JLS (jlsjlsjls) wrote,

Life and death in the courtyard

Witnessed two first-time-for-me events in our little courtyard wildlife theatre recently.

A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of seeing a jackrabbit prepare and take a dustbatch ... it scratched up some bare earth near one of the scrapes until it had a quantity of soil in the proper dusty consistency, then flipped onto its back and wriggled in eyes-closed bliss. The squirming got so ecstatically vigorous that it actually propelled itself out of the bath and down the slope onto the grass ... the sudden doubletake at the texture change and leaping to the feet was hilarious.

This morning, while in the kitchen, I heard a racket that sounded like the usual territory "quacking" of the squirrels (a squirrel can get quite loud when it's declaring itself king of the courtyard) ... going into the bedroom to the open window, and thus hearing more clearly, it didn't sound quite right. Looked out and no visible squirrels in the tree (they like to be up high when they're doing this ... rulers over all they can see and all that), looked down and saw a crow busy with something on the ground. Then a tiny pale-furred leg kicked out from under it and I realized that the crow had found and was killing a very young baby jackrabbit ... the noise I'd heard was its screams (the crow wasn't uttering a sound). Figures ... first time I've seen one of the really little ones and it's somebody's dinner. Considering that the species doesn't have any specialized adaptations for this kind of work, the crow managed to finish the job fairly quickly. And then I got to witness intelligent bird brains at work. After pulling away fur and grabbing a couple of quick nibbles, the crow smoothed the grass over the corpse, moved several metres away, and began the usual nonchalent checking-the-grass-for-dinner routine in its new location. I soon saw why ... the racket was bound to have attracted competitive attention and within a minute or two a flock of magpies swooped in, some perching in the tree, some on the ground, and all closely shadowing the crow who was careful to stay well clear of its stash and direct all its interest in the opposite direction. After the magpies finally gave up and left, the crow waited a few minutes more and then went back to its hidden meal, but kept repeating the decoy move away after every few bites (magpies, being near cousins of crows, are more than smart enough to know about decoying and could come back to doublecheck). A couple of times the crow also moved the jackrabbit a few feet to a new location ... after all, if it kept avoiding the same spot, that could trigger a returned magpie's curiosity as well. After about a half hour of alternating feeding and decoying, the crow then started cawing the assembly call ... something I usually only hear in the late afternoon when the family is being gathered together from their separate foragings at the end of the day. Three more crows soon made an appearance (presumably the mate and near-grown youngsters of this year) and were invited to enjoy the feast. Dinner was relocated, "ignored" and then returned to several times by all until I could no longer see any trace of remains in the grass ... once it was down to smaller bits, those were carried off and presumably cached for later.

As I only see the jackrabbit youngsters appear out in the open when they're at the gangly "teenager" stage, I did a little online research: a nursing female jackrabbit leaves her young scattered in separate hiding places while she's off feeding ... under vegetation cover in a depression or scrape in the ground. Presumably this particular youngster had been stashed under the tree ... normally a sufficient protection against aerial hunters in flight, but this particular tree happens to be an "official" crow family assembly point this summer, and their favourite branch is well below the crown with a pretty clear view of the ground below.

All part of the cycle ...
Tags: wildlife

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