Zombie Crow-pocalypse

Seven, eight? No, 10. That’s how many crows I think I counted in the flurry of iridescent blackness as they lifted off from the squintingly white snowdrifts in the backyard.

This murder had been gathered under the slowly rusting feeder, which stands atilt in the aforementioned snowdrift. If you wonder how heavy birds are — even big birds — the answer is, “Not very.” After all, they walk on flaky water. Even allowing for the design of their feet — sort of built-in snowshoes — I’m always surprised that they don’t sink into the snow.

They’d been scarfing up sunflower chips soaked in a cayenne pepper solution (The better to deter the squirrels, my dear). Birds don’t mind the hot stuff, but they do, apparently, mind even slight motion, even behind a window all of 10 x 2 feet away. Fly away!

So I waited all still-like for about 10 x 3 seconds and they came back, much to the disgust of the juncos and redpolls waiting for their turn at the spice. Landing on the bare branches of the trees just behind our fence, they were nicely positioned for my camera: not too far, not too high, not too shaded.

But although I usually appreciate things and critters more when I take the time to pay attention, sometimes the result of time spent is less happy. As I watched, they transformed from mild-mannered avians — OK, sort of squawky but at least not vicious — with charming catch-lights in their eyes, into true zombie birds. And not just once.

2-photo collage of crow with nictitating membrane

2-photo collage showing nictitating membranes

2-photo collage of crows showing nictitating membrane

That nictitating membrane is useful to the bird, I get that, but I don’t like the look of it at all at all. (How the verb “nictate” came to have “nictitating” as its combined gerund and past participle instead of simply “nictating” is beyond me. I wonder who dictitated that? Maybe it’s some weird mumutation. However, I don’t want to fixixate on this, because there is significant risk I could become irrititated, so I’ll move on now.)

When I finally caught a crow in a nice pose without that icky membrane over its eye, well, there were twigs in the way. Life does have its challenges.

But just look at those feathers.

Crwo in full extension and in sunlight



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10 Responses to Zombie Crow-pocalypse

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    I’m fascinated by crows — and ravens, which are larger, bigger brained, more mischievous, and more social than your ordinary crow — even though we rarely see either here in the Okanagan Valley. I think it’s their intelligence that hooks me. Corvids can not only use tools, they can make tools, and they can make tools that enable them to use other tools, etc., ad infinitum. They can distinguish individual human faces… which should not really surprise us, considering that they can distinguish among themselves (let’s face it, they’re all black, have sharp beaks, harsh voices, and nictitiatory eyelids; what’s to differentitiate?).
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yup. I see why some zoologists study only corvids. I don’t think I’ve seen ravens in Ottawa (I saw a scary guy in a Yellowknife parking lot once) but this article says that they’ve gradually increased in numbers here and in the surrounding countryside.

  2. Jim Robertson says:

    So there was a murder in your backyard?
    A great collective noun for a bunch of crows, but not when a group congregate in an urban backyard.

    (Been seeing/hearing a lot of crows lately including seeing an over night roost nearby yesterday.)

    Nice pics. Yes there needs to be a post-processing filter for the nictitating membrane,

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – 🙂 Yeah, my patience with them (and the way they monopolize the feeder and/or intimidate the small birds) may evaporate as I get all the photos I reasonably can. They take off when I open the door and usually stay away for a while.

  3. What patience you have, my dear! To so carefully wait for the perfect moment amongst a flock of birds, let alone a murder of crows! Fascinatating!

  4. Marilyn Smith says:

    Isabel, I saw that bird on your fence yesterday! He was yuge!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marilyn – Yes, they do sort of stand out in our small-ish yard, but you can see why sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s a raven.

  5. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – a sure sign of spring, when the crows come back in large numbers in addition to those hardy few who stayed the winter. To a farm boy like me, the crows returning is a better sign of spring than the robins returning. According to my farm calendar, spring arrived about 10 days ago which was the first time I saw a large murder since last fall.
    Crows also like stale potato chips.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – There you go, I did not know that. I feel that the crows are here in Ottawa all year, but I wouldn’t bet much money on it.

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