Observation Logs, Massachusetts, U.S.A. The American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos.

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Pavarotti Displays

Massachusets Crow Observation Logs

Updated: June 20, 2001

This section includes reports of various observers from the State of Massachusetts.

South Hadley, MA, USA: June 3, 2001.

Location_Description: backyard

Behavior: very aggressive behavior, ie. setting off car alarms and "buzzing" people. What are crows natural enemies? I would like to get statues or something to calm these guy dowm! Your input would be appreciated.

N. Reading, Massachusetts: May 21, 2001.

The happy news: Pavarotti and Big Mama have had a second successful brood. Big behavior change with food on 5/14/01. They switched from the silent, stealthy feeding of the inclubating Crow to the raucous calling when the chicks have hatched.

They were insatiable, requiring at least two courses per day. I went on a mini-vacation last weekend. I left out as much food as possible, including soaked dog kibbles. However, there were two mornings without fresh meat and eggs. When I returned on 5/21, I heard great Corvid discussions. I put out what food I had (not much). While the the fresh food was being air-lifted, I heard the Pav do some arias (the laugh-yodels) for the first time since he and and Big Mama became a committed couple and had their first brood last year. It was music to my ears. (hot and dry most of April, now wet and cool).

12/25/00: N. Reading, MA

The Pavarottis* and the Christmas Visitor

*Family of Crows who have been coming to the yard for a few years. The Alpha Crow is Pavarotti.  His mate is Big Mama.

It was frigid - minus degree windchills.  It was also a holiday, so not necessary for me to rise at 6AM to feed birds and go to work.  At 9AM I woke to a Crow shriek.  I thought, "They must be starved, it's so late."  They usually eat at 7:30AM.  I ran outside slinging suet, flinging rolls, peanuts and deli ends.

Pigeons, Starlings, House Sparrows all descended in a frenzy.  However, the Crows were nowhere to be seen.  I did hear Pavarotti call from a distance but he and his clan did not show in the yard.  "Stupid Crows, where are they?  Dumbbells!" The food was fast disappearing.

Then I thought, something must be wrong.  Visions of a Christmas Crow funeral wailed in my head.  A happier thought was that they were tucked into evergreens eating their cache.

All of a sudden a bolt shot into the yard.  Birds and squirrels scattered in panic.  The squirrel in the covered squirrel feeding box froze.  Its eyes glazed over as if had died.  The hawk missed a catch and flew past the window to another part of the yard.  Its wings were heavily barred.  "Must be our Sharpie," I thought.

My friend spotted the hawk in the Maple tree.  "It's HUGE!"  I said, "Oh, it's just the Sharpie all puffed out because of the cold.  It sat in the Maple for a moment and took off.  The short RED tail flashed in the morning sun.  A RED-TAIL IN THE YARD!!!  I was in heaven.

No one dared to come back into the yard for a good 15 minutes.  Slowly, they made their appearances:  Chickadees, Jays, Starlings and then the Crows!  The 9AM shriek must have been  a distress call when one of the Pavarottis saw the Red-Tail.  There is always a smart reason behind what we see as "dumb" Crow behavior.  They waited until after the hawk attack, then came into feed. ( )

Melrose, Massachusetts: June 1999

Location_Description: Open muddy, grassy area used for Little League baseball games and elementary school playground, surrounded by trees and a parking lot.

Behavior: One large American crow was poking his head inside a small discarded Doritos bag, ostensibly to get a snack. Each time he stuck his head inside the opening the bag would move back a tiny amount, so it looks like he couldn't get at the contents inside. He (I'll use he but I don't know what gender the crow was) stepped to the side and examined the bag for a few moments, then walked towards the closed end and lifted it up with his beak, flying into the air a short distance, thus pointing the open end of the bag to the ground and letting the contents spill out onto the ground. The crow then discarded the bag (remarkably close to a trash can!) and flew back to eat the Doritos on the ground.

