Bird Mobbing Behavior
But my attention was caught by a lone crow standing defiantly in the middle of the street, about fifty yards away, periodically slashing out his wings and cawing loudly, as a couple small birds swept in from different angles and then peeled sharply away. It was the only thing happening on the block, so I settled down to watch.
I couldn’t understand why the crow was so steadfastly standing his ground in the middle of the road against the determined attacks of these two much smaller birds! They probably had a new nest nearby, so that would explain their loud and persistent attacks against this predator. But why was the crow remaining in the middle of the road?
The crow must have either been very hungry or really wanted what was in the garbage. Despite now facing four dive bombers, he fought his way back across the ground to the base of the can. He had a fighting chance while he was on the ground, as the attackers would have to peel away before their claws could hit his head, to avoid crashing into the ground and becoming his next meal. He seemed to know this. When he reached the base of the can, there seemed to be a few moments where he was assessing the risks, looking around.
And then he jumped/flew onto the top bag and began to tear at the bags. His attackers now had a much better angle of attack, as they could fly past his body- hit him, and recover before hitting the ground. Desperate to get what was in the bag, he mostly flinched away or bared his beak to the attacks. Ultimately, he had only a couple minutes to find his treasure. The 'ripple' of alarm calls that we described in an earlier post (see post of July 2015) that carry messages for great distances, appeared to work in even this noisy suburban environment. Within another couple minutes, another couple came streaming in from different directions and together they knocked the crow off the garbage can.
He was now in a desperate situation. On the ground, faced with eight relentless attackers, with no other crow allies (most crows will be in at least a partnership or a group, (so this may have been an immature male or female), he cannot defend himself. He hopped and defended himself all the way across the street to underneath a bush, where he took refuge.
The street, like most suburban streets, is lined with open lawns at the curbs, then houses and trees or higher vegetation in the back. The crow clearly was analysing his escape route. The garbage can side gave no higher ground, but across the street- where he now huddled under sheltering forsythia branches, the houses gave roof lines leading up to high trees.
When there was a break in the attacks, the crow launched himself onto a garage roof near the bush and was immediately attacked. From there he fought his way onto the second floor roof of the same house, and then to the third floor roof of the next house. From there, he had a clear shot into the 50 foot tall trees that backed up to the houses. When his attackers slowed down, he launched himself through an opening in those branches and escaped. After that, the alarm calls in the neighborhood disappeared. It became very still again.
Around our house, we have always had breeding red-tailed hawks. Without looking up, I always know when they have arrived on their hunting patrols, as there is a sudden chorus of sqweeks, ‘chirrs’, clicks and screeches, as the small birds, squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits alert the neighborhood that there is danger above. Red-tailed hawks often hunt by stooping (diving from a great height, like a peregrine falcon) to hit their prey.
The force of the blow was like being hit by a speeding truck on a highway, stunning it unconscious or killing it outright. Nature is never dull.
When my host returned after work, she apologised that the neighborhood was so quiet. I told her not to worry. We could see many things from her house.