One early morning I was walking my dogs in my neighborhood and I looked up.
Normally, I’m looking downward to make sure Henry and Oliver do their thing so I can take them back home and hightail it to work.
But today I looked toward the sky. Not because of some crazy whim, but because I heard the sounds of irate birds, and the sound seemed to be intensifying, so much so, that I could no longer ignore it. Which is why I looked up.
A half dozen crows were frantically circling a tall pine as if their lives depended on it, and in some ways, it did. These were desperate birds flying in unison, taking turns dive-bombing into the tree then fleeing to parts unknown, only to return seconds later for another go at it.
I then noticed two maintenance workers staring up at the tree. I walked over and asked them if they knew what was going on. The taller of the two quickly shared his observations, never once looking away from the tree.
“There’s an owl in that tree.”
I looked again and sure enough, I saw an owl that I hadn’t seen earlier. Large and imposing, and clearly not afraid of the crows.
“The crows have nests up there and are trying to force the owl to leave the tree,” the maintenance worker continued. “They know too well that if the owl doesn’t leave, it’s going to eat their young. But on the other hand, if they get too close to the owl, they’ll be killed in an instant by a swat from the owl’s large talons. That owl is fierce, and the crows are desperately trying to save their nests, but being cautious, too.”
The crows were swirling around the tree, dipping in and out of the branches, flapping their wings in panic. Who could blame them? The life of their young was at stake!
From the looks of it, the owl was trying to sleep. It was daytime after all, but the crows would have none of it. They were focused on disrupting its sleep, likely trying to throw the unwanted creature off balance, and forcing it to leave and find another tree.
The owl would have none of it. For the next half hour I was enthralled, feeling the heartbreak of the crows, knowing they might lose their babies, and fearful that the owl might claw them to death.
Suddenly I heard a different bird call, a rather sweet-sounding one. I noticed a bird of some sort land at the very top of the tree. But I had no idea its species.
“Hawk,” said the tall maintenance worker.
The hawk’s arrival was following by a stark silence. What happened to the crows?
The maintenance worker explained. “The crows have left. A hawk is more dreaded than the owl and can kill crows more quickly. The crows know they don’t have a chance against the hawk, and both owl and hawk are after the same thing. The crows’ nests.
Which is when it hit me. I’m so busy living my life, juggling all my work projects, racing to countless errands, and here in my very own neighborhood are crows dealing with a life and death situation involving their babies. So much real drama right in my very midst!
My heart ached for those crows, even though until this moment I had never given the crows in my neighborhood much thought. I started to remember another time when the crows became so frantic, flying wildly above and making beseeching sounds. But it never occurred to me the crows might have had a good reason for their commotion. Was I too caught up in my own life I couldn’t see what was happening right in front of me?
Looking up again, I see the owl hasn’t budged and the hawk has firmly settled on the top branch. The crows take up flight again, circling the tree but this time at a distance slightly farther than before the hawk arrived. This continues and finally I must take my leave.
I tell a young mom, who’s been walking her dog, Bailey, and who has also become enthralled in this drama unfolding in front of us, that I have to leave and hope she can tell me how this ends. But she too needs to go.
Hours later, when I return from work, I head to the tree to see if the owl is still there. But it is now nighttime and my flashlight isn’t strong enough to cast a light on the uppermost branches of the pine tree.
The next day, I run into the the tall maintenance worker again and ask if he knows how it turned out. Were the crows able to save their babies?
“Hard to say,” he says. “The owl left, so did the hawk but hard to tell if they ate the birds’ eggs first. Maybe the crows won, maybe not. This is life and there are wild things all around us.”
He then proceeds to tell me how he spotted a rattlesnake in the pool area and killed it with a shovel, and that there are rats everywhere.
I frown. Too much information.
How about you? When was the last time you stopped to witness nature?
Oh my friend, It is nice to read your post after many, many months. I have been gone for too long it seems. I will now give a thought to the ravens that ca- caw in my neighborhood and as I walk, I will look up into the trees to see if they are in trouble. I often lament about the sound of a raven, for when I walk, I want peace and quiet. All too often, they are at the top end of the hierarchy at the park and the smaller birds are chased out of one tree into another. Or my neighbors will complain about how they smartly invaded their garbage bins and leave garbage strewn on the street.
I love owls, they are magical to me, I don’t however like how predatory they are and it pains me that they were after these babies.
Sending you much love and hugs…
Its so nice to hear from you, MM! I’ve missed you so much! Makes me sad how we don’t blog as much as we used to. Probably has something to do with the world we now live in, but I really miss life as it used to be. Anyway, I agree with you about owls. It gives me terror thinking it was after the babies, so innocent. I would like to think that the crows won and the babies survived, but that isn’t life. Life can be cruel and there are predators everywhere. I wonder if crows mourn when theres loss of life or do they just move on and forget about the babies. When i pass that pine tree now i always look up, wondering if I’ll see the owl again. Sigh.
Nature can be so cruel, huh, Monica? That said, I do love owls and would have enjoyed seeing one in the daylight hours! Part of me feels sorry for the crows and their babies, but owls and hawks have to eat, too. Wouldn’t it be nice if Purina made food for owls and hawks so they wouldn’t have to prey upon the nests of other birds??
Debbie, if you’d heard the anguish in the crows’ “caws,” your heart would be breaking too. It was terrible. I wanted more than anything for them to succeed in protecting their babies. It was such an emotional experience! I was frightened for them. As for the owl, I like them, too and never–NEVER–had I ever seen a real live owl in the wild. The only time I’ve seen owls is in demonstrations at the zoo. Can you believe it?!
By the way, were you able to see the owl in the picture I posted? Trust me, the owl was a lot clearer in person. Hard to take a picture with my phone. Sigh.
I imagine all parents can empathize with those heart-wrenching caws, Monica. Yes, I spotted the owl — nice capture!