Comments: I was quite fascinated watching this. Fortunately there are a lot of crows where I live, in a woody suburb, and they're always fun to watch. (Andrew Dolan)

North Redding, Massachusetts: Martch 18, 2000

This happened this morning after a wonderful ground pork, hard boiled egg breakfast. It was near zero windchill last night and the Pavs were hungry this morning. Other crows were hungry too, because a huge fight broke out between the Pavs and another Trio that were trying to break into the breakfast room. They didn't have a chance.

9:30 am - sunny, snow melting but cold. As I was cleaning up the meat mess getting ready for my cat to come outside, I heard this strange sound. The I saw the Pav sitting in the apple tree. He was bowing, clacking his beak, rattling and saying a soft cu-koo. I've heard him go "ooo-ooo-ooo" (one tone) before, but this was a high note on the "cu" and a lower note on the "koo" (like a cuckoo clock).

I looked at the Ash tree and two of his cohorts were sitting together up there. I think he was calling to them - one of them must have been Big Mama (name changed from Bubbles). After a few of his cu-koos, I immitated a cu-koo and he said "cu-koo" seemingly back. This happened twice. Finally he stopped and had a huge wing stretch. The other two in the Ash tree flew off and he followed.

Lawrence Kilham writes in "The American Crow and Common Raven" (pg. 57-58): "Cu-koos are one of the more distinctive of crow vocalizations and possibly one of the more important in terms of social bonds. Cu-koos counted in 1983, were given when the two of a pair were together...or nearly as frequently when a crow was alone...Crows appeared at times to use cu-koos as a greeting...A feature noted in all years (of research in Florida) was the way a crow might seemingly address "cu-koos" to my wife or me directly, often flying to a perch four to five meters overhead to do so. When male B, one of the tamest crows, did this on 2/20, he bowed and did bill clacks along with a "cu-koo." .... The vocalization is not limited to the south for Townsend (1927), on getting close to a crow's nest in Massachusetts, heard 'a pleasing the note of a cuckoo clock.'"

Newton & Brookline, Massachusetts: November/December 1999 & ongoing

Location_Description: Every evening, at dusk, hundreds of crows gather in trees at the same place. (The specific location is in Newton, MA along Commonwealth Avenue, near the intersection with Hammond Street, close to the Boston College campus.) This is an ordinary, residential location with a lot of trees. There is nothing special about it.

Behavior: They sit in the trees in groups and appear to be conversing.Sometimes I observe them there. Most times, though, I observe them on their way. As I drive home from work I can see crows flying westwards to what I have learned is "their spot" for early evening congregating. (Whenever I have time, I go to look for them and they are there.)

Comments: At first, I thought this was simply an "odd" occurrence. After a while, though, I realised that this happened every evening. Could they be exchanging information about what they did all day, and what they found in different places? It is quite fascinating to observe this. (Elaine Ober)

Cape Cod and Elsewhere: Submitted February 28, 2000

I am an avid crow fan. Some people check them off on their day list and go on to the next species. I always enjoy looking at them. I have carved several, so their feather patterns and arrangements are of particular interst to me. I noticed just a short time ago, what I believe to be a difference in these arrangements between individuals. Particularly in the overlap of the primary flight feathers over the tail. Two of the birds overlap left wing above right, the other three, the right over the left, when they are in the non-flight mode. The wing position is maintained while they are on the ground, and should they flap, to avoid a squirrel, or some other distraction, the wings are returned to their original positions, right over left or vice-versa, when the distraction has passed. There also seems to be a preferred side when they cock their heads to investigate my offerings. When they leave the feeding area, the rights take off with a turn in that direction, and the lefties go the other way. It is much more difficult to determine, but I think their arrival approach favors their handiness, or should that be "wingedness".

Sled dogs exhibit a left or right hand preference in their gait lead, and when racing it is always an advantage to determine which side of the gang line is preferred by each dog. This preference will cause a dog placed on his wrong side, to jump over his partner or run leaning against him. I understand horses exhibit a similar preference when jumping. (Another non-human example can be found among politicians, "Right wingers and left wingers" but perhaps that is not germane.) I suggest that handedness is not an exclusively human characteristic. Could it be common in all corvids? Could it be common in other birds too? (Could it be that I am alone too much of the time?) Ed Stokes

North Reading, Massachusetts: February 21, 2000

Thought you might be interested in this Pavarotti story. It happened in the morning (8 AM) - weather overcast and getting ready to snow - temps in the 30's.

