We may have had sunshine this week that I missed, but this afternoon the temperature was forgiving, the sun was shining so strongly snow started to melt a bit and I was just happy to be out. Earlier in the week when it was still cold and cloudy, the crows were nowhere to be found, but today was a good day to be an all-black bird on top of the Pritzker Pavilion soaking up the rays.
Crows on the top of the Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
I wish I could have recorded one crow cawing right inside the “waves” of the pavilion, its song reverberating against the steel forms, a perfect echo chamber. I’m sure the crow thought it was pretty neat too.
The crows didn’t stay perched long. We haven’t had a peanut party since last week but the moment I started walking through the snow two crows helped me select the best location.
The presence of peanuts did not go unnoticed by two other park residents.
Black-Capped Chickadee and Northern Cardinal
There were many ways to approach and to take off, and the bright light reflecting off the snow lit up these dark birds.
Winter has a long way to go yet, but today almost felt like spring.
2014 goes out with a shiver for us. Yesterday the temperature dropped to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (that was the high), and today it’s even colder with a wind chill of minus 15 below. I am blessed to have the day off from work, which turns out to be that much more fortuitous since the trains were not running this morning due to mechanical failure and I would have been shivering at the station shelter trying to figure out the next best way to get to work.
Chicago River Fog
There was ample sunshine yesterday which is often the way with extra cold temperatures, so I stopped by the Thompson Center on the way in with the camera already assembled this time to see if the Gray Catbird was available for a photograph. I found it first shivering under a bush and looking not too happy.
Then when a woman asked me for directions, it gave the Catbird a chance to perch on a twig while I wasn’t looking, and when I turned back to see, it posed for several photos before taking off for the top of one of the small trees planted in the sidewalk by the curb. The next time to check on this bird’s status will be Friday, the second day of the new year.
Later, after noon when the sun was shining full blast, I set out for the lakefront parks to see if I could visit some crows before next year. It’s been weeks. I decided to check out Maggie Daley Park first as it is partially open in time for ice skaters to use the skating ribbon.
While a lot of trees have been planted and there is sod and whatever else, the immediate lack of green space and preponderance of human kitsch is disappointing to me.
I suspect this is the “Climbing Wall”…?
I have no idea what this bodes for hungry migrants along the lakefront come spring, but I suspect I will continue to find more migrants at Lake Shore East Park than at Maggie Daley for quite a while.
Another view – the lakefront is beyond. Are those wooden trunks recycled trees “planted” upside down?
I hated Millennium Park when it was first built, but after I started seeing things like a flock of Golden-Crowned Kinglets on the lawn and the crows adopting the Pritzker Pavilion for a nesting site, not to mention the birds that visit Lurie Garden, it has become bird friendlier with time. So maybe in 5-10 years Maggie Daley will be okay for birds too. But I feel as if the more improvements being made lately to the lakefront, the less friendly they are to any species other than humans. Which in the long run means they’re not really human-friendly improvements either.
It wasn’t until I was practically on my way out of Millennium that I found my crows.
There were some adjustments to be made. Has it been so long since we had peanuts that we can’t remember how to carry more than one at a time to a cache location?
Eventually I was joined by a few Black-Capped Chickadees, and almost out of the park I located the Northern Cardinals I heard earlier but they were not interested in becoming visible. Maybe they’re waiting for snow because they know it makes a better picture.
I think I will stay inside most of today. The sunshine does a good job on the indoor crowd, we all feel a bit more possible. Maybe I can post an update of the indoor birds’ status for the new year.
Happy New Year and Thank You to All Who Visit, Read, Follow, Comment, and Fly By my blog – Who ever thought we’d see a year called 2015? This is pretty amazing. 🙂
As promised, a little update on the Chicago Loop crows. As in previous years I seem to be a trusted source of peanuts and general interest among the juvenile crow population as they head into their first winter.
Juvenile American Crow on the ledge near Lake Shore East Park – particularly recognizable as a youngster by its remaining brown feathers
The interesting thing to me, as their human provider, was the fact that they seemed to identify me in their earliest days of independence just a few months ago, and when a couple crows would approach me, I was unaware of having made their acquaintance previously. There were a couple individuals that I knew from their Lake Shore East Park nursery days, but too many others hanging out in other locations were recognizing me. So this confirms my suspicion that I am genetically imprinted on successive generations of American Crows as a Trusted Peanut Provider. I like to think of myself as an Honorary Crow.
We do peanuts in several places but none are as fun as the cement wall that prevents cars and people from dropping down to the lower level where directly at present there is a vacant lot. I hope the lot remains vacant. It has a couple cottonwood trees and weedy patches where I have seen birds on occasion, albeit from a distance.
A couple weeks ago I would encounter a few crows at a time, maybe up to four individuals. But now I have an army of 15 crows attuned to my whereabouts and they are often vying for peanut rights. I take these to be three or four family groups learning how to get along with each other. Or not.
As the weather gets colder and the days shorter, the crows will pretty much have my undivided attention, and that is just how they like it. I like it too, I get to visit with them. In some way they confirm my existence. They know more about me than I do.
