Tag Archives: Fish Crow

Crows v. hawk

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A Red-tailed Hawk was perched atop our Norfolk Island pine a couple of days ago.

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Some wings!

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It was being harried by the neighborhood Fish Crows and finally lifted off.

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Crows seem pretty territorial at this time of year.

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I was out in the driveway with my camera, watching.

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Year of the Hawk

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First bird of the New Year, a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk!

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This fine, fierce-looking raptor was in the Norfolk Island pine in our front yard. I walked out on the front porch in my jammies with my camera, to see what I could see. What auguries and portents for 2019. Lazy-birding at its best.

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I actually had ID help from What’s This Bird on Facebook. Speaking of lazy.

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John James Audubon

Its flight is firm, protracted, and at times performed at a great height. It sails across the whole of a large plantation, on a level with the tops of the forest trees which surround it, without a single flap of its wings, and is then seen moving its head sidewise to inspect the objects below. This flight is generally accompanied by a prolonged mournful cry, which may be heard at a considerable distance, and consists of a single sound resembling the monosyllable Kae, several times repeated, for three or four minutes, without any apparent inflection or difference of intensity. It would seem as if uttered for the purpose of giving notice to the living objects below that he is passing, and of thus inducing them to bestir themselves and retreat to a hiding-place, before they attain which he may have an opportunity of pouncing upon one of them. When he spies an animal, while he is thus sailing over a field, I have observed him give a slight check to his flight, as if to mark a certain spot with accuracy, and immediately afterwards alight on the nearest tree. He would then instantly face about, look intently on the object that had attracted his attention, soon after descend towards it with wings almost close to his body, and dart upon it with such accuracy and rapidity as seldom to fail in securing it.

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Fish crows were the first bird I heard this year, and the second bird I saw and photographed. There was a noisy flock out of sight this morning when I had coffee on the porch.

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I like crows. They are clever and sassy.

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The fish crow is superficially similar to the American crow, but is smaller (36–41 cm in length) and has a silkier, smoother plumage by comparison. The upperparts have a blue or blue-green sheen, while the underparts have a more greenish tint to the black. The eyes are dark brown. The differences are often only really apparent between the two species when seen side by side or when heard calling.

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…when calling, fish crows tend to hunch and fluff their throat feathers.

The voice is the most outwardly differing characteristic for this species and other American crow species. The call of the fish crow has been described as a nasal “ark-ark-ark” or a begging “waw-waw”. Birders often distinguish the two species (in areas where their range overlaps) with the mnemonic aid “Just ask him if he is an American crow. If he says “no”, he is a fish crow.” referring to the fact that the most common call of the American crow is a distinct “caw caw”, while that of the fish crow is a nasal “nyuh unh”.

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Let’s just throw in this third bird of the year, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, male, on the neighbor’s banyan tree.

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Such a beautiful red noggin.

Last year’s first bird: vultures.

Happy 2019!

Drink in the morning

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White Ibis morning drink.

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This is the time to be up and out on a July day in Florida.

I walked all of Indian RiverSide Park early this morning, including the fishing pier on the Indian River Lagoon. That’s the barrier island Hutchinson Island across the water. The park is in Jensen Beach.

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Pigeon on a railing. There are always lots of pigeons here.

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Crow silhouette on a light post.

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I am 90% sure these guys are Fish Crows, Corvus ossifragus.

Visual differentiation from the American crow is extremely difficult and often inaccurate. Nonetheless, differences apart from size do exist. Fish crows tend to have more slender bills and feet. There may also be a small sharp hook at the end of the upper bill. Fish crows also appear as if they have shorter legs when walking. More dramatically, when calling, fish crows tend to hunch and fluff their throat feathers.

The voice is the most outwardly differing characteristic for this species and other American crow species. The call of the fish crow has been described as a nasal “ark-ark-ark” or a begging “waw-waw”. Birders often distinguish the two species (in areas where their range overlaps) with the mnemonic aid “Just ask him if he is an American crow. If he says “no”, he is a fish crow.” referring to the fact that the most common call of the American crow is a distinct “caw caw”, while that of the fish crow is a nasal “nyuh unh”.

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The crows were calm, but I’m pretty good at not spooking the birds.

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Strut your stuff, little man.

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Over in the pond, I spotted just one Common Gallinule.