Within the past couple of weeks, a Redtail Hawk (huge and beautiful) has been trying (note the word "trying") to harrass the Pavarotti clan. I have been fortunate enough to see a couple of mobbings. Score - Crows: 2, Redtail: 0.

This past Friday, I was putting some seed out front. I saw this huge bird perched in a tree across the street. At first I thought it was an Owl, but then I saw the hawk-like head. It was the Redtail, trying to make a pest of itself again. The Crow clan began to yap and dive at it. It would not be moved. Then Pavarotti (the Great) and another Crow perched on either side of the hawk (a very healthy distance away) and started yapping. The hawk just sat there looking bored.

THEN - Pavarotti himself (it must have been because he's the brave one) left his perch, flew up and landed right where the Redtail was perched. Horrors, I thought, the Pav will get creamed. Pavarotti then angled himself to the rear of the Redtail and gave its tail a big pull/nip. The hawk just brushed him off like a piece of lint. The hawk stayed for about 10 minutes in that spot. When I left for work, it was gone and Pavarotti and his cohort had overtaken the hawk's former perch.

Woburn, Massachusetts: January 2000

Location_Description: The area is on the edge of a residential area, boardered by Route 95, (a major divided highway), and an industrial area. Just on the other side of the highway is a major commercial area with a mall, resturants, and hotels. There are major, well traveled roads, everwhere, even through the residential area. There is also a railroad line that runs perpendicular to the highway and intersects it right about here. There are several water features in the area including small streams and cattail marshes.

Behavior: We were in the middle of a cold snap and the temperature had not gotten much above 5 degrees all day. I observed the crows from the windows of the building I work in. I am on the second floor in a two story office building, on the top of a hill, in the east section of town. It is very windy on this hill and the wind chill facture was about 40 below that day.

I am on the very edge of the industrial area that boarders a residentioal area. The trees that I see out my window behind the buildings on the other side of the street, line a residential street. I can see the last approx. 1/4 of a mile before the street passes over Route 95.

About 3:00 PM EST I noticed that there were a lot of crows flying around the trees that I could see out my window. Soon, it became apparent that hundreds of crows were heading to the trees. But they were only landing in the trees for a few seconds and then they would take off again and fly around the area. Soon a pattern developed where they would basically circle the whole hilltop area where I am, stop in the trees or on one of the flat building tops, and almost immediatly take off again. They would come over the top of my building from behind and drop slightly in the currents so if I could have opened a window, I could have reached out and grabbed one! It was like a scene from Alfed Hitchcock's movie "The Birds"!

There were hundreds, possibly even more than a thousand, crows. They continued this pattern of circling and landing and taking off almost immediatly again, and circling etc. until dusk. Then they all disappeared. Since then they have periodically come back to the area and used it normally, as a staging area, several times a week. As the weeks go by, I have noticed that there are less and less birds, and they come less and less often. But they act normally. Only on that bitter cold day did they seem so skitish and hyper.

In reading other comments on your site, I believe this is one of the staging areas for the roost that was observed at the junti {portion missing} If you would like to see the exact relationship of the two areas, and all the land and water features in between and in the area, if anyone has Microsoft Expedia Streets 98, just type in "10 State Street, Woburn, MA 01801" in the find an address feature, and it will bring you right to it. State Street is where I work. It is a short deadend street, and my building is at the end, on top of a hill. (it doesn't show topigraphical features, though). Mishawum Road is the street where the trees are that they stage in, from about University Ave to Rt. 95 (approx. 1/4 mile). The Woburn Mall is located in the blank area between Commerce Way and the large water feature on the map, right along Mishawum Road. The railroad station is right across from the Courtyard by Marriot and the tracks run perpendicular to Rt. 95, and about parrellel to the water course. If you move the map slightly, you will see Rt. 93 to the right. Go down and you will see Montvale Ave approx. 1.5 miles from the junction of Rts. 95 & 93. That is where the roost was observed.

