Having lived beside Aberystwyth harbour for over 4 years ago now, I have come to know its avian residents rather well, witnessing their trials of life, love and death on my own doorstep.
In this time I have also seen the arrival of many new babies, from the adorable swan cygnets to the noisy, squabbling young starlings. Yet there is one bird here which I have never seen with young, a pair of carrion crows.
Highly territorial and monogamous, these same two crows have patrolled their mud flat and the surroundings for years, chasing away many of the smaller birds and calling from up high to declare their ownership. The pair clearly share a very close bond and so the absence of any chicks has been a mystery to me.
The crows allopreening to strengthen their bond
Presumably the crows have tried and subsequently failed to breed each year, their chicks failing to thrive for one reason or another. Or perhaps these are young, inexperienced birds and have not yet reached maturity or breeding age?
It was then a great surprise when just a few weeks ago, I found that my crows were no longer alone and were accompanied by a scruffy brown fledgling! Could this be the pairs’ very first chick?
New life – the crow fledgling
The adult crows have always been rather cautious, and can often be difficult to approach and so it has taken a few attempts to photograph the juvenile successfully.
This evening I caught up with the family as they searched for food in the damp mud at the water’s edge. One of the adult crows has a distinct white tuft on it’s belly, as seen below, which allows you to tell the pair apart.
(left) The juvenile with the white-tufted adult
The fledgling itself looked rather messy and unkempt, wearing what looked like a little waistcoat of blue. These are the sleek blue/black adult feathers emerging from beneath the juvenile downy plumage.
The fledgling moulting into adult plumage
Bad feather day?
The young bird now has it’s full wing feathers and is able to fly almost as well as the adults. It will be several more weeks though until the youngster is able to find enough food for itself and gain independence.
Fledgling calling at the water’s edge
For now the young crow still relies on the adults to supply most of it’s food, following them eagerly and begging for another beak full of tasty grubs and other invertebrates.
Begging for food
The wide open gape of the fledgling reveals a bright pink mouth. This is only present in young crows and presumably the bright colour helps the parents when passing food into the beaks of their chicks.
The bright pink gape of the young crow
Adult crow with beak full of food
After a couple of failed efforts I did succeed in capturing a food pass, but unfortunately with the fledgling facing away from the camera!
Passing food into the beak of the chick
From the muddy slipway the birds the adult with the white tuft moved on to the rafts of seaweed, washed up against the rocks as the tide retreated.
As it’s parent deftly picked prey from among the vegetation, the juvenile watched on with interest, learning valuable skills it will need to find food for itself in the coming weeks.
Here the adult has found a small crab, which it swallowed whole with a quick flick of the head before the juvenile could snatch it for itself.
Down the hatch!
Frustrated, the chick then tried to find a crab of it’s own but only succeeding in collecting a beak full of seaweed.
The other adult crow (without the white feather tuft) did not look as fit and healthy as it’s mate with dull, ragged feathers. I can only assume this is the female bird, the burden of incubating eggs and caring for her young taking it’s toll.
She also had something hanging from the feathers near her tail, I couldn’t tell if this was just something stuck in her feathers or she has been injured in some way.
Despite her condition the female was still attentive to her family, alarm calling a warning to then when she felt I had crept too close.
Mum alarm calling
Shortly after the family flew away to their nearby roost, and quiet descended onto the mud flats once more. I hope this will not be the last I see of this new arrival!
Want to know more about where these photos were taken? Read below: My home patch
All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2019 © www.greyfeatherphotography.com