The calls of crows may be heard most anytime here in these Kickapoo mountains. They are probably the bird that's most commonly seen and heard here, especially during the winter. These busy, black free-spirits of the bird world make the bleak winter landscape far more interesting.
There are several species of birds in the family of crows in North America. They include the American and fish crows, ravens, jays and magpies. Throughout history, these birds have been among the most persecuted and scrutinized, in part because of their mischievous nature. They are very curious, and this often gets them into trouble. They are also very opportunistic, and are mother nature's clean up crew. If it's edible, they will eat it; nothing is off limits. Their daily diet may vary from grain and berries to fish or roadkill. You never know what may be in their beaks as they fly off. Roadside litter may provide them with a meal of apple cores, candy, or a half-eaten sandwich.
Whenever I spend time in the Western states, I take the opportunity to watch magpies. In the winter, a few of them may move east of the Rockies, but I've never been lucky enough to see one here in the Midwest. The magpie is about twice the size of a blue jay, or half as big as a crow. He is a striking contrast of black and white and iridescent blue-green. His most visible characteristic may be his long, shiny black tail. His call is equally striking: a rapid, harsh quig-quig-quiq, quiq-quig!
Like other crows, magpies are quick to sound an alarm whenever there is a predator around. All the small birds know and trust the alarm calls of crows and jays. To be ready whenever there is a predator nearby, can save their lives. This service that crows and jays perform for other wildlife far outweighs any threat they might pose.
Magpies and other crows build their nests with sticks. In the case of magpies, it may be the most elaborate stick structure in North America. The great nest may be built around the top of a small tree, fence post, or utility pole, and could range from the size of an easy chair to as large as a Volkswagon Beetle. Deep inside this large sphere of sticks, the magpie will lay her eggs and raise her young. The huge nest is probably the most obvious of all wild birds nests. It is in keeping with other characteristics of the magpie - the bold, unmistakeable appearance, loud call, and confrontational attitude that bring the magpie renown.
This past week we have been blessed with unseasonably warm weather, and temperatures in the low 50s. It felt like nature's Christmas gift to me - relief from making so many trips to the wood stove.
Here's hoping that everyone has a promising New Year, and that we all let a little nature into our lives in each day to come!
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