Comments: I can only assume that the bitter cold had something to do with their behavior that day. Has anyone else noticed odd behavior in extremely cold weather? Am I right in assuming that this is probably a staging area for the roost that was listed on your site as being observed by another Woburn contributor? I have also observed other staging areas, I believe, last year, near my house, in a revegetated abandoned sand pit area. If you would like details about that area, let me know. Hope to hear from you soon. (Gerry Kehoe)

Allston, MA: January, 25 2000

A city neighborhood, near the Mass Pike and the railroad, pretty heavily populated. We've had snow a good part of the day and now it's freezing rain. There are hundreds of crows outside. People are going outside to stare, up and down the streets on every roof top and in every tree there are dozens upon dozens of crows. With large groups flying over head. Noticed them a few hours ago and the activity seems to have increased all seemingly conatained within a few block radius. Its beautifully eerie. But can some one tell me what this type of behavior indicates.

Comments: There is no apparent cause that I am aware of unless it has to do with the weather patterns. (Page Masse)

September 3, 1999: North Reading, Massachusetts, USA.

N. Reading, MA, USA: 9/3/99

Location_Description: Suburban back and front yard. 20 miles N of Boston. House and yard area less than acre. Heavily planted, including an old ash tree (the crows' favorite vantage point). Backyard area is enclosed - wood fence. Surrounding area - river and resulting wetlands.
Behavior: Pavarotti is a Crow. He (I'm pretty sure) came here last fall. I believe he is an auxilliary, and an ambitious one. I call him Pavarotti because when he "sings," he does so in a way that sounds like a cross between a loon, a turkey, a pheasant and Katherine Hepburn in "On Golden Pond" immitating a loon. The first time I heard him last November, I thought he was a pheasant. Then he kept showing up for food and doing his aria. Bill clacks included and bowing, of course. Gradually through the winter he brought his group along,knowing that he had struck gold.
They have been coming here all summer through the nesting period. They are like clockwork in the morning and sometimes in the evening. The eating part takes place only in the morning so far in the warm months.
This morning. Pavarotti arrived alone. He usually comes with 2 or 3 others. As I was putting out the food, he sat in the ash tree. He bowed and called. When I had scattered the Crows' food, I went back in to get the other birds' seed. When I went back out, he was gone. In the distance I heard loud Crow discussions. After I put out the seed, I went back into the house. I then heard the raucous group in the yard trees screaming away.
Nice guy, that Pavarotti!
Comments: Crow society. It is obvious that they are cooperative and somehow gain status. I believe Pavarotti to be the star of their show. He found the goods (and goods, they are believe me). I am a Crow feeder of the first order. Not as bad as Bernd Heinrich; however, close. Day old doughnuts, peanuts, hard boiled eggs, chicken, pork bones, cheese, leftovers, corn bread, suet in the winter.
I think the bird has gained a lot of status within his group. He seems to be a leader. But I am not sure if he is an auxilliary or a breeding male. He looked kind of browner than the rest earlier this spring. Then he molted. He now looks blacker. He may have a friend because I've seen him sitting close to another one in the morning lately.

11/19/99 - Pavarotti's Trio

This morning after I put out the food, I looked out to see all five of Pavarotti's quintet in the yard area. There were three in a low tree, all sitting next to each other in a little row. The other two were sampling delicacies on the ground.

On the tree, Pavarotti was in the center (natch), Bubbles (named by my cyber friend, Mamabeek, for Beverly Sills)was on the left of him and on his right was another.

Bubbles and Pavarotti seemed more interested in love than in eating. The third one did too! Pavarotti and Bubbles bowed to each other at various heights. This was the first time I'd ever seen mutual bowing. Mr. P. always seemed to bow to Bubbles, but Bubbles had been playing hard to get.

