Something to Crow About / by William Cook

One thing we’ve learned over the almost 40 years of building our garden at Momiji-en is “this garden is for the birds!” Literally! While we do not offer bird food or feeders, we do provide plant materials birds seem to enjoy. From great blue herons to ruby-throated hummingbirds, they come in all sizes.

Plant seeds, nectar, and insects attracted to the garden provide a seasonal array of nourishment for various bird tastes. The biggest draw, however, is the abundance of water, providing an oasis for birds to drink and bathe. From small basins to the creeks and ponds, birds seasonally flock to the garden for hydration.

Posing for the camera

One notable winged visitor and favorite garden residents are crows that have inhabited the neighborhood since before we moved here. Crows are intelligent, inquisitive, and fun to watch. On an almost annual basis, we have observed the crows build nests, protect them from predators and competing crows, and raise one or two chicks each spring.

From our observations we have learned that crows are territorial and that the same family may come back year after year with extended family members, usually yearlings from the previous year. They use the garden as a schoolroom for the new chicks.

"Now pay attention Junior!"

The same lessons are repeated annually. Parent or sibling crows carefully teach the young ones how to dig for worms and grubs in the rich and natural mulch that we spread throughout the garden. Bathing is taught in the creek that feeds the lake. Reluctant at first, the babies soon get the idea that a cool creek can refresh a hot black bird as they submerge their torsos in the passing stream. Our resident bluejays love to torment them while they bathe and create many hilarious pseudo-confrontations year-round!

Last winter we observed a “murder” of crows gather to perch in the park trees. It became apparent that they were silently mourning a fellow crow’s death. This was unusual for this group of almost fifty birds, who are usually very vocal.

A sad and quiet gathering

This year is the first in many that we don’t have a nest nearby in the adjoining neighbor’s Douglas fir trees. Early this spring a new avian resident took occupation of an established nest in a pin oak in the park, a pair of red-tailed hawks. Hawks can be a threat to crows and their offspring. After many exciting “dog-fight-style” aerial battles for nesting rights between the two species, the crows relented and are nesting further from the garden this year. We are enjoying them just the same but at a greater distance and less frequently.

The chase is on! (Hawk on left, Crow on right)

Isn’t Nature wonderful? Annual plant and animal events become seasonal markers that we gardeners enjoy and cherish. There’s always so much to learn from and about life at Momiji-en.