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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Prospect Park sounds

A Murder of Crows

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Prospect Park is a surprisingly quiet place considering that it is in the center of Brooklyn. Several years after I began birding I became more aware of the natural sounds around me. Sometimes I am able to filter out the background, human generated noises such as overflying jets or distant sirens. I find myself stepping around leaves, twigs and other detritus so that I can keep my focus on the sound of the moment. Today it was nearly impossible to walk quietly in the park. The partially melted, then refrozen snowfall created a crust of cracking, glass ice and crunchy, styrofoam snow. Park maintenance vehicles left narrow, nearly dry tracks on some of the paths and I found myself walking, as if on a balance beam, within these noiseless trails.

There are several Black Walnut trees in the park and I’ve learned to recognize the sound of a squirrel eating one of the nuts. It’s a sawing noise, like a rasp moving back and forth, quickly, in short strokes, across a piece of steel. I was curious about how they tasted as squirrels will expend a lot of time and energy to open one. Beneath one of the trees I found a pale green, freshly fallen tennis ball-sized fruit and stuck it in my coat pocket. At home I peeled away the hand-staining pulp and let the nut dry for two or three weeks. I assumed that it would be easy to open with a nutcracker. It was actually impossible. I took out my tool kit, grabbed a ball-peen hammer, placed the walnut on a brick and slammed it. It took several whacks just to get a small crack in it. A large pair of vise-grips finished the job. How did it taste? It was alright, but not worth a 20 minute struggle.

Today, while walking down Lookout Hill road, I heard a sound that has been missing from the park for a few years. It was the raucous yammering of a large flock of American Crows. Large crow flocks used to be a constant presence in Prospect Park but their numbers plummeted, possibly related to West Nile. Crows usually mob birds of prey so I thought that there was a possibility that a hawk or owl was farther up the hill. I backtracked and walked to the tiny meadow at the top of Lookout Hill. I was very surprised to see the top of an oak tree filled with crows. I counted 29 individuals. They weren’t chasing a bird of prey but rather talking among themselves. I sat down to watch them. There may have been two distinct families present as they kept splitting their numbers between two trees despite the fact that they could have all easily fit in one tree. Occasionally they would all lift off, fly out over the south edge of Lookout Hill then return to the two trees. I tried to figure out if there was any particular leader or signal for the move but they didn’t stay very long. After about 15 minutes the murder of crows lifted off and headed in a southerly direction.

-Click here for more collective nouns for birds-

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Prospect Park, 12/10/2005
Great Blue Heron (Flying across Nethermead towards pools.)
Bufflehead (1, Upper pool.)
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow (29, Lookout Hill.)
Black-capped Chickadee (Fairly common, Breeze Hill and other.)
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1, Breeze Hill.)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2, Breeze Hill. 2, near Picnic House.)
Hermit Thrush (Breeze Hill.)
Northern Mockingbird (5th Street.)
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
Chipping Sparrow (1, Breeze Hill feeders.)
Fox Sparrow (2, Vale of Cashmere. 6, Nethermead Arches.)
White-throated Sparrow (Common.)
Dark-eyed Junco (Fairly common.)
Red-winged Blackbird
American Goldfinch (Fairly common, Breeze Hill and other.)


jun said...

thanks for nice pics. why are crows a murder ? are they bothering people a lot ?

Rob J. said...

I do not know the origins of the term "Murder of Crows". There are many odd collective nouns for birds and this is a common one for crows. See the link at the end of my report.

jun said...

thanks for your instruction. haha, i did't know the "Murder of Crows" was one of terms at all. in japan, there are a lot of crows in big cities such as tokyo and osaka. they like eating the garbage and breed in large parks, trees lining a street and sometimes make troubles to people.

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