Well, Andy's birds are a snap to find, and are enlivening the neighborhood depicted in the shot above. Jones, who is the ornithologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, came across these Fish Crows in a quiet well treed east side Cleveland neighborhood, Shaker Heights. He broke the news yesterday, and Bernie Master and I were in the car and headed north bright and early this morning. The crows were easy to find; we saw them as soon as we turned onto the street in the photo, and they put on a show the entire time we were there.
Fish Crows are primarily birds of the immediate vicinity of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, but they've been undergoing pronounced range expansions into the interior U.S. in recent decades. Until they invaded the north shore of Lake Erie 20 or so years ago in the vicinity of Point Pelee, Ontario, Canada (where they are still rare), the Fish Crow was endemic to the United States. They've been steadily spreading along larger river systems - I saw them along the Shenandoah River in Virginia two weeks ago, where they are relatively recent colonizers - and are making their way into the Great Lakes, such as along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. CLICK HERE for a 2010 blog post that I made about Fish Crows, predicting (I was hardly unique in this) their eventual appearance in Ohio. That post also has more detailed distribution information.
CLICK HERE to hear a recording of Fish Crow.
But there is a difference between the two species that involves the primary flight feathers, and this character can be seen in the above photo. The primaries are numbered, starting with the shortest foremost feather at the leading edge of the outer wing. It is "P10", and from there the primaries are labeled "P9", "P8" and so on as one moves along the feathers towards the rear edge of the wing. In the American Crow, P5 is noticeably longer than P9. In Fish Crow, P5 is about the same length or shorter than P9.
Photo: Bernie Master
We saw the birds collect a number of twigs and transport them to the nest, which was obviously still under construction. Bernie managed to catch the crow above in the act of stick-harvesting.
There were four Fish Crows, and although we saw an occasional seemingly hostile encounter between birds (which may have been more along the lines of play), they mostly interacted peacefully. At one point, two of them sat close together in an oak, while the other two birds sat together in a nearby tree. It may be that one set of birds are "helpers"; juvenile birds hatched last year that are not yet ready to breed and that hang around a breeding pair of sexually mature adults. The phenomenon of helper birds is well known in American Crows, but not so much with Fish Crows. However, a perusal of the Birds of North America monograph on Fish Crows makes it abundantly clear that many facets of this species' biology is not well known and much more study is needed.
If you do visit, stay several houses or more away from the nest. There is no reason to venture near, as the birds are conspicuous and fly about the neighborhood. My photos were made from some distance down the street. Also, and I know this goes without saying, it's important to respect the neighbors. There will probably be lots of birders visiting this quiet neighborhood to observe the Fish Crows, and the locals certainly aren't used to an invasion of binocular-toting birders. Word is out among the locals regarding the crows, though, so at least the residents will know what is going on.
Common Ravens are doing in eastern Ohio.
Kudos to Andy Jones for this great discovery, which indisputably adds another species to the Ohio list (#423 by my conservative reckoning). And on a comparatively trite note and not that anyone's counting, but these Fish Crows were #368 for my Ohio list.