Meet Ferdinand

Around this time last year I was both delighted and intrigued when a reader emailed me about a very usual crow showing up in her yard.  Unlike its flock mates this crow was not black, but white and brown, like the kind of milked-down coffee that inspires the comment “would you like some coffee with your cream?”.  Understanding what would cause such a unique coloration in her crow sent me down a most unexpected rabbit hole where the science of what I call ‘caramel crows’ turned out to be somewhat subject to mystery.

Within months of publishing that article, I couldn’t believe my luck to encounter a caramel crow of my own named Blondie.  Whereas the science of their pigmentation may be up for debate, their beauty most certainty is not and I considered myself exceptionally lucky to lay eyes on one in person.

Photos of Blondie from 2017

Now, it seems my perception of their rarity may not have been quite justified as I have since discovered yet a second caramel crow, who I call Ferdinand, in a completely different part of the city.  Unlike Blondie, who lives exclusively in a residential area, Ferdinand’s haunts include a public park.  I won’t give his or her precise location, but if you’re a Seattle native I encourage you to use the clues provided in the text and photos of this post to see if you can find Ferdinand.  If you do use the hashtag #FoundFerdinand to update us on its activities but remember not to give away its precisely location.  This is both to encourage people to get outside and explore on their own, and to protect Ferdinand’s safety.  If seeming him in person is not possible I hope these photos will suffice.  As a last bit of fun feel free to let me know in the comments who you think wore it better, Ferdinand or Blondie.

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21 Comments

Filed under Birding, Crow curiosities, Just for fun

21 responses to “Meet Ferdinand

  1. triciaknoll

    Fascinating!

  2. Cindy

    #FoundFerdinand – or maybe I should say Fernanda as we saw a copulation or at least an attempted copulation with a black crow! She spent quite a bit of time with one or two black crows. The copulation activity was on Sunday evening (Earth Day!, April 22, 2018) at about 7:30pm.

  3. Cindy

    Thanks for responding, Kaeli!

    No, we didn’t see any nest building activity. I assume that for nest building activity we would see them carrying things like twigs or soft lining material. If there’s anything else, please let me know.

    My husband and I have observed her on three evenings and will return tonight, 4/28/18. She has had up to three other crows (I’m assuming all males, but should I?), hanging around her. We can’t tell the other crows apart but we believe she has one preferred guy and last night, Friday 4/27/18, she only had one crow with her as far as we could see during the 30 to 40 minutes that we watched.

    On the evening that we first spotted her, Sunday 4/22/18, she seemed to have one preferred guy who was around her the most – non-stop, I think – and with whom she copulated (or, at least, there were attempted copulations, we saw two brief mountings in quick succession with her quivering before and after). One other crow spent a fair amount of time hanging around the two of them, but my husband and I both got the sense he was only a wannabe. Of course, there were times when we looked away or the birds flew briefly out of view, during which the other crows could have swapped but we got such long periods of uninterrupted observation that I think it very likely that there was a pretty solid pair bond on Sunday. On Monday 4/23/18, we didn’t see any copulation or nest building activity. There was a second black crow hanging around the two of them again, whom we deemed a wannabe and, briefly, a third. On Friday 4/27/18, we didn’t see any copulation or nest building activity and, as I said, we only saw her with one black crow.

    We’ll see what happens tonight!

  4. Cindy

    Oops, I should have said that there were two and, briefly, three black crows with her (rather than only a total of two black crows) on Monday 4/23/18, but the gist is the same: a strong pair bond with only one and no copulation or nesting activity on that day.

  5. Valerie Sloane

    Kaeli! I have one at my house. I call her Lucy. I can give you more details if you write to my email address.

  6. Cindy

    My husband and I have continued to follow Ferdinand/Fernanda, most recently on Friday night, May 11, 2018. We have never seen any nest building activity and the April 22nd copulation activity remains the only that we have seen. We observed on 4/22, 4/23, 4/27, 4/28, 4/29, 4/30, 5/4, 5/5, 5/6 and 5/7, got skunked on 5/8 & 5/9, then, as I said, saw her on Friday 5/11.

    Mostly, she did not have another crow within a few feet of her but we often saw another crow fly off in her direction from her general vicinity moments after she flew off. On Friday, May 11, she spent about 8 minutes within inches of a black crow with more time at bigger distances, like within 20 to 30 feet. We have seen a second black crow accompanying her and her mate – perhaps a helper from a previous brood? Do we have any idea if she has been observed in previous years?

    On May 7th, she spent about 25 or 30 minutes with a black crow close by, much of it sitting side by side in a tree by the water, each preening his or her self. A third crow joined them higher in the tree, several feet away, for about 18 minutes. The pair flew off together, our caramel crow first, followed moments later by the third crow.

    My husband and I go to the site to observe Ferdinand/Fernanda but we see so much more. There is a crow’s nest in a tree at the parking lot. I’m watching it to see if it has been abandoned or is a fake for distracting prying eyes. We see lots of raptors in the area … I’d like to ID the species.

    We hope to return this afternoon, Sunday, May 13.

  7. Scott

    After about 2 weeks of so I’ve finally seen Ferdinand again.

  8. Scott

    No updates, look daily but suspect my clock times differ from their schedules, or so I hope.

  9. Scott

    I finally saw Ferdinand again this morning around 8:30 dining in the grass.

  10. Scott

    And again on the way home that day. One interesting thing, is that her neck appears more whitish than in your photos, but I also notice some whitish patches appearing on others so perhaps this is a typical thing.

  11. Kathryn

    I saw what I assume to be Ferdinand yesterday and was fascinated. The sighting led me here; thanks for the information!

  12. I believe that Fernanda has three offspring! (I am making assumptions about the relationships of the birds here but, rather than clutter my writing, I will just make statements without explicitly mentioning that the relationships are assumed.) 

    My husband and I observed Fernanda and four other birds who we believe are her mate and three offspring.  The offspring are almost as big as the adults and they relentlessly begged from their father, cawing and following him around.  Occasionally, one of them would beg from Fernanda and I saw her feed one on at least two separate occasions.  When one of the young ones wandered a bit too far north, it got harassed by other crows, and Fernanda flew in to its defense and drove one of them off then returned with her offspring further south into their own territory.  We didn’t see Fernanda or her mate harass any people or dogs who walked by.  

    All of the young ones are black like their father, or at least mostly so.  I can’t rule out that there aren’t some parts of the young ones that are a little bit lighter than a coal black but, at any rate, they mostly appear solid black .  

    A woman who lives in Fernanda’s territory said that she first noticed the offspring about a week ago (so ~ June 16, 2019).  All five appear to be very healthy. 

    The reason that I am calling her Fernanda instead of Ferdinand and assuming that she is the mother is because last year on April 22, 2018, we saw her copulate with a black male who was on top of her.  Then on June 10, 2018 we saw her solicit food from a black crow.  This year, on April 7, 2019, we saw a black crow collecting nesting material while she watched and then she successfully solicited food from him.  

    I saw a couple of feathers on the grass that I believe are probably Fernanda’s.  Would they be of any use scientifically and, if so, is it legal to collect them?  

  13. Lori

    I saw who I believe to be Ferdinand yesterday – 7/7/19 which led me to search for a tan crow online. So interesting. Thanks!

  14. Ron

    #FoundFerdinand.
    Spotted Ferdinand/a this afternoon (August 14) sans any suitors or offspring. Just a few black crows at a slight distance. Never noticed her before though I’ve walked along that path for years. Was intrigued by what I thought was a rare mutation, and my research led me to your site. Thank you for the fascinating information!

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