Nature Watch: Animal sighting needs to be documented


Q: An animal that I could not make out ran right under my kitchen window in Great Barrington -- I was quite close but it ran very fast from the quarry up into the woods. It was thin with short hair and a long tail. It was not a coyote, fox or bobcat. Do you have any idea what it might be? [I] only saw it for a few seconds, but it was funny because, watching it, I was reminded of a lion, but didn't think of a mountain lion at first -- it was just the way it ran. I had a yellow Lab and he was a big guy -- 125 pounds -- and he always reminded me of a lion, the way he walked, too. It was interesting and it really startled me because it didn't look like any of the other animals that pass by here.

A: There is a possibility, and maybe a good one, that what you saw was, indeed, a mountain lion, but your sighting being so short in duration, and without any documentation (foot print, photograph, hair, stool), or collaboration, it would be hard to have the sighting accepted. Could it have been a yellow "Lab" or similar-size dog? Certainly, other mountain lions have been reported in the Berkshires, with few if any sightings acceptable by the wildlife agencies.

Q: Years ago when my daughter was working in the Boson area, a robin built a nest outside her office window. When the babies hatched they started to disappear. One day they saw a crow take a baby robin; I assume to eat. If such was the case, why are crows a protected species?

A: When you get to know a crow as an individual, you might just find it loveable. Being the opportunist that it is, it has made a lot of enemies, some justified, others not.

Studies have been done on the damage crows do to what we might call desirable wildlife, and removing them has made little, if any, change in the number of eggs or baby birds destroyed. Remove the crow and another predator is apt to take its place. Young robins and eggs are preyed upon by snakes, squirrels, common grackles, blue jays, in addition to crows and ravens.

As for baby robins being taken by a crow, it should be known that most baby robins die (crow or no crow) before adulthood. And the American robin population has increased nearly identically to the crow population.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology states in its All About Birds website, "On average, though, only 40 percent of nests successfully produce young. Only 25 percent of those fledged young survive to November. From that point on, about half of the robins alive in any year will make it to the next." It is almost as if the American robin is dispensable, and probably only survives in good numbers because of raising three broods a summer with 3 to 5 eggs at each nesting..

Crows are not "all bad," they do help the farmer by eating a quantity of insects that attack their crops. True, they also have a liking for corn and seedlings. They are omnivorous, eating almost anything from seeds, fruits and nuts to insects, mollusks, eggs and nestlings. They also feed on carrion and at garbage dumps. Crows are also known to take cat and dog food from outside bowls. And finally, crows are smart birds, known to use tools to a limited extent. Crows in our neighborhood carry dried bread tossed out by a neighbor to our bird bath for softening, or at least did when we had a bird bath. It is native, migratory (although not long-distance), and a songbird (although not able to sing very well according to our standards), hence it falls under the requirements for protection, although it does have a hunting season.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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