After two days of hard rain with a promise of a sunny day last Wednesday in southeastern Idaho, I headed out to Mud Lake for some wildlife viewing and I ran straight into a murder. Not a crime, but a group of several hundred American crows. A group of crows are called a “murder,” and it was a large one, with crows working several harvested fields of field corn that had been cut and chopped into cattle feed.
In the last few years, corn silage has grown in popularity in the Upper Snake River Valley and the crows are taking advantage of that food source. Harvest time of the corn coincides with the migration of crows, attracting hundreds of them to the Mud Lake area.
While driving along the canal that leads to the South Boat Ramp on Mud Lake, I watched a steady stream of crows flying from the fields to stop at the canal for a drink. Then, they would fly to a fence or an irrigation pivot for a brief rest, then land on the road to pick through the gravel. Crows need the right sized pebbles for their gizzard to grind up the corn as part of their digestive process.
While watching the crows, I heard a high-pitched racket from a murder of six crows as they chased a Northern Harrier who had captured a rodent. They wanted some meat to go with their veggies, but they were not fast enough or agile enough to steal it from the raptor.
As I traveled along the canal toward Mud Lake, I saw nine family groups of Pied-billed grebes diving and catching small perch. It appeared they were in the process of migrating to the south. Then I ran into a lone Belted Kingfisher who had also captured its breakfast and was drying itself off while watching for another unlucky fish.
Nearing the lake, I noticed a white cloud of birds to the west. Looking through my binocs, I discovered they were hundreds of American white pelicans riding the mid-morning thermals. Other, smaller pods were also leaving the shallows of the lake to join the larger pod. I watched and photographed them until they had soared high enough I could no longer see them. What a beautiful sight to witness as they probably headed south during their October migration.
On the way back from the lake, I again watched the kingfisher harvest a fish; watched the grebes also snag a snack while under water and watched two Red-tailed hawks and a Swainson’s hawk harvest voles. The seven-mile trip from Highway 33 to the south side of Mud Lake and back had taken me two and a half hours which was payment enough for the two days of rain that we have had. The murder of crows had disappeared, leaving the hawks to harvest some careless rodents.
Back on Highway 33, I saw a brave farmer had decided it was dry enough to cut some hay. With no rain predicted for the next seven days, he probably thought it would give him enough time to have it baled before the next rain, or snow, would fall.
The freshly cut hay was also exposing new hunting grounds for the raptors. On a pivot line, 22 hawks were roosting, waiting for a scampering rodent to try to make it from the newly-swathed hay to some kind of cover. I did not stop as I needed to get home for an appointment, but another trip is warranted to see what other migrations I can find.
What a marvelous world we live in – I don’t know who named a flock of crows a “murder,” but I sure enjoyed watching it. Have a great and a safe week. Be careful out in the wilds as a lot of hunting seasons will open in the next few days and there will be a lot of people in the woods.
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