Bird Watcher's General Store

Crow Mobbing Behavior - 11/16/04


Dear Bird Folks:

I'm lucky enough to hear the sound of crows in my neighborhood year round. Sometimes their calls become extra loud and aggressive. When they "caw" louder are, they defending their turf from another flock of crows?

-Dotty, Eastham

Sorry Dotty,

I'm sorry if your name isn't "Dotty" and that you may not be from Eastham. When you stopped in to ask me the above question about crows, I wrote the question down but failed to write down your name. I must have thought that I could remember your name and town. How hard can that be? What I didn't realize is that my head is so stuffed with tons of valuable bird information that I didn't have room for anything else. So, Dotty, if your name is really Tina from Tucson, please forgive me. Either that or change your name to Dotty and move to Eastham. That sure would make things easier on me.

Anyway, Dotty from Tucson, I'm glad you enjoy your crows. You might find this hard to believe, but there are a few people out there who aren't totally in love with crows. I don't think a day goes by that I don't have to listen to someone say (imagine the most desperate whinny voice you've ever heard) "Those darn crows are waking me up. Please help me" I usually say, "Oh grow up." Crows are fabulous. They are certainly more enjoyable to listen to than the endless stream of landscapers who plague my neighborhood. Crow calls are like Brahms' Lullaby compared to the mowers, the leaf blowers and the backup bells on the dump trucks.

Whether you like their calls or not I think it's pretty clear that crows love to communicate. They have a variety of calls. Some calls are for assembly or to keep in contact with mates or to announce danger or just to annoy the people who like to sleep late.

The extra loud calls that you are hearing, Dotty, are more than likely alarm calls. Whenever a crow spots a nasty ol' predator it announces it to the whole world. Great Horned Owls seem to get special attention. The second any crow within ear shot hears the alarm call, it drops what it's doing and rushes off to join in the hatefest.

It's a kick to see crows flying in from all directions, screaming curse words as they go. Anyone who thinks crow calls are annoying should be thankful that they don't have the hearing ability of an owl. Owls, who's hearing is keen enough to detect a mouse's thoughts, must really be driven to the Advil by the stream of blasting crows.

This raucous crow behavior is called "mobbing." Mobbing serves four important purposes. First, it advertises the whereabouts of a predator. Secondly, it occasionally drives the offending creature from the area. Thirdly, it gives owl lovers a great chance to see an owl during the day. By following the crows to the targeted area, you have an excellent chance of seeing the embattled owl. Fourthly, it makes my phone ring with venomous calls from crow haters everywhere.

Early one morning, a few years back, I was lying in bed, hoping that the alarm clock was wrong, when I heard the sound of mobbing crows. Just as you observed Dotty, the crows make a much different sound when they are upset. I knew instantly that they had found something good, so I jumped right out of bed and followed the sound to a dense stand of cedar trees in my neighbor's yard. Just as I suspected, the crows weren't lying. Hidden in the middle of the cedars were three Long-eared Owls. Long-eared Owls are rare on Cape Cod and I had never seen one before. I was thrilled. I was so busy enjoying the owls and thanking the crows that I failed to notice my neighbor staring at me out of his window. I apologized for trespassing and pointed out the rare owls. My neighbor said that he didn't mind me being in his yard so early in the morning, but requested that I "put a robe on next time." Boy, what a prude.

Good for you, Dotty, or whatever the heck your name is, I'm glad you appreciate the crows. The next time you hear their alarm call, you may want to check it out. You never know what you might find. Just remember to take along a robe, not so much for the neighbor's sake, but for yours. Those cedars can be pretty scratchy.

Artwork by Catherine Clark


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