When all the geese stopped feeding and stood still, with their heads up and pointing in the same direction, I knew something was up. They weren’t making any noise or moving towards the water, so it wasn’t a predator they were staring at, but I was curious to know what had caught their attention. It takes a lot to make a Canada goose stop eating.
I moved closer to the window and peered out. There! On the grassy sward in front of the garden shed a strange event was playing out. A large and glossy crow and a plump wild rabbit confronted each other. The crow repeatedly yelled at the rabbit, using three or four well-spaced, consecutive caws like the call that crows use to keep in contact with the other members of their family group. However, I could not hear any other crows responding. The crow made darting, pecking motions towards the rabbit, and then the rabbit made an aggressive dash towards the crow. The crow leaped into the air and launched an aerial attack, causing the rabbit to back away. This scenario played out four or five times, until the rabbit had backed all the way into some tall grass. Once the rabbit was hidden the crow seemed to feel that its job was done, and after strutting and yelling for a moment longer, it took off.
Interspecies aggression between creatures that are not normally enemies or competitors is puzzling. What could cause it? Perhaps the crow had hidden a cache of corn in the grass near where the rabbit was grazing, but would a crow attack an animal larger than itself in order to keep its cache intact, especially when there was plenty of food around? Would the rabbit have been annoyed that the crow was making a lot of attention-getting noise while it was quietly grazing? Could the crow have been staging a display of dominance and bravery to impress the others of its group, or a potential mate, while shouting, “Look at me!”? Small dramas of the natural world play out around us all the time, but we rarely glimpse them, and struggle to understand them. What must it be like to be a rabbit, totally alone in the world and constantly in peril from hawks, foxes, and coyotes? Or to be a crow, bound by strong social ties to a group with a pecking order?
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