By Laura Scully
Fun facts about local feathered and furry fauna!
We see them around Belmont Heights and beyond – wild animals that give our neighborhood an urban forest vibe. Two such critters are highlighted in this issue.
When these black-feathered birds gather, it is called a “Murder of Crows.” This ominous collective noun may have originated from a folktale featuring crows gathering to
determine the “capital fate” of one of their fellows. Also, there are the superstitions around crows as an omen of death because, as scavengers, they were often seen circling above battlefields and graveyards. Today, they are harbingers of a different sort, specifically for West Nile virus. Because they are so vulnerable to it, scientists use them as a bioindicator to track spread of the virus. The crow is an omnivore and active hunter, preying on insects, small animals, eggs, and even carrion. Crows are usually seen in groups because they are monogamous cooperative breeding birds, where a mated pair keep offspring around for years to help out with raising new young. In the wild, they live for about 7 years but can live up to 30 in captivity.
A group of these black and white mammals is called a “Surfeit of Skunks.” Obviously more than one is simply too much. Known for their odorous defense tactic of spraying
enemies with their anal glands, even bears stand back. Skunks can spray up to 10 feet, as much as 5-6 times. Usually a solitary, nocturnal animal, they have excellent smelling and hearing. However, their eyesight is poor and one of the reasons they are susceptible to being hit by road traffic. Skunks are omnivorous and opportunistic scavengers who will happily dine on pet food left outside.