Monique Keiran: There's COVID, then there's corvid

The social-engineering experiment we’ve been engaged in since March continues. To date, both the initial phase of restrictions and the first stage of their easing have gone well on Vancouver Island. Caseloads remain low.

That could change. The up-to-two-week lag between possible exposure to the virus and symptoms of illness means each small step in re-opening is followed by watchful waiting.

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Some people are taking the measured approach to heart and continue to keep their distance from others. And, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, others have decided to just do whatever they want, whatever the potential costs. Their attitude seems to be, “The pubs are open, so — whatever!”

Last month, I wrote about backyard critters’ springtime goings-on. Let’s revisit those neighbours and see how they’ve managed their physical-distancing preferences since then.

Family Bushtit didn’t make it. One morning, we found their pouch-like nest ripped in two. The remains contained pillows of grey, brown-striped and bluish feathers but no sign of chicks.

Neither Raccoon nor Cat killed them. Even Rat is too heavy for the thin, whippy maple branch the nest was anchored on. We have reason to believe Crow breakfasted on the bushtit babies.

Crow is nesting at the top of a nearby evergreen tree that provides a good view of most neighbourhood activity.

As with all members of the crow-raven-jay family, Crow is a smart bird. Its intelligence ranks higher than most bird brains.

But among birds, Crow can be a bit of a schoolyard bully. It steals other bird’s lunch money — or eats them for lunch…whatever! Crow would be the person who travels to a COVID-19-rife area, doesn’t self-isolate on return to B.C., and infects others. It’s the aggressive, self-entitled young woman in Mount Douglas Park who, with her friend and two unleashed large dogs, blocks the trail, then verbally attacks other hikers when they don’t jump out of her way. It’s the mask-less person who elbows past you at the grocery store, then sneezes.

Predator, scavenger and opportunist, Crow readily disregards physical-distancing boundaries between it and a snack. It’ll mob ravens and eagles, and picks on cats and dogs for entertainment.

But Crow plays a vital role in natural ecosystems. We may not like it preying on songbirds, but it behaves according to its nature. After all, Crow has to feed its family, too.

Family Bushtit likely was struck down by corvid.

Ma Robin never did get the hang of windows and glass. Every other day, she left new feather smudges, bird snot and poop on the window by her nest.

Two of her three chicks took after her. Early one morning, they launched according to their mom’s flight manual, hit the window, then followed her calls into the neighbour’s yard.

Like many youngest offspring after their older siblings leave home, Chick No. 3 settled comfortably into the now-spacious nest, perhaps realizing it was onto a good thing.

However, room service deteriorated. By day’s end, hunger drove No. 3 to seek food and fortune. Unlike the other two, it avoided the window.

Then a new robin family moved in, and the cycle began again.

Mom 2.0 is more serene than her predecessor. She watches us calmly as we peer at her through the glass. She fusses briefly early each morning, then settles in for the day.

Mind you, Raccoon, Cat and Rat, which poked around daily when Ma Robin lived there, haven’t come by once during Mom 2.0’s time.

Crow did instead. When that happened, Mom 2.0 goes nuts.

Nature Boy and I chased Crow away a few times.

Crow learned to watch our movements. Two days after Mom 2.0’s first baby hatched, Crow brought her own kids around. In 15 seconds, they’d emptied the nest.

A couple of weeks have passed, and Mom 2.0 is trying again. Her chances at raising a brood are not good. She may have forgotten about Crow, but you can be certain Crow — still smart, still roosting high in the Douglas-fir — remembers eating fresh Robin omelet and pullet for breakfast.

There will always be Crows.

Fortunately for songbirds and for us, crows have abundant choices and sources for other food. Otherwise, we’d have far fewer songbirds and many more corvid cold cases on the island.

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