By LIBBY MOTIKA
Circling the news Contributor
Well, it happened, I’ve been scolded for violating social distancing. I was out on my back patio, apparently too close to the imposing podocarpus next door, when I was alerted with a hectic caw to STAY AWAY.
I had upset the nesting crows, who are incubating eggs and caring for the young birds up in the top of the 40-ft. tree.
Unlike the familiar riot of crows that sweep through my Brentwood neighborhood cawing the latest news and congregating in my Chinese elm tree, this is a nuclear family. As far as I can tell, it’s just mom and dad trading off on the nesting and feeding duties.
Research gave me some new respect for these familiar and often annoying birds.
The crow is a permanent resident in most of the U.S., although Canadian birds migrate some distances southward in winter. Outside of the mating season, these birds often gather in large (thousands or even millions) communal roosts at night.
One of the more common misconceptions about crows and birds in general is that they live in nests like we live in houses, or at the very least sleep in them night. In reality, birds use nests only to incubate eggs.
Crows’ nests are quite large, maybe two feet in diameter and nine inches high, but I can’t see the nest in the podocarpus; I can only guess where it might be, based on the comings and goings.
Both male and female crows work on constructing the nest which is composed of pencil-thin twigs on the outside and softer materials like grass, tree bark, moss, flowers, paper or fur in the cups where the eggs are laid. While they tend to build a new nest each year, it is often located close to old nests within the area claimed as the territory of a particular pair or family of crows.
Eggs may be laid as soon as the nest is finished. They are laid one day, with occasionally a day or two skipped between eggs.
The female commonly is the only one that incubates the eggs, which hatch after a little over two weeks. While the female is brooding the young, the male, and maybe an older brother or sister from a previous brood, will collect food and carry it to the nest in their throats to share with the nestlings or to the brooding female.
The young crows will be completely dependent upon their parents for food for a couple of weeks after leaving the nest, and it may be three or four months before they are able to obtain all of their food themselves.
The American crow is easily adaptable when it comes to diet: they will feed on everything, from carrion, food scraps, seeds and eggs to nestlings. They are also fearless hunters, preying on mice, frogs and other small animals.
We all know that they scavenge dumpsters and because they are one of the smartest animals in avian world; they can even identify where construction sites are located.
One of the most notable characteristics about crows is that they are monogamous. Breeding pairs often form large families of up to 15 individuals from various breeding seasons. Slow to mate, they do not reach breeding age for at least two years; most do not leave the nest to breed for four to five years.
I find it comforting to have this close family move into the neighborhood, and while my acquaintance will be at a distance, I plan to show my respect and keep my distance.