Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Keeping a watchful eye on baby crows, herons

Q: I have been watching crows for the past four years, watching them build nest and settle down to have a family. But not one pair was able to follow through because a storm destroyed their nest. They don't build strong nests and the wind must have a lot to do with it. What do you think?

— Tony C.

A: I have three references with detailed information about crow nests and none mention anything about storm damage to nests or young falling prey to storms. In fact, one source mentions the nest is built strong on the outside and soft on the inside.

I had a crow pair raise two chicks to fledgling stage, or at least that is all I saw. American crows usually have four young. The configuration of the pine outside our home is such that I never did see the actual nest, just two young that must have hopped from the nest to a lower branch and each made their way to lower branches individually. One must have fallen or hopped to the ground and left. I watched another day later as the second did the same, and not being able to fly, it hopped down the driveway and across the road, never to be seen again (by me). I do hope that I was not the cause of its anxiety. Usually not only do both parents care for their young, siblings (if any) will also help feed the young and defend the nest from predators.

During this time, I did not see either parent or sibling (?) attempt to help. In fact, I saw no adult birds tending the nest, fledglings or tree at all. As noisy as crows usually are, they are mum when at the nest.

Q: On the past two consecutive weekends, my friend and I stood across the highway on Swamp Road and were amazed at the sight of at least a dozen active heron nests.

The first week we saw the adult birds turning the eggs and tidying their nest, but it was on the subsequent weekend when, with a spotting scope, we were able to be right in there with the adults and their young. What a thrill.

Questions arose as we watched for almost an hour:

1. How many eggs to a brood? There was more than one baby in some of the nests.

2. Do the individual birds return to the same nests every year?

3. Do the same pairs stay together or are new mates found each year?

4. Do herons produce more than one brood in a single season. It seemed to us that there was mating behavior going on while the young were still in the nest.

— Michael, Great Barrington, Mass.

A: I, too, have watched these nests over the years and even though I approached close to the nest trees to photograph, it was only after all had departed for the season. I have read what adults are apt to do — defecate on what they consider dangerous. I do not know how true this is, and even if it isn't I would never disturb nesting birds on purpose. I do admire you and your friend for taking the time to enjoy "true" bird watching, and not simply bird listing.

These answers are not all mine, I referred to "A Guide to Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds," Second Edition by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison:

1. Usually 4, although sometimes 3 to 7

2. The herons reuse old nests adding to them every year, so that is why we some larger than others

3. While both are wonderful parents with both looking after the kids, come fall, they split and in spring find new mates. Usually, males sit on nest and are joined (or not) by a female who then works on improving nest with sticks brought by the male.

4. I prefer to think they were just having fun. Young stay in nest 64 to 90 days, so the answer is no. Young can fly at 60 days, but stay around to learn how to be good herons. They only raise one brood here in the north, down south, sometimes 2.

Send questions and comments to Thom Smith at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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