Discovering Wild Birds in Seattle’s University District

American crows. Photo by cuatrok77 / Wikimedia Commons.

If it were not for the COVID-19 virus, I would have missed seeing the most amazing wild bird interaction this morning. Normally I would not be having a cup of coffee on my front porch at 10 a.m. on a Monday. I would be doing something more “useful”… like going to work.

But, today I was enjoying the sunshine and 60-degree weather and having my coffee on the front porch in my U District neighborhood.

I had been musing about an unusual scenario involving the two crows I feed daily. I usually traipse out with a bowl of dry cat food or leftovers in the mid-morning. Per the University of Washington world-famous crow researcher Dr. John Marzluff, dry cat food is okay for crows, and also unsalted peanuts in the shell—”but not too much at once.” (He and I communicate via email when I have local crow questions.)

I have been feeding and enjoying a pair of crows for several years. I’m not sure if they are the same pair every year, but they do mate for life. I am teaching them to say “good morning”… but so far they haven’t quite gotten it. About a month ago, there was a troubling incident when I brought out breakfast, only to see them flying overhead, very vocal and clearly alarmed. About that moment, much to my shock, a huge bird of prey flew directly over my head with an EGG in its beak. The crows followed the juvenile bald eagle to a tall fir tree, where it landed. The dive bombing continued for several minutes, but eventually the crows gave up and came on over for  breakfast. I felt really bad about the loss of their egg… but there wasn’t anything to be done.

This morning one of my crows was sitting up at the very top of a tall fir tree a couple houses away. Usually I make a loud “clucking” sound when I bring out the food. After I clucked and set the breakfast down today, it did not come to my yard to eat, which was very unusual. The crow just stayed at the top of the nearby evergreen tree. I wondered if it might be on the lookout—perhaps protecting a nearby nest. I went back to the kitchen for my second cup of coffee.

An American crow attacks a bald eagle. Photo by Shutterstock.

When I stepped back out on the porch to resume my sunbathing, I saw an incredible sight. Two huge bald eagles were circling above my street on the air currents. Dive-bombing them relentlessly was one small (in comparison) crow. It came at them from above, over and over again, no doubt aware of the talons beneath the huge birds. This dance went on for many minutes. The eagles were gradually moving farther south and higher in the air. After a few minutes I lost track of one eagle and watched the crow slowly chase the second huge bird farther and farther south, beyond Blessed Sacrament Cathedral.

After they were out of sight, I glanced up high and saw a crow using the same tactic on the second eagle, which had reappeared higher above my house. Again, the dive-bombing went on for several minutes while THIS eagle was pushed higher and farther east, toward and beyond the Ave.

A few minutes later, after neither eagle was in view, two crows headed to a couple of tall evergreen trees just to the north of my house. From previous observation on the egg-stealing day, I had concluded that this is where their nest is. A moment later, one appeared in my yard for a few bites of dry cat kibble, like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

I am thinking of teaching him to say “good job” rather than “good morning.”

In spite of the COVID-19 constraints we are under these days, trying to stay home and safe and well, I am finding that this slower paced life is opening me up to some amazing experiences—both with the people near me and the natural world around me. I find myself actually appreciating the chance to experience life and events at a slower pace, and on a deeper level.

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