There are a couple of very old, unhealthy, towering maples and oaks on the corner that probably aren’t going to last much longer. While walking beneath them with the dog, I noticed some rotten limbs had recently fallen and crashed onto the sidewalk. I don’t want to walk past them anymore, afraid some large limb might fall on me, or that these entire trees might very well come down. The bark on one of the trunks is starting to slough off in great sheets, revealing insect trails and woodpecker holes beneath. The bare branches at the top of one of them point up toward the sky. The tops have remained leafless over the the past few seasons, providing a pinnacle for a perfect lookout. Last summer this became the Crow Tree.
They arrived around June, at first maybe three or four crows that would swoop in around 4 p.m. and perch at the topmost branches. They appeared to be scouting out the area and notifying the others from this designated tree headquarter, calling in the pack, who would alight in different trees throughout the neighborhood to check out the new real estate. Eventually they decided this was the place they wanted to be hanging out for the summer, and the word was out. Two sentinel crows became ten, became fifteen as they made the scene like teens on a street corner, preening, doing a little stunt flying and yelling at each other from above. Across the street, behind our house and up and down the block they began to gather every afternoon, until the air would be filled with the cawing and barking of call and response.
My neighbors, who live closest to the Crow Tree, were uneasy with the new visitors. Sitting on their porch watching the commotion across the street, they expressed that it was ominous and creepy. I suppose there was a Hitchcockian feel to the numbers that continued to arrive, as they seemed to multiply each day. As for me, I really like Corvids and found it all a bit exciting.
Throughout the day, the highest peak of the tree hosts a number of fleeting visitors. Without binoculars I can only tell that the day birds are smaller than the crows, perhaps seven or eight starlings who gather for brief moments and then fly off, return and then take to the air again. Compared to the crows, I call them “the lesser birds”. Sometimes a hawk – usually a red tail – will sporadically alight at the very top point. When a hawk is there – not for very long – everyone else pretty much disappears. In the late afternoon, the crows begin to arrive from wherever their daytime business occurred, one or two at a time, zooming in from points west. And the cacophony begins.
Sometimes I just sit on my porch watching them at their daily arrival. I get the distinct feeling that as I am watching them, they are also watching me. When I am walking the dog beneath the tree, I know they are checking me out. Every morning I find the grass and street adorned with white spatters and many glossy blue-black feathers. A few times I have left them some scattered dry dog food, although I don’t know if my neighbors would appreciate that, so I haven’t made a habit of it. But we are aware of each other’s presence. Sometimes they land in the trees behind the house and yell at you. They don’t like the sound of motors or machinery – the sound of a saw, lawn mower or the neighbor’s compressor sets them off complaining. Every once in a while if a hawk arrives they will keep their distance until it moves off, but I’ve also seen them give a juvenile hawk a hard time.
Observing the gathering of the crows at sunset became a nightly habit for me. Sitting on the porch, my dog Rudi and I would watch them first report to the Crow Tree, as if gathering to share news and discuss the intention for the evening. And then, at dusk, they would begin to move off to where they decided to spend the night, which I believe were in the back yards a few houses down from me. But one evening they suddenly changed their plans.
The woman across the street who feeds the feral cats has a massive tree which towers behind her house. On this particular evening, for some unknown reason, that is where they all decided to roost. This was exciting because I had an excellent, close up view of what was going on. The sentinel crows seemed to give the alert, and then – from every direction it seemed – crows were making a line for this huge tree. Soon every branch was filled with crows perching among the leaves….. I tried to count as best as I could. There were actually hundreds of birds; so many that the entire tree was a deep, black shape-shifting mass as they moved around and resettled, bubbling up from the tree and alighting over and over again like a breathing organism made of dark feathers.
But the most fascinating part was yet to happen. As the sun dipped behind the hills, they suddenly all went absolutely silent, then entirely disappeared deep within the branches, so that you could not discern there was even one bird in that tree. Hundreds of birds vanished, absorbed within the shelter of the leaves.
I was hoping to catch them the next morning in order to see them making their exit, but I must have missed it, because even by 6 a.m. they had already left. The following evening fewer returned to the cat lady’s tree. They seemed to find a new sleeping location each night, but still used the Crow Tree every afternoon as their initial meeting point. This went on daily until mid-November. Then there were fewer and fewer. One afternoon there were only two or three at headquarters. And then all of them were gone. I was sad to see it end.
I am hoping the crows will return this year. It would be unfortunate if these trees don’t make it, eliminating the wonderful opportunity to observe them each day throughout another summer and fall from the vantage point of my porch.
For the past two days I saw one rather large, lone Corvid perched at the pinnacle of the Crow Tree, emitting a loud, barking croak and getting no response. I got closer and waited on the sidewalk to get a better look. I was hoping it might be a sentinel crow coming to check out the scene, although I suspected from the voice that it might instead be a raven. It finally took off so I was able to get a good look at its tail in flight. It was a lone raven.
It’s only April. If the trees continue to stand, perhaps the crows will return again in June. That would really be great.