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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 10:52 am | A Few Clouds 53º


Captain’s Log: Monitoring One Very Adaptive Crow at Santa Barbara Harbor

Over the past year, I’ve been monitoring one exceptionally adaptive crow at the Santa Barbara Harbor, and I’ve been just itching to share the story.

One day about a year ago when my crew and I were cleaning our charter boat, WaveWalker, a couple of seagulls we know well were marching back and forth, screeching as seagulls are wont to do, hoping for scraps of fish and bait pieces (we do not intentionally feed the birds) that get washed off with the hose.

These two seagulls adopted us years back and show up to welcome us back after every charter. One is named “What” and the other is “Up,” and together we call them the “WhatUp” birds.

It was a normal day with the critters until suddenly a big black bird swooped down from the sky with a shrill cry of its own and landed on the dock just 10 feet from the two seagulls. It was a tense moment as the seagulls and that crow stared each other down. The seagulls lunged to peck and scare it away, but the dark bird defended itself adequately. It was a standoff.

That crow has stuck around and proven itself to be an adaptive learner, willing to change its diet to match opportunities. He learned how the seagulls and night herons feed. He couldn’t quite swallow those anchovies and sardines, like the other birds, so he just pecks out the soft body cavity. He also figured out that dead fish are much easier to catch than live ones, and his palate is not so sensitive that it strongly prefers the live ones. That crow has become a seafood lover.

The odd bird also had to figure out (the hard way) how it fit into the pecking order. It can hold its own against seagulls. Night herons are a tougher adversary, even if more complacent than seagulls.

Blue herons rule the harbor. Two little swallows that live nearby are the crow’s biggest problems because they despise the bigger bird and they have incredible speed and accuracy. They fly high-speed pecking forays, putting the hurt on the crow’s head when it doesn’t duck quickly enough.

All in all, I’m proud of that crow!

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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