A Crow Holiday Post

I’m overdue for a tribute to the Lakefront Crows who were quite cooperative early in November but hard to find a month later, and I don’t think I’ll manage to see them before the end of the year. So here are some longing looks.

Hmmm… peanut butter oatmeal raisin, my favorite

The same day, I captured a few sparrows and such and I will be back with their photos and others from my second visit to the lakefront parks.

Swamp Sparrow

This is all in the interest of clearing off my hard drives to make room for upcoming adventures. I will be going to Mexico next Sunday.

Since I’m almost in real time here, a note about the current weather: my Northern Cardinal was singing and singing and singing in the yard this morning – I think the 60-degree temperatures have fooled him into thinking it’s spring. Can’t blame him. Is it just me, or is almost nothing a surprise anymore?

Crow Celebration

Crows LSE 9-23-14-6575

As I was going through the accumulated mail this weekend, I found the latest issue of the Chicago Audubon Compass and as I was reading down the list of presenters at the upcoming Birding America XI which will happen on March 19, 2016, I saw that Kevin McGowan from Cornell University is the keynote speaker!! I am so excited! Kevin McGowan studies CROWS, and I found I knew a lot of what he was talking about from his video presentation last year, “To Know The Crow: Insights and Stories From A Quarter-Century Of Crow Study” which is still available for viewing on the Cornell website.

Hot Dog Crows 2-18-15-4617

Kevin McGowan was all excited about following the peanut tradition, but I wonder if he knows the power of hot dogs. I bought some new hot dogs yesterday to start off the cold weather season. I may start spoiling my crow friends later this week. In the meantime here are a few crow pix that didn’t make it into previous posts.

Crow LSE Park 5-1-15-8879Crow 8-19-15-9335Cookie Crow 2-17-15-4418

I can hardly wait to continue my crow study which always goes better during the winter months when there are fewer distractions…

Crow Grant Park 078_1

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween Crow 10-30-15 -6402Yesterday I paid a visit to the Crows that hang out around Lake Shore East Park. It was a beautiful afternoon, and in the spirit of Halloween, or so it seemed, the Crows put on quite a show. Oblivious to all onlookers, they followed me around like puppies.

AMCR on the ledge 10-06-15 -3440

So here’s a little Halloween greeting from my not so scary friends.

AMCR 10-05-15 -3395Happy Halloween Crow 10-30-15 -6512Happy Halloween Crow 10-30-15 -6483

Not all these pictures are from yesterday but they are recent.

AMCR on the ledge 10-06-15 -3435

It is so nice to have a small murder of crows again. I am looking forward to visiting them in the winter months which might otherwise be a bit lonely bird-wise. There were not a lot of other bird species yesterday, so I am sure the crows were also happy to have my almost-complete attention.

Crows on the Ledge 9-28-15 -2843Although there was one White-Throated Sparrow who came to check me out, to see if I had brought anything for him. That reminds me, it is probably almost time to start bringing a little seed for the smaller birds.

Happy Halloween WTSP 10-30-15 -6498

Happy Halloween Crow 10-30-15 -6404

It’s raining and not quite dark yet. The doorbell will no doubt start ringing soon. When Halloween falls on a work night I miss most of it, so I hope the weather doesn’t dampen the spirits of the trick-or-treaters too much.


Crow 2-26-15-5273Perhaps setting clocks ahead an hour signifies spring to some. But the birds have been responding to the longer days for weeks. In particular I was getting used to being able to leave the house in the light, but now that the clocks have gone forward an hour, I have to give up and go back to leaving lights on timers when I leave at 7:00 a.m. The indoor crowd thought I was insane this morning to be getting up so early.

Crow 3-6-15-5688

I will be crabby about the lost hour of sleep for a while.

Crow 3-6-15-5723

The crows have been doing fairly well, I think. They seemed to like the omelette.

Crow 2-19-15-4687 Crow 2-19-15-4662

Friday I decided to see if they cared for organic bananas. I didn’t know there was a difference until one week I went to the store, there were no organic bananas for purchase, so I bought regular ones…and suffered with tasteless bananas all week. Next time there are no organic bananas I will wait.

Crow 2-19-15-4819

Okay, so they’re not Fruit Crows. Anyway the crows were not impressed by the banana. If anything they felt compelled to eat some of their peanuts on the spot, I suppose to make sure the presence of the banana slices had not altered anything.

Crow 3-6-15-5677

As much as my thoughts seem concerned with feeding crows I have been looking for nostalgia or craving catharsis or something like that. I stumbled across a stunning video of Hélène Grimaud playing the Ravel Piano Concerto in G and lavished a good cry over the Adagio which has wormed its way into becoming my favorite piece of music the past few years. Then reading a review of Bettyville by George Hodgman in the New York Times brought tears to my eyes. I think it’s all a pent up desire to get out and experience something more than cold, hard, stupid days.

