As the saying goes, one is never too old to learn something new. On this past Christmas Day, my husband and I were having a quiet, relaxed morning before we would be off to relatives’ homes in the afternoon. As I lazily went back into the spare bedroom with my coffee to snuggle with my dog and cat, my husband and I heard a ruckus outside. It was a little after dawn and, on Christmas morning, it was especially quiet in our suburban neighborhood up until this ruckus began. Looking out the window of the bedroom, I saw there were 10 – 12 crows in the large American Elm of our front yard. The birds were flapping their wings and cawing extremely loud. Some of the birds were flying from our tree to our neighbor’s and back.
Standing there at the window in awe at the sight and sounds of these large, black birds, my gaze (and that of my dog and cat) slowly lowered to the bottom of the bedroom window where we witnessed a large bobcat slowly slink by – hugging the perimeter of the house as closely as it could as it dodged the calls and swoops of the crows! It will probably be the closest view I’ll ever have of such a beautiful, wild animal (and the closest I hope my pets will ever have – more on this later.)
I quickly called out to my husband as the large cat slowly crossed in front of our glass storm door and onto the other side of our home, finally taking cover from the crows in our neighbor’s shrubs. Although the birds could no longer dive bomb the large cat, they continued to follow its path along our suburban street until their caws finally faded in the distance.
Unfortunately my husband did not catch a glimpse of the bobcat on Christmas Day, but the cat (or another) was back the following day at which time he did witness it. The second day, there were no crows around but the bobcat exhibited the same slinky behavior of hugging the side of our home – this time crossing the street and resuming its hugging behavior along the side of our across-the-street neighbor’s home.
To first address my immediate concern – the well-being of my pets – I’ll preface this next section by saying that there are many different opinions about bobcat behaviors (and coyote behaviors) in the suburbs. As for us, with a Shih Tzu and a bright, white housecat that both formerly enjoyed the freedom of an unmonitored doggie door, we’ve now become supervisors to our pets’ outings – just to be safe. I’ve read that a bobcat usually doesn’t bother with prey that is at least half its own size. I’ve read that bobcats avoid human interaction – unless rabid. I’ve been told there are plenty of squirrels, rabbits and rats to catch in our neighborhood and that my dog would be too much of a hassle for a bobcat to pursue. Yet – knowing what I know now and knowing that my domesticated dog will likely not be afraid of the bobcat nor will my domesticated cat have a chance in a catfight, I choose to err on the side of caution. I don’t begrudge the wild animals that are appearing more regularly in my neighborhood – they are indeed adjusting to the growth and development occurring in north Texas just as we humans are. As poly-anna as it may seem, I hope we all learn to co-exist peacefully.
Back to crows . . . after my husband and I settled in on a plan to safeguard our pets from the big cats, my curious mind went back to the incident involving the crows on Christmas morning. I performed a little internet research and discovered the behavior the crows were exhibiting actually has a name – mobbing. Mobbing is a loud shrieking and diving behavior that some birds exhibit when a predator is near – it serves as a distraction to the predator from finding eggs or fledglings and/or it serves to warn other birds that a predator is on the prowl. Interestingly, mobbing attracts more birds to join in as the behavior continues – even birds of different species will “mob” together. Keep in mind, hawks and owls are considered predators and are on the receiving end of mobbing. Most times, mobbing is successful at running off the predator or at least providing fair warning to susceptible prey. It certainly got my attention on Christmas morning!
Having relatives that live/lived in “the country” I was aware that guinea fowl are oftentimes kept on farms to, in-part, alert livestock of an approaching predator. I simply didn’t think the behavior was also present in crows. But – as I continued to research, I learned that blue jays are in the same bird “family” (Corvidae) as crows. Then, it all came together and made sense to me. I recalled blue jays would consistently dive-bomb my housecats when I was a kid. And, I was personally aware they would mob humans as well as pets. I once attempted to save a fledgling blue jay from being run over on a street in my neighborhood. A couple of head pecks and many pulled out hairs later, I was able to get the little one to safety inside a wrought iron fenced yard. Of course, I understood the parent birds thought I was more of a threat than the passing cars but, for the record, blue jays have incredible persistence (as I suspect do crows) in protecting their young!
Incidentally, the Corvidae family of birds (which includes ravens and magpies as well as blue jays and crows) is considered to be one of the most intelligent groups of birds, second only to parrots. I once read an article about a man who stopped at a roadside park one day to break up a very long car trip. As he sat at a picnic table, a crow flew in and perched next to him and proceeded to speak. The traveler thought he was hallucinating due to his exhausted state, but he wasn’t. Crows can indeed be taught to speak, perform tasks and they remember human faces.
And, as my story goes, they can also serve as a very accurate warning system!
Until next time,
All pictures above are licensed through Bing commons.