Then, after the bowing, Pavarotti would nibble Bubbles' ear area or allopreen her head. AND THEN - all three of them would face forward and call: CAW-CAW-CAW-CAW, with heads bobbing up and down. During this Pavarotti in the center would flare his wings and tail. Bubbles flared her tail a little during this, but less, as did the third Crow.

This little dance took place about three times. During it, no other Crows joined in or flew up to the chorus line to see what was going on. Comments: I understand from reading about the Corvids that Crows renew their bonds of love in the fall or find a partner (if young) at this time.

I believe, going on the fact that Pavarotti did not have a friend last year and the fact he was browner some of the others in early summer, that he was a juvenile.

Now I think the guy has become the main man. He's got a mate now and one (or more?) auxilliary lined up for spring. I think the three of them this morning were doing a bonding dance together. It was quite a spectacle.

11/19/99: Unseasonably warm, sunny, N. Reading, MA Pavarotti, Bubbles and a third Crow were all sitting in a line on a branch. They seemed more interested in bonding than eating. Pavarotti and Bubbles would bow to each other, then he would nibble her ear area (seriously!) Then all three of them faced forward, bobbed up and down and went CAW-CAW-CAW-CAW. Pavarotti, in the middle of the two others, flared his wings and tail. Bubbles and the other bird flared their tails a bit, but not as much as he did. Then Pavarotti and Bubbles would bow again and he'd nibble her head and all three of them would do the calling again. They did this about 3 or 4 times. The other two in his band were in the yard eating.

11/20/99: Unseasonably warm (60's) and sunny! Restaurant: my back yard. Menu: freezer-burned ground lamb and McDonald's french fries. 9:15 AM.

This morning there was a lot of flying around, calling, swooping and general excitement. I thought there must be interloper Crows as there often are this fall. However, I kept seeing three doing the swooping and calling rather than many. They were generally doing more acrobatics than eating. Pavarotti few to the ground, picked up a couple of French fries and all of a sudden, levitated up into the tree where Bubbles was. I think Bubbles had been flipping her tail feathers around. He mounted her, copulated with her and they both sort of tumbled down the tree branches, still mounted. They "fell" to the ground in back of the fence where I could not see them. In about 30 seconds, they each flew back up into the tree and the third Crow joined them.

Then the three of them flew into the yard and began gathering up French fries by the beakfull. Mind you, potatoes in general are low on their priority list unless they are French fries. They were taking the fries before the meat. They went off to cache them and came back.

Pavarotti (I'm sure it was he) came back last when the two others were on the ground. He flew in above them then did 90 degree dive down to Bubbles (must have been). Gathered up some more fries. Then they all proceeded to swoop around and call for a bit. Then it was just he (had to be) alone who kept on "crowing" and swooping back and forth. A few minutes later I could hear him in the distance doing his full fledged aria. If this were not enough, at 2:30 PM I was in the backyard. Pavarotti himself alone came back to his favorite tree, the White Ash. Did his aria and some bill clacks and snaps. He went "ooh, ooh, ooh" (gobbling sounds), as is his want and departed for the thicker forest.

One of the most interesting parts of this story for me is that the third Crow (auxiliary) was taking a part in it all (Best Crow)!


August 21, 1999. Gloucester, Massachussetts, U.S.A.
In my backyard in Gloucester,Ma. I have several American crows and a few Fish crows that visit in a morning ritual. At about 5:30-6 AM, they start their cawing and kwoking. We usually throw left over bread and other goodies for them, but one morning we did not have anything to leave them. When I wake up, I put the shades up before leaving. Just as I was,I heard footsteps on the roof outside my window. I looked out from back inside, and 2 crows were on the roof outside my window looking in. Then I go to leave and 1 was in the tree low by my back door and 2 more were on a high hedge near my truck. So I brought them some bread,etc and left it on the rock in the yard. A week later the same behavior was observed almost exactly. The Fish crows seem to hang and go with the flow of the American crows. They have a strange habit of hovering in the breeze and dropping fast to try for fish. Also they drop clams and Fiddler crabs from a lamp post to break the shells. The American crows seem to do similar things on the waterfront. Al P


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