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Moon setting and tree flowers.

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I was pretty excited to get a shot of the gallinule’s feet, usually hiding under water or in a mat of floating vegetation.

The Common Gallinule swims like a duck and walks atop floating vegetation like a rail with its long and slender toes. This boldly marked rail has a brilliant red shield over the bill and a white racing stripe down its side. It squawks and whinnies from thick cover in marshes and ponds from Canada to Chile, peeking in and out of vegetation. This species was formerly called the Common Moorhen and is closely related to moorhen species in the Old World.

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The Common Gallinule has long toes that make it possible to walk on soft mud and floating vegetation. The toes have no lobes or webbing to help with swimming, but the gallinule is a good swimmer anyway.

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I also walked past the Mount Elizabeth Mound. It’s first incarnation was as a Native American prehistoric shell midden. More info HERE.

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The story of Mount Elizabeth also includes first settlers, a Coca-Cola heiress, nuns, tourists, a college and finally a park. The tale is told by local blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch HERE.

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At the top of the mound today.

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It really is a lovely park, full of many interesting places, so close to home.

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White Ibis likes it there too.

Uh-oh, fish crow

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While I was paying attention to warblers, this local Fish Crow flew onto a nearby tree.

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It gave the characteristic nasal call that I think sounds like Uh oh.

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It flew down to the street next to me and pecked at something in the road.

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Then it flew onto a cabbage palm right in front of me. I was beginning to get the feeling the crow was putting on a performance for this observer.

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It stepped or flapped from one boot jack perch to another, probing with its beak.

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I hardly zoomed in at all, this bird was so close.

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Such glossy black feathers.

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What was the attraction in there?

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The crow pulled out tufts of straw-like material and dropped the tufts on the ground.

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I’ve read that Fish Crows “cache” food for later. Was this a cache? Or was it looking for new, not stored food?

Like most of its relatives, Fish Crows will eat almost anything, including carrion, trash, nestlings and eggs of other birds, berries, fruit, and grain, and any items they can steal from other birds. Their association with water leads them to eat crabs, marine invertebrates, and turtle eggs more than other crows.

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Fish Crows, like other corvids (crows and jays), are intelligent, curious, social animals. Breeding pairs form in the summer, but in winter they gather into flocks of hundreds to thousands. Young Fish Crows, like other crow species, often play with objects that they find—one was seen hanging upside down and swinging from a weeping willow branch. Fish Crows join together (and may join American Crows) to mob hawks and other predators including raccoons, owls, and humans, driving them away.

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The crows are paired off all around Sewall’s Point now, no longer in big winter flocks. I see them every day. Last week I went for a walk on trash day and saw that the crows had been cleverly scavenging the weaker cans and bags, making little messes here and there.

American crows? Uh-uh.

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I am feeling more confident I can tell the difference between an American Crow and a Fish Crow after two mornings in a row of a Fish Crow Convention, with attendees between 5 and 20 birds calling their uh-uhs from the Norfolk Island pine in our front yard.

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From my bird ID Bible, Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

Not everyone realizes it, but there are two kinds of crows across much of the eastern United States. Looking almost identical to the ubiquitous American Crow, Fish Crows are tough to identify until you learn their nasal calls. Look for them around bodies of water, usually in flocks and sometimes with American Crows. They are supreme generalists, eating just about anything they can find. Fish Crows have expanded their range inland and northward along major river systems in recent decades.

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Fish Crows have a distinctive caw that is short, nasal and quite different-sounding from an American Crow. This call is sometimes doubled-up with an inflection similar to someone saying uh-uh.

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Size & Shape
Fish Crows fit the standard crow shape: hefty, well-proportioned birds with heavy bills, sturdy legs, and broad wings. At rest, Fish Crows’ wings fall short of their medium-length, square tails.

Color Pattern
Fish Crows are all black. Immatures are less glossy and can become brownish as their feathers wear in their first year.

Behavior
Fish Crows are very social birds—look for them in pairs in the breeding season and up to several hundred or more during migration or winter. When feeding and roosting they may mix with American Crows. When Fish Crows give their distinctive nasal calls from the ground, they often puff out their neck and body feathers, forming a distinctive, ragged ruff on the throat.

Fish crow, check! My 21st Florida bird photographed and ID’ed since we moved here Dec. 6, one month ago.