Monday, January 27, 2014

A Murder at West Beach

Northwestern Crow

October 11, 2013 was a big day for wildlife at West Beach in Deception Pass State Park.  A half dozen Bald Eagles were fishing just off the beach.  The Mayor was working his pine grove and the Heermann's Gulls, had joined all the other sea birds at "Fraggle Rock."  Not to be outdone, about a dozen or more Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) were patrolling the beach next to the picnic grounds.  Such a group of crows is called a "murder."  Other collective nouns for crows include "cauldron," "congress," "horde" and "muster" according to iBird Pro.

While I watched the crows doing their crow chores on the beach, one fellow seemed to be more interested in studying me.  That's him in the photo above.  I'd be curious to know what he learned.

Northwestern Crow

Northwestern Crows make their living beachcombing the intertidal areas of rocky shores.  For this reason, these Corvids could be classified as shorebirds.  Their diet includes snails, clams, mussels and other aquatic life.  Like gulls, they are known to drop shellfish from the air onto hard surfaces to crack them open.  The parking lot and sidewalks at West Beach are littered with these broken shells.

A stone cairn (right) provided one park visitor with a moment of reflection.  The effort has probably been lost to the tides, but was preserved by the photo.  Crows are very intelligent and observant creatures.  I wonder if they were attracted to this spot by the cairns.

Northwestern Crow
Northwestern Crow

This fellow was holding bits of grass in his beak.  For whatever reason, he seemed very proud of his trophy and wanted everyone to see it.

Northwestern Crows are distinguished from the American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) by their smaller size and seaside habitat.  Some authorities believe the Northwestern is a subspecies of the American Crow.  For anyone accustomed to seeing American Crows, the size difference is obvious.  Brachyrhynchos means "short-billed," while caurinus apparently means "northwest."

Northwestern Crow

Meanwhile, this guy continued to study me.  The intelligence of crows is well known.  Their success as a species has been attributed to their ability to learn how to exploit the human environment.  A Murder of Crows is an amazing documentary from PBS which reveals just how intelligent they are.  (Sorry about the advertising.  This is apparently the depths to which PBS has been forced to sink so the wealthy can have their tax cuts.)


1 comment:

Jill said...

Nice post! I'm not sure if the crows who hang in my yard and try to eat cat food are NW or not. without seeing them next to a different size, I guess I'll study your photo. I'm not that far from the Sound (near Carkeek) but not adjacent either.

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