Bird Conflicts, Human Conflicts and World War II

Dear Jane and Other Bird Lovers,

I just can’t help smiling at the predictable flare-ups between the stolid RED-TAILED HAWKS
and the feisty and vociferous AMERICAN CROWS.

Red=tailed under harrassment
Red-tailed Hawk, San Lorenzo Park, March 31, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

I used to worry a little about the hawks who seemed to be the constant target of the crows indignation.  Then, as I’ve written before, I learned that Red-tails are regular predators on crow eggs, and that the intelligent crows never forgive and forget, supposedly carrying their bitter feuds even into the next generation of hawks.  So this week when I saw a Red-tailed Hawk fly into the large pine tree above, and then saw it almost immediately attacked by a single crow, I settled back to watch the natural unfolding of this conflict of interests.

Crows drive out hawk
15 American Crows stand in solidarity, protecting  territory after driving off Red-tailed Hawk.  March 31, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

And true to form, the stolid hawk maintained its dignity for a few minutes, pretending to ignore the smaller but vehement crow, who squawked and dive-bombed again and again.  As usual, the hawk quickly got fed up with the pesky crow and flew off, pursued by the original crow and one more. I continued on my walk, crossed a bridge, and looked back to see whether the hawk had returned or not. Instead, what greeted my eyes were now 15 crows, all sitting in the very area where the hawk had been.  Talk about tribal solidarity!  I hadn’t seen quite this strong a show of support before.  I wonder if this time there is a nest involved? I’m definitely going to keep watch over that tree.

I caught a glimpse of another annual nesting drama playing out under the Water St. Bridge where a HOUSE SPARROW

House Sparrow in Cliff Sparrow nest
House Sparrow occupying last year’s Cliff Swallow nest.  Water St. Bridge, San Lorenzo River, March 31, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

was peering out from inside an old CLIFF SWALLOW nest.   But in this case, there were no Cliff Swallows present to defend their rights.  I had to walk downriver a bit, to the Laurel St. Bridge, to see 15 newly arrived Cliff Swallows flying in and out of their old nests from last year, probably assessing their durability for this year’s batch of young swallows. Welcome back cliff swallows!

Cliff swallow - 1
Cliff Swallow, occupying old nest under Laurel St. Bridge, March 31, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman

Thanks, Jane, for your careful monitoring of the river and your capturing of the photo of the well-known local man, and his friend, smiling and paddling on the river in open defiance of our City’s law on that subject.   I kind of lost it when I saw that photo and then received a letter from the man, confirming his intention of defying the law.  It is especially galling during breeding season when river birds like the Pied-billed Grebes are searching for nesting spots among the downstream tules. The man has read our blog, and still seems unpersuaded that he has no legal or ethical right to use that space. I’ve felt angry all week, uable to compose a civil letter to him.

I do not think this should become a public issue. The City Council is already burdened by social problems of far greater gravity than one pesky pleasure seeker on the river, even during breeding season.  But my constant fear is that actions like this could open the door to hundreds of pleasure-seeking boaters on the river.  This fear was strengthened by the public comment of a staff person from County Parks during last week’s Symposium on the State of the San Lorenzo River.  He said that he hoped access to the Riverwalk and San Lorenzo Park could be extended to the river itself.  This has always been the desire of the commercial and recreational interests in Santa Cruz City.   I’m afraid it has not gone away.

Let’s hope that environmental awareness grows enough in future years so that this controversial issue will not have to divide the City again.  If it does, I hope we can mount another campaign as successful as our small victory in 2015, and as successful as the determined campaign of the crows to protect their nests from certain raptors.   I would like to ask readers to e-mail me at if you see any recreational boating on the river.  We need to document it.  Also, please check out the ‘Links’ page on this blog and read the documentation by Jane, myself and others (fourth article down) on the effect of the pilot paddling project in 2014 on our river birds.  It is a sad story but needs to be re-told and re-read regularly.

Have any of you ever noticed the large number of cork oaks that line the area just outside the lawn bowling area and the children’s playground in San Lorenzo Park?

Cork close up
Mediterranean cork oak tree, historically used in the building of WWII bomber planes, San Lorenzo Children’s Park, March 31, 2019, Photo by B. Riverwoman 

Over the years, I’ve taken quite a few photos of these unusual Mediterranean trees since the bark is so exotic and beautiful.  But I had no idea of their historical significance until my sister in Baltimore mentioned that she was going to hear a lecture on cork oaks and their relationship to the miliary effort during World War II.  I googled it and discovered that 5 million Mediterranean cork oak acorns were planted across the country by children nationwide during the war, only a few of which still survive, most of which are in California!  If you are interested  in the story, you can read about it here.  It would be nice if Parks and Recreation could create a plaque with this interesting story.

Please help protect our river from recreational paddling.  We love the safety and peacefulness of our human homes, especially when we have young children at home.  Let’s offer the same respect to our wild and breeding friends on the river.

Happy springtime to all,













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