Crow 3-6-15-5652 Crow 3-6-15-5651 Crow 3-6-15-5649

But going back to feeding crows, anyone who has not yet seen this story about a young girl who feeds crows and receives gifts from them should check it out. I was originally made aware of it by my friend Lesa and have since seen it cropping up all over the place. My crows haven’t heard about it though: as far as I know they haven’t brought me gifts. That could be due to the fact that I feed them in a public space and they know how efficient the maintenance people are about considering anything trash. But I like to think the bond I share with them is enough of a gift. Just the fact that they recognize me and announce my presence to each other before they fly in swooping gently overhead is enough.

Crows 3-6-15-5621 Crow 3-6-15-5691

So now, as if on cue with the time change, we are in the midst of enough of a warm up to thaw all that messy snow away. We go from the temperatures of the last couple weeks being colder-than-normal to normal-and-warmer-than-normal.

Crow 3-6-15-5731

Crow w hot dogs 3-2-15-5397Time is probably running out to be feeding the crows their favorite food, hot dogs. But they can count on peanuts year-round.

NOCA 3-6-15-5734 NOCA 3-2-15-5369 WTSP 3-2-15-5431

The little birds will be preoccupied soon and they won’t be looking for handouts anymore. But I’m not quite done feeding everyone just yet.

Crow 3-6-15-5697


The Essence of True (Crow) Love

Cookie Crow 2-17-15-4415

Ah…Birdz Cookies!

Or you could just say Food is Love in just about any language. Like Music…

In the midst of this miserable cold, my crow friends and I are reunited in thought and purpose. Last week they sent me a request for Birdz Cookies, and so it was Birdz Cookies on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, I put out lots of peanuts and broke up the cookie pieces on top of them, and the Crows went straight for the cookies.

Then yesterday, after two days of cookies, why not some of those delicious hot dogs I used to bring?

Hot Dog Crows 2-18-15-4608

Between my knee event (which I am happy to report is totally over), the weather, the baby boom indoors and other distractions, I haven’t managed to get up early and visit the crows an hour before work all winter, so I have focused on the Millennium Park bunch whenever I get out for a late lunch break, and now that my knee is working properly the weather becomes less of an excuse for staying inside when I realize my friends don’t have that choice.

WTSP 2-17-15-4014

White-Throated Sparrow

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Sparrows, mainly House

NOCA and HOSP 2-17-15-4386

Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow, both males

This has also been good for the Cardinals, Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows and House Sparrows.

NOCA 2-16-15-3832

On Monday, the male Northern Cardinal actually came toward me and posed for pictures when I pointed the camera at him. It had to do with the peanuts I shelled and left for him on Friday. He was asking me to repeat the favor, which I did after taking a few more pictures. Then later he was down on the ground sampling the general offering.

NOCA 2-16-15-3818 NOCA 2-17-15-4404

On Tuesday I was surprised to see the Robins back at what I believe must be some type of hawthorn trees in the northwest corner of the park, I guess to clean up every last fruit they might have left on their last visit.

AMRO 2-17-15-4315 AMRO 2-17-15-4302

The Black-Capped Chickadees have been more about food than enticing me to take their pictures.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

But from time to time the female Cardinal wasn’t too shy to engage the lens.

NOCA 2-17-15-4330

NOCA 2-17-15-4325So as cold as it is I will probably venture out again today. The sun is shining brightly, and it is always a bit warmer by the lake, even in this extreme cold. It’s amazing how much even one or two degrees makes a difference.

WTSP & NOCA 2-17-15-4079 Cookie Crow 2-17-15-4417

The “what-to-feed-the crows next?” question has been on my mind, since after cookies and hot dogs, simply peanuts seems too mundane. So I rustled up an omelette this morning with about 10 eggs that have been in the refrigerator too long to boil for the indoor crowd’s egg food. I figure the crows have probably sampled Egg McMuffins and will recognize an omelette (indeed I think one crow sent me the thought on the way in that I could have added cheese — ha!). Plus it’s eggs in a cache-and-stash form.

WTSP 2-17-15-4436

White-Throated Sparrow

I do intend to wade through the Gull Frolic pictures by the weekend…but the park birds were making it a lot easier for me to post about them sooner.

Last Looks in the (Chicago) Loop

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

While taking a break from getting organized and trying to locate the title to my old car… Every morning I look out the back window at the dead Ford sitting on the slab and vow to get rid of it. It’s only a matter of weeks before I will have to buy a new city sticker even though I’m not driving it. I’m sure the cat takes refuge underneath its rusting hulk when she isn’t hiding in the hostas. All reasons to motivate me to tear the house apart, calmly, until I find the misplaced title so I can donate the car to a good cause.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Here are a few pictures taken the end of last week, which was the last time I saw migrants in the city. Some are from 155 N. Wacker on my way into the office. The others were taken in Lake Shore East Park.

