Florida Time Forgot, Mark Renz 1-239-368-3252

Cattle Egret (Note small pecking wounds around eye)

Photo and words by Mark Renz

Misunderstanding Crow Behavior

The cattle egret was flying alone when I noticed a pair of crows chasing it out of a field, over a wooden fence and across S.R. 78 near Alva. The egret was doing everything it could to avoid the crows, ducking and dodging but unable to turn with the same precision as the smaller, more nimble crows. I pulled over and watched, thinking the crows would give up and fly off after convincing the egret to leave their territory. But the attack continued.

As it became obvious the egret was getting pounded, I hopped out of my truck and walked toward the commotion. The crows had forced the egret to the ground and were pecking at it's face and upper body. I picked up speed and now sprinted toward the trio, aggressively flailing my arms and screaming. The sight of a 210-pound 6'5" Homo sapiens flapping its skinny bare wings and squawking loudly was too much for the crows, which wisely flew off.

The poor egret probably thought it was being attacked a second time. Instead of flying off, it just stood there, staring straight ahead as if in a daze. I stopped my charge and sat down cross-legged. It was then that I saw tiny wounds around the right eye where the egret had been pecked. It's left wing was dangling as if it was broken.

The crows landed in a sabal palm across the road and made some unfriendly comments about me interfering. Or at least that's what I imagined they were saying. I stuck around until they left and then slowly approached the egret. When I got within a few feet, it adjusted its bad wing and flew off erratically in the opposite direction from the crows.

Yes! I yelled, high-fiving the air.

At first, I assumed the crows were simply ticked off that the egret had trespassed and were trying to convince it to leave their hunting grounds, something all of us see crows and other birds do to each other daily. It wasn't until later when I Googled "crows attack egrets", that I came across the following University of Florida research and realized what I had likely just witnessed.

Stepping back further, I thought about how confusing it can be for we uprighters who "interfere" with natural relationships between prey and predator. Should we or shouldn't we intervene? Our compassionate side says "Interfere, interfere...save the egret!", while our more rational side may say "Leave 'em alone, the crows are just trying to survive."

On another day, I witnessed a black snake swallowing a frog and did nothing to save the frog, in spite of the frog's high-pitched cry for help. Overall, common sense tells me to stay out of the way. When I do step in and try to be honest about why, I sometimes wonder if it's for me, rather than the animal I'm protecting. My life--our lives--are filled with hours in which we feel helpless to change the world for the better. We're surrounded by injustice, some real and some only perceived. So when situations arise that give us an opportunity to control the outcome and bring some sanity to our day, we react immediately. I protected the egret but in doing so, may have denied the crows a meal for their chicks waiting back at the nest. The crows -- now exhausted -- will have to rest before considering their next prey.

It ain't easy trying to be a rational thinker.