Perched high up in the leafless trees there was a band of American Crows. They seemed wary and worried, looking around like in all directions, carefully watching every movement around them. It did not take long to figure out what had them on the edge. A Merlin was perched in a nearby tree. Suddenly the Merlin took off on what looked like a patrol – sort of just checking things out. But the crows did not take any chances. The whole flock took off simultaneously and started flying back and forth over the tree grove making a lot of noise. Once the Merlin landed in a tree again, the crows settled down and landed as well. One would think that the cows would find safety in their numbers or that they would figure out that they far too large for a Merlin to catch, after all they are about equal in size. But, nope. These fellas were real chickens.
It was a late sunny afternoon down at the Whitemud park and I noticed that a lot of crows were flying around, all seemingly heading in the same direction.It turns out that these were crows on a mission. The were all heading to a grove of dead trees for their night roost. A crow night roost is basically a corvid slumber party. The crows were pretty mellow with only the occasional squawk and scuffle disturbing the peace. I can see that there could be numerous benefits to such a corvid sleeping party. Perhaps one of the more obvious benefit is safety in numbers. There are more eyeballs to keep watch for predators at night of the crows roos together. It would be interesting the come back to this location to see if they use the same roost location every day (I suspect that might) or come back in early in the morning to see if they are still there.
The sun was out today and by noon is was getting quite hot. Going birding at noon on a hot day is probably not the best timing, but sometimes you just have to take what you get. As we were about to enter the shaded forest around the creek I noticed a crow in a tall snag. It was not moving and was perched in peculiar posture. As I zoomed in on it it still did not move. I shot several pictures of it and it was completely frozen, with its head turned up and its bill slightly open. It almost looked as if it was panting, except I was not able to see any panting motion. Once I came home I did some research. My hunch was that it could have been a form of thermoregulation to cool down and avoid overheating. Apparently birds do pant to keep cool and get rid of excess heat. The behaviour is referred to as gulag fluttering where the bird rapidly flaps membranes below the bill to increase evaporative cooling. Looking at videos of gulag fluttering confirms that the beak is partially open the way the crow had it and one can usually see the fluttering in the throat right below the beak. While it is possible that this crow was doing gulag fluttering I did not see the fluttering movement of the skin. I was quite far away though and, at the time, I did not know to look for it.