Up until Friday there was at least one White-Throated Sparrow at 155 N. Wacker who would start singing whenever I showed up, but Friday I saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow, which is highly unusual this late in the year. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Lincoln’s Sparrow vocalize, though.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler, 155 N. Wacker

There was a Chestnut-Sided Warbler at 155 N. Wacker as well, but the mainstay had been a male Common Yellowthroat who was on site for a couple weeks. As of Tuesday he was gone.

American Redstart, LSE Park

American Redstart, LSE Park

At Lake Shore East Park among the last migrants I saw last week were the female American Redstart, above, and a Least Flycatcher, below.

Least Flycatcher, LSE Park

Least Flycatcher, LSE Park

But now the newest arrivals are fledgling crows. I think there are two, although I saw only this one being weaned last week. Oddly enough, there was never any sound to go with that wide gaping mouth. Perhaps there is a different protocol at hand for Lake Shore East Park and this youngster was instructed not to draw attention to itself by making a racket.

Crow Fledgling, LSE Park

Crow Fledgling, LSE Park

That wide-eyed look of “now what?” is unmistakable.


A series of photographs as the parents’ body language tells the story: “We are not feeding you anymore.” I think I recognize the crow with the bouffant hairdo as a former fledgling from about 4 years ago. Notice how he tries to look profoundly disinterested in the interaction between the fledgling and its mother.


The ultimate insult, after waving the peanut around in front of the fledgling, she takes off with it!

On Tuesday I had some time to hang out with the crows. As far as I could tell, the youngster had not figured out how to do its own peanuts yet and was still falling into a bit of the gaping mouth routine.

By next year if it survives, this fledgling may turn into a peanut expert like the bird below.




The Joy of Cookie

Joy of Cookie IMG_1700_1

I’ve been making the “Birdz Cookies” for years, but the night before the Starved Rock trip two weekends back (still going through those photos), I decided to improve the recipe some more by using less sugar. The original recipe calls for equal amounts of brown and white sugar; I substituted a tablespoon of molasses for half of the white sugar. Then when it came to adding the peanut butter, there was extra left in the jar, and it seemed silly not to use it up. Whole wheat flour, oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon, what’s not to like? The cookies went over well with the people who tried them. The crows have been going crazy for the leftover cookies since. Now they are truly The Birdz Cookies.

Cookie Crow IMG_1834_1

Where can I stash this…?

Peanut and Cookie Please IMG_1649_1

I’m claiming one piece of cookie and one peanut.

Crow with Cookie & Peanut IMG_1584_1

Caution: wide load.

Joy of Cookie IMG_1698_1

Ah, the joy of cookie…

Crow IMG_1950_1

Crow IMG_1951_1

Crow's Cookies IMG_1685_1

Crow Cookies IMG_1413_1

A crow’s garden of hot dogs

Hot dogs 101

Friday I decided to surprise the new crow fledglings with a few hot dogs cut up in small pieces. Their cousins, who were fledglings themselves just last year, helped themselves.

It was a hot day to be a crow. I felt sorry for these all-black birds, and here I was bringing salty hot dogs. So I also brought a little plastic container and put water in it, but only one bird figured it out by the time I was ready to leave.

Got a sip?

However, they all know there’s a little water left in the drinking fountain.

Family Portrait

As far as I can tell there are three fledglings. I took this picture on Wednesday. The parent bird is the second from the left. They have been weaned in birth order, the oldest first, the next day, the middle child and on Friday, the youngest was still begging.

Feed me…?

Finally, the fledge discovered a pile of pre-chewed hot dogs waiting for him.

Gotta think fast here…

and he could not resist. He picked up the whole pile.

Now what?

But then he was wondering what to do with it.

Mom? Dad?

There were no coaches available. He was on his own.

A day in the life.

Crow Games

Wednesday morning I was making my early lakefront-before-work birding rounds, not finding much of anything new, but ran into a human friend who runs in the park and also feeds the crows (obviously the crows have the upper hand in their relationship with us, but we remain amused by it). Anyway, we were standing there talking when I realized there was some commotion a few feet away and I just started shooting the sequence here. I don’t think I could have gotten these photos if it had just been the crows and me because the dynamic would have been different, i.e., the crows would have been focused on courting me for more handouts. But by talking to my friend, the focus was off either one of us and these two had a chance to tussle.

White Wing is often the butt of aggression so I was surprised to see that she was the aggressor. I believe her target is the youngest bird of the four, though, so maybe that explains the heirarchy. But to see a crow on its back – this is the ultimate in submissive behavior!

But then he decides he’s not going to take it lying down anymore.

And goes after her.

She utters what must have been a silent protest.

And starts sinking lower herself.

Crow with Cookie

Maybe there was too much sugar in the cookies this time.

Not sure if this was the end or the beginning, but the crows always have the last word.