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January 29th 2010    Tim Candler

    I often think Crows just enjoy chasing bigger birds.  It's their opportunity to be Crows, show off a little, make a noise.   And perhaps the big bird is carrying a morsel.   Yet Crows are quiet around Buzzards, instead they'll sometimes follow Buzzards, and maybe there is something rotting and once on the ground, Buzzard's are cumbersome and slow and fun to tease.

    I have seen young Crows chase a Merlin.   It was a warm weather moment.  And I was nervous for Crows, because Merlin's have glass eyes and are ruthless and are quite able to make a meal of a Crow.   So I was happier when the Merlin flew off and young Crows returned to their own world of tall trees and graveyards and perhaps to the criticism of wiser heads.

    Crows cheerfully chase Redtailed Hawks.  They'll gather and call, and the more enthusiastic amongst them will  flap around a gliding Redtail, while others yell encouragement from sidelines.   A pep rally for the benefit of union, I always think.  And a Redtail knows that Crows are of short attention span, so he'll find the protection of a dense tree where he'll sit quietly until Crows choose to celebrate elsewhere.

      In winter a Merlin cannot be mistaken for a Redtail.  A Merlin's wings cut the air and sometimes you can hear it.   He likes to fly low and fast, hugging the ground.   And he has a white spot on his underside that I always have to stare at because that's the last thing many birds see.   Then when a Merlin flies high he becomes a silhouette, almost like a Swallow that has mated with a lonely and silent Seagull.   But a Merlin does not hang in the air like a Buzzard or like a seagull, he is a moving and restless thing because usually he is angry before he is curious. 

    I used to think it more likely that Crows who chase Merlins do so as a result of mistaking Merlins for Redtails.   Which would be a reasonable conclusion for a Crow to jump for in summer when movement and sinister intent are so easily concealed by color and foliage and hubbub.  

    This morning our Barred Owl spent time along the fence-line.   We watched him fly low across the field, as a Merlin likes to.  He paused to stare from fence posts as a Merlin likes to.  Cold wind ruffled his feathers, as it ruffles a Merlin's feather. 

     When Crows finally woke, they came in suddenly from tall trees, and they chased the Barred owl round the barn.   Nor was there any fun in it for Crows.  Almost as though all other chasing had been practice, and I worried for the Barred Owl because this morning Crows flew like Merlins and they had murder in mind.   But he outwitted Crows, because soon he was back along the fence-line while they searched for him in the trees beyond the barn.

    I guess he is the ghost found by Crows in memories of dark nights made wretched by a marauder.  I guess he is dangerous.  And even though our Barred Owl's eyes have no glass in them that I can see, more likely Crows are wiser than I.   

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