Owl Defies Crows

As if loose dogs and hawks weren’t enough, the Burrowing Owl in the nature area on the north side of the park had to face a gang of four American Crows Saturday morning. As in the challenge by the Cooper’s Hawk on January 4, the owl prevailed. It flew in the face of the gang leader, backed it off, and persuaded the whole crew to go bother somebody else. An appreciative audience of human park visitors watched the contest and applauded the winner. (I’ve silenced the sound track, filled with human commentary.)

As in the faceoff with the hawk, the owl’s attack happened very quickly. The owl bared its bill wide open, spread its wings large, and charged forward, all in about a tenth of a second — three digital image frames out of 30 per second. For that instant, the owl turned from a sweet-looking cuddly pet into a ferocious-looking raptor. And back again. That sequence in the video is shown in slow motion. Here are the three action frames:

Burrowing Owl backs off American Crow (1)
Burrowing Owl backs off American Crow (2)
Burrowing Owl backs off American Crow (3)
Moments later, owl is calm, but has a “Don’t mess with me” look.

The confrontation didn’t end with this flash of open hostilities. The crow returned, and there followed an elaborate dance where the crow alternately pretended just to be foraging for snacks in the grass, and then posed as if to stab the owl with its beak and put an end to it. However, the owl was not intimidated, even when the crow loomed high above it. Sometimes it just looked at the crow as if to say, “You’re bluffing.” At other times the owl turned its back or ambled a few steps away as if to say, “You’re boring me.” The whole show took close to twenty minutes, and I’ve boiled it down to less than four. The crows then flew off and didn’t come back during the two hours or so that I spent watching. The crows have a strong presence further south in the park, and I rarely see them this far north. Several Berkeley park visitors who stopped to watch commented that the crow population in the city is out of bounds this year.

Also out of bounds, literally, was a medium size black dog that charged into the nature area and attacked a Great Egret that had settled there. The egret took flight. The dog’s owner, up in the dog park on the northern ridge, was stuck in the delusion that he had voice control over the animal; the dog paid no more attention to the man’s calls than to the signposts that prohibit human and dog from entering this area. Earlier I saw another dog owner take his two dogs off leash through the entire nature area from west to east. The signs that Parks management recently installed are not effective. Where is the partition fence that management has been promising for four months now?

Among the fifty or so park visitors who stopped by and had a look at the owl in my camera screen and then in the grass with their sharp eyes (or not), was this multifamily group who took cellphone videos and made sure that their kids got to see the owl as well. That’s very important. Quite a few park visitors, including this group, told me that they had heard about the owls and seen the signs but never ever seen a live owl before right now.

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