Family Hour in Seattle: Squirrels and Crows

Warning. This post has nothing to do with geology.

It has been a busy hour for families in my neighborhood. For the past ten minutes or so, I have been watching a strange little manifestation of urban flight as a family moved up the block in what appears to be a case of escaping a bad situation. I first noticed the migration when I saw a gray squirrel trotting along the telephone wires across from our house. From my desk, I could see that the squirrel carried something large in its mouth, but I wasn’t quick enough to get out my binoculars before it disappeared into a dense spruce.

Twenty seconds later, I saw the squirrel again, headed in the opposite direction across the wire. This time it climbed up a pine, about thirty feet south of the spruce. I had noticed squirrels going into this tree over the past few weeks and figured it harbored a nest. In a half a minute, the squirrel descended and leapt onto the wire. This time I had the binoculars out and could see that she was carrying a baby squirrel, one small arm extended out over mom’s head. Again, she climbed the spruce and vanished in the foliage.

She proceeded to carry over two more youngsters. Each time she seemed to be in a hurry, moving quickly over the wire and only pausing periodically. When she stopped (I know she was a she because I could see nipples), she looked like she was catching her breath. Now she is gone, apparently having moved all of her kids.

What prompted her move? A mammalogist I know speculated that some body or some thing had disturbed her nest. Curiously, we also have a nest of Cooper’s Hawks on our block. They live in a huge Douglas fir down the block. I have also been watching and hearing them. The youngsters, like so many, are easy to tell because they have a whiny sort of call, which I find appealing. The hawks have definitely been causing havoc amongst the other, wilder residents.

Last week, I watched one of the beautiful long-tailed birds sitting high in a Doug fir in our yard eating a smaller bird. I couldn’t see who had become breakfast, but as the hawk bent over and grabbed at the meal in its talons little feathers would flutter down.

A second possibility for the move suggested themselves five minutes or so after the squirrel’s exodus. Two crows landed on the wire above the squirrel’s travel route. They stood a few inches apart before one of them shimmied over and began to use its beak to pick at the neck and head of its neighbor. The one being pecked had that head down look I have when I am getting my neck scratched. AAAH, that feels good.

Crows are known predators and scavengers of other birds and squirrels. In fact, they often get blamed for much urban wildlife depredation, mostly because they operate during the day and get seen with their meals, whereas other carnivores, such as raccoons, generally do their work at night. I know there are raccoons in the area as I saw a large one across the street during the day a few weeks back.

I won’t speculate as to who caused the move. It was fun to watch. And in just a few more weeks, those young squirrels will be on their own, without mom’s protection. Such is the life for all of us.

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