirrel, there's no squirrel there to greet me. But the crows know... They set up a racket a little ways away, and here he comes -- a silvery, bushy-tailed, chittering bundle of laughs, being chased by two crows. They're "herding" him in my direction. As soon as he sees me, he skitters to a stop, figuring he's trapped between the crows and me, trying to figure out how he's gonna get away from all of us. I toss a nut...

As if he were programmed, the squirrel chases down the moving object and jumps on it. No way he could possible know beforehand what it is, he's just following his instincts.

Now he's got the nut. Sit up, turn it over and over. Sniff. Stuff it in the mouth. No, too big. Turn it again so he's got the pointy end toward his mouth. Ah, that's better. Look around. What to do...

The crows -- all seven of them, now -- are sitting quietly, almost motionless, watching him. He runs, stops, digs, stops, runs again...that tree over, how about right here, where the ground is nice and soft...stops, looks over at me...digs furiously, drops the nut in the hole, fills it in and stamps furiously over it to "hide" it. Then he runs toward me and stops about ten feet away, sitting up, waiting to see if I've got more. I toss him another one, and he pounces on it and runs to look for another hiding place.

The crows, meanwhile, are busy uncovering and making off with the first nut.

After feeding half a dozen nuts to the crows by proxy, I wander to a spot where the trees are a little thicker and the birds don't usually follow. There's a bold little fellow -- almost black, sitting under a tree watching me to see if I'm going to chase him. The tail twitches as I bring out a nut, and he starts toward me. I toss the nut and he catches it on the bounce. Sniff, turn it over and over, run to find a spot, bury it, and run back to see if I'm still buying dinner. Two more nuts, and he's getting bolder, so I decide to see how close he'll come.

He gingerly takes the fourth nut from my fingers. He's not nearly as shy about grabbing the fifth nut, and on the sixth, his paw comes up and grabs my hand to hold it steady as he takes the nut. A woman with a little boy are standing off to the side, watching the show, laughing. Now the little clown is standing by my foot, reaching up, looking like he has every intention of climbing into my pocket and helping himself. I produce another couple of nuts, and then it's time to head home.

The crows are still where I left them. They're dropping the nuts on the sidewalk from about thirty feet up, trying to crack the shells so they can get at the meat.

The Stellars jay is sitting on the balcony railing, screeching insults at the dog whose dinner he just scarfed.

Mother's Little Creatures -- always good for a smile.


Blogger Dez said...

The corvid family (crows, ravens and jays) are among the smartest of all birds, second only to certain species of parrots. The crows are obviously smarter than the squirrels.

Just another reminder that we mammals inherited this planet from the saurians because they got wiped out - NOT because we are superior. The last representatives of the dinosaur line - birds - have to be smaller and lighter to gain true flight, but still have many of the same characteristics of their ancient cousins.

If not for the mass extinction 65 million years ago, the intellegent beings living in cities all across the face of this planet would have feathers, not hair.

The crows give nothing away, but if you ever get the chance to look into the eye of an eagle - as I did once in Kodiak (ever had a 15-pound bird look at you like you were lunch? I stood 10 feet away, and she had no fear of me whatsoever. Was I afraid? Bet on it.)- you can see it. They know they used to rule this world, and, if they wait long enough, they might get it back some day...

Saturday, September 16, 2006 8:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chimera said...

Just from observation and personal interactions with them alone, I could probably write several posts about the corbies. They can tell time. They can count. You can't fool them (well, you can, but if you do, they will have revenge). They know who their friends are, as well as their enemies. And they're great mimics.

One crow around here has a human laugh. A sarcastic one. Another one sounds like a cat. Drives the dogs nuts.

A few days ago, the drought broke, and it rained -- a steady, sometimes heavy downpour. There was so much water all at once that it couldn't soak into the ground fast enough, and my building was surrounded by a small sea. In the top branches of the trees all around were crows. Feet firmly grasping the branches, and heads up, they had their wings -- and the individual feathers -- spread out to catch as much water as they could. Then they'd flap and shake and spread out again.

They were having a group shower!

Sunday, September 17, 2006 9:32:00 PM  
Blogger Candace said...

Great post! When we lived up by the Gates we had two squirrels in our backyard (my daughter named them after two of my bosses, Sheila being the brighter one, of course).

There seemed to be more squirrels in Calgary than in Edmonton, although we might not be close enough to a natural park. Interestingly, there was a great big hare living downtown that drove Misty NUTS when we'd do the parking-lot stroll (as she would no longer go anywhere near the park, smart thing that she is).

We've moved further out of the core & have a decent sized park with nearby natural greenspace, so... we'll see.

But I do miss those squirrels (much easier as a renter than homeowner, as I believe they'd taken up dwelling in the useless garage out back, with wiring & insulation for their nest).

Monday, September 18, 2006 11:48:00 PM  
Blogger Daz said...

Cool post. On thing I love about the lower mainland is the wildlife. There's a little place nearby where I take the dogs walking. Couple of weeks ago, we're just sitting there and the dogs are drinking some water. A doe and two babies walk out of the bush, stop and look at us for 1-2 minutes, then slowly wander away. Had a tingle run up my spine.

Don't like squirrels so much though. Ok, maybes it just b/c of the little rat b@#tard in the tree outside my window that starts screeching at 5:30 in the morning (every morning).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 1:30:00 PM  

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