It will be fun to try out The Birdz Cookies on a new batch of crows. See if that’s genetically imprinted information too. It oughtta be.
Please pardon a brief weather update. We have had rain for three days in a row. Today it is tapering off a bit but still too cloudy for the camera. I made use of Monday’s rain by taking time to get a haircut. Tuesday’s rain kept me inside working. Today’s rain? I may go out for a drizzly walk with binoculars only, just to see if there are any birds left. This morning I could not even get a White-Throated Sparrow to respond to my call. Monday morning there was a little Winter Wren at 155 N. Wacker that almost looked like a field mouse. But you’ll have to take my word for it as I have no pictures.
Just as well, the light is a challenge now even on sunny days in Lake Shore East Park due to the shadows cast by the surrounding buildings. Might be time soon to check out Maggie Daley Park and see if there is any habitat surrounding the Skating Ribbon.
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.
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
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
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
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.
It was snowing “lake-effect” when I got off the train this morning. Wearily, I looked down at the river where a female White-Winged Scoter fished amongst several Red-Breasted Mergansers. Too cold and raw to stay.
But by 1:30 p.m. the sun had come out in full force and it was a beautiful day to be out. Still cold, but not windy. I was on a mission to purchase cilantro since I had none in the refrigerator the night before and I needed to make guacamole to use up the avocados I bought last week. I packed the camera and peanuts on my back, in case there were crows to visit on the way back.
Sure enough there were crows, even on the way. Something like 20 crows flew way overhead, turning and twisting against the sky. Six landed on top of the Pritzker Pavilion, as if to wait for my return. They were not there when I came back, but it did not take long for four crows to discover me and the peanuts.
After a while I just decided to see if I could focus on the crows’ acrobatics in the air and sometimes almost on the ground.
The picture below mystifies me. It reminds me of nothing, except perhaps a crow turned inside out.
If I didn’t know this was a Crow…
Perhaps we are all more at ease with the slip and slide of snow and ice.
The light was bright against the snow, but the angle of it is much more welcoming, on March 3. Spring is here. We’re not done with the snow yet, but the sunshine helps. A lot.
There’s a Red-Winged Blackbird who hangs out in Daley Bicentennial Plaza…but I suspect he’s nesting in Millennium Park with the rest of the blackbird crowd. I must know him from previous years, because he expects a loud whistle will get him a custom-shelled peanut. But that sort of special service started long before I had a dozen juvenile crows following me around. The crows aren’t cool yet, so they announce my arrival to each other just like they did all winter when they had me all to themselves. Of course all the park regulars are hip to that: squirrels, pigeons, house sparrows, add visiting Common Grackles, and this particular Red-Winged Blackbird.
A couple weeks ago I went down to the park on my lunch hour carrying the usual Crow Tax (peanuts in the shell) and some of the too many shelled peanuts I bought at the Audubon birdseed sale. But instead of showering food on the birds immediately, I was looking for migrants, making the freeloaders wait. Guess who lost his cool and could not handle it? The blackbird I have come to call Peanut Face. He flew from behind and started pecking at my neck, to get my attention.
And he did it again. And again. I went back to work a bit flustered and pondered this. I’d heard stories about Red-Winged Blackbirds attacking people if they got too close to their nests, but this was crazy – he wasn’t hurting me, but it was a heck of a lousy way to ingratiate himself. The crows are smarter. They just follow me around and get closer and closer, because they know I like the intimacy. But they don’t attack me. Thank heavens for that!
I decided Peanut Face needed talking to the next time he tried pecking me. And of course he tried it again. I called him a coward and left for the other side of the park, for about 20 minutes. That seemed to make an impression on him. He hasn’t attacked me from behind since. But he whistles, and dances, and he flies around in front of me now, flashing his red epaulets. And of course the pigeons and house sparrows think this is just grand, they have a ringleader.
He is an attractive little cuss and he knows it. I guess we have a dialogue.
Spring comes to the lakefront in many forms, but none so noisily as the arrival of Ring-Billed Gulls. It’s an opportunity to teach the new crows a life lesson.
The juvenile crows thought they had everything figured out and the parks and the lakefront were theirs for the taking, but now these guys have arrived like gangsters.
This crow can't believe what's happening.
I had even gotten careless with these puny pieces of shelled peanuts: piled up, they were irresistible. The gulls descended upon them in less than a second.
It’s my theory that the gulls time their arrival for the festivals and parades, beginning with St. Patrick’s Day this weekend. The highlight of their visit will be the Taste of Chicago in July.
"How COULD you?"
A few peanuts won’t be missed, but the crows and I will have to be careful, especially when there’s hot dogs. The crows will learn to be silent instead of calling to each other when they see me, and they’ll stop following me around. Instead, they’ll meet stealthily at some predetermined location, their choice or mine: it doesn’t matter, we’ll put our heads together. Because if the crows attract any attention to me whatsoever, they’ll lose their monopoly over me. As it is, I hope the gulls have been distracted over the weekend, because they’ll remember me forever if they start associating me with food. And I gave up starting riots a long time ago.