"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Friday, July 27, 2012

A rare, piebald crow steals birders' hearts then disappears

A juvenile, white-winged crow visited a Mission Viejo yard regularly for six weeks then disappeared.  Photos by J.J. Meyer

Herman and Dottie Mowry noticed a bird with unusual plumage in their Mission Viejo back yard for the first time on May 21.
It was clear that it was a fledgling because it was still learning to fly.  The bird miscalculated an attempt to perch on the fence and landed in the scrubs.  And it took an hour for it to finally maneuver back to its parents.
            As an avid birder, Herman Mowry knew the bird was an American crow but didn’t think anyone else would believe him because it had all-white wings.  When he told friends about the bird, even those with ornithology expertise suggested it could be wayward magpie or some exotic escapee.
            But he knew better. He had seen the parents feeding it, so there was no mistake.
After seeing photos, Cornell University biologist and crow expert Kevin McGowan confirmed that the bird was indeed an American crow.  But after 24 years of research on crows, even he had never seen one with all-white wings. 
“There is some debate on the terminology used for birds with this type of plumage,” McGowan said.  “I would call this pied or piebald.”
Variations of pied plumage patterns occur 1 in 1,000 crows, he said.  And while each bird with this plumage is unique, generally it presents as a white feather or two or clusters of white among the black feathers.  
“A bird with completely white wings is even less common,” he said.
            The Mowrys monitored their visiting crow family for six weeks.  The young bird visited their yard daily with its parents.  At first the crow family was very punctual arriving at 6:20 in the morning and 6:20 in the evening every day for the first few weeks.  Then they began to return periodically throughout the day to drink from the fountain and grab a few peanuts from the feeder.
             Herman even learned to distinguish their calls.
            “I started to learn crow dialect, now that’s scary, ” he said. 
            He nicknamed the parents Paul and Linda, and their unusual offspring Wings after the famous McCartneys and the group Paul formed after the Beatles. 
            Mowrys shared many tender moments of the crow family, such as Wings’ first bath.  Daddy bird coaxed Wings into the birdbath for the first time by standing in the center of it with food. 
Recently, the parents defended Wings when two adult crows attacked it.  A few days later, the young bird disappeared from his yard.  It was last seen on July 4.  The parents have returned since then, but Wings has not.  
According to McGowan, most young birds leave their parents soon after leaving the nest, often being chased away and never see the parents again.  But American crows never chase away their offspring, and the young may remain with them for years.  Some crows stay with their parents for up to five years or even longer.  So the Mowrys are concerned.
“It’s sad, like I’ve lost a child in a way.  I’ve spent so much time watching her grow,” Herman said.
If you think you may have spotted Wings, please comment below.


  1. How sad the end was. I hope Wings found a new home and is happy. I would like to think the best. Thanks for writing such a touching story. We do get attached to our feathered friends even if they are wild. :)

  2. 1 less crow of any color is a good thing. Personally, I'm kind of tired of not seeing songbirds due to the population explosion of crows and pigeons. Fortunately, there has been a recent die off of the nasty pests in my hood. I believe this is due to the recent arrival of some peregrine falcons. If this is the case, I hope they stick around and breed lots of baby falcons..