In the video above, two of the chicks are taking the first serious steps toward learning to fly. As their smaller nestmates watch in curiosity, one after the other steps out of the circle of the nest onto the slightly higher branches where the parents perched when they visited. There, facing into the westerly wind, they flap their wings. One of them, the one on the right, manages to achieve a few inches of elevation, and to land safely. But their progress has drawn the attention of the American Crows. Although much reduced in numbers compared to last year, they remain a force. As the freeze frame in the video shows, one of the crows strafes the chicks with its beak inches away.
Matters soon became more ominous. Flapping your wings is one thing. Flying is another. When I arrived in the afternoon the day after this video, I saw only two chicks in the nest. Shortly, another bird watcher, Rosemary, arrived and told me that early this morning, one of the chicks, the biggest, had been flapping its wings on a branch just outside the nest, and rising a foot or two in the air. Then a sudden gust of wind came up while it was aloft and blew it off the tree. Some crows had been watching, and dove on it, pecking it from all sides, and driving it on the ground some hundred yards away from its home tree. Another observer approached and said he had also seen the incident. “It was a murder of crows,” he told me. They tried to follow the bird but lost it in the underbrush.
As we were watching, another observer passed and told us that a chick had got out of the nest earlier in the afternoon and was hiding right now in a small tree near the bottom of the nest tree. I checked it out, and indeed, one of the chicks was there, barely visible in the thorny foliage. This was the second chick missing from the nest. It was a bit smaller than the first. Crows were stalking it nearby.
Rosemary and I watched the mom and dad kites flying in the vicinity, fighting off harassing crows. Then Rosemary pointed up into a nearby tree, and exclaimed, “The chick, it’s the chick!” I got the camera on it. It had the cinnamon bib of a juvenile. No doubt. The first chick, lost in the underbrush last night, had managed to fly to a high branch in this tree, about a hundred yards away from the nest tree.
After a while a parent kite approached the chick, hovering over it as if thinking to pick it up. But the chick got frightened and in any case was too big to carry. The parent and chick perched on branches some feet apart. The chick tried to approach the parent but only managed to get to a lower branch.
When the parent flew off, two crows attacked and physically knocked the chick down to a lower branch yet, where the crows had a harder time getting to it.
Meanwhile the second chick had worked its way to the top of the small thorny tree, and from there it hopped and fluttered to the ground, and ran for cover in some low bushes.
Rosemary saw that one of its eyes was injured, either from a crow or from the dense foliage where it had hid. With that it was time to intervene. Rosemary phoned Lindsay Wildlife Hospital and got the OK to bring the chick in. She had a blanket in her car, and I had a plastic box with lid. Between us we managed to get the chick out of the bush and into the box.
Rosemary drove it to Walnut Creek, and Lindsay accepted it. We have not heard how serious the eye injury is and what Lindsay plans to do with the bird. Ordinarily, Lindsay volunteers will attempt to put the bird back in the nest where it came from, or as close as practical.
The two chicks left in the nest were pecking at each other with a degree of hostility I had not seen before.
The next morning (Thursday) I could not at first see the first chick that had got blown out of the nest. Two chicks remained in the nest. Then I heard a chick call in a tree very near the nest tree, and then the raucous call of crows. The first chick had managed to get up and perch in this tree, and the crows now drove it out. It flew without skill or direction, and the crows mobbed it and forced it down into the bushes. I checked on it, and it appeared unharmed. I left it alone.
An hour later I returned to find that this chick had managed to get back up into the tree where we had last seen it yesterday evening. Again the crows body-slammed it and knocked it to a lower branch, where it was well concealed. As long as it stayed there it was safe from the marauders. Its parents were near and could hear its call. Hopefully they will find a way to feed it. The two chicks left in the nest were eating something and seemed OK.
There are signs that the parents are building a second nest atop a tree about two hundred yards away.