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Large, nesting pair, central MS

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On raven, the photo with tail visible shows bird pushing for lift I think.  so retrices really fanned out.  with raven you'll see a wedge shape even with tail feathers compressed, just cause the central retrices are longer.  so hard to say much about tail shape from that photo IMO.  Head structure doesn't look quite right for raven either, at least with western birds I am familiar with.  Zooming in on the leaves around the bird in the photo just leaving the nest, got average leaf measurement and let = 3 inches.  Measured ballpark wing chord based on that and got about 15 inches on each wing.  Accuracy on that will be shaky of course, but it is something.  That would be within wing chord range for raven, but probably also on the far right end of the distribution for American crow. 

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Pic with what I (non-bird person) would call 'normal sized birds' - bluejay, cardinal, whatever - as a size reference.


Pic of the big bird (same pic as in first post), resized/cropped to get the tree/nest the same size in both pics.


A cut/paste composite.


Couple notes about distance/perspective and size. The small bird at the upper right was closer to me, on the near side of the tree. The large bird was on the far side of the tree, farther away. If both the big and small birds were at the same distance from the camera the apparent size difference would be even greater. Also the big bird is at an oblique angle, the small bird is square-on showing a full profile.


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Size can be notoriously difficult to judge, particularly at distances like this. That coupled with the magnification of lenses and binoculars further compounds the difficulty of gauging size. Images such as these, especially at such low resolution, are not a reliable proxy for size.

Ravens do not reach Mississippi. Golden Eagles certainly do not breed in the southeast. Not to mention shape of the wings and tail as well as plumage patterning are all incorrect for the latter.

The stout, broad wings, size of bill relative to head, and all-black plumage pin this as a Corvid (family of crows, ravens, jays, magpies, etc.), no question about that. There is simply no other bird in Mississippi that has this combination. Your pictures are more than ample to identify this as a crow. Take a look on Macaulay Library and you will see countless pictures of crows with identical appearance in regards to flight posture, plumage, and structural characteristics. The real question is whether this is an American Crow or a Fish Crow, both of which occur in central MS and are all but impossible to differentiate without vocalization. Listen for the birds' call and compare to recordings of either species to get a specific identification.

Since the issue with this bird's identification seems to be its size, please re-read my first paragraph. I cannot emphasize enough, as someone with decades of experience in the field, that determining a bird's size from a distance is simply challenging and often times misleading.

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OK, these must be crows.

There was a bunch of crows in the yard yesterday about 6PM, black, unremarkable size, "CAW!CAW!CAW! CAW! CAWCAWCAWCAW!!" turned up to 11. I would say these were 1/4 the size of the nesting birds, but they must have been the same size since anything else would not be possible.

Call this one closed.

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The picture sure looks like a crow.  No Ravens in Mississippi.  Just American/Fish Crows.  That audio file kind of  sounds a lot like a recordings of Golden Eagle to me.  A Golden Eagle in Mississippi is not unheard of but very unusual.  Juvenile Bald Eagles are dark brown.  They don't get their white tail and head until about 3 years.  There are several nesting Bald Eagles up Hwy 49 towards Yazoo City and around Lake Caroline in Madison.  All Central Mississippi.  I live south of Jackson and would love to verify this bird.  I TOTALLY respect that you may not want to meet a stranger over the internet.  If you want to try to meet I am sure we can work it out in a way you feel safe.  If not you could call Nick Winstead (state ornithologist) at Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.  This could be a big deal.

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Apologies for a sort of pseudo-mystical comment, bit I think I am not unique among birders in feeling that the birds we end up connecting with often become imbued with personal meaning.  That we can bird at many levels.  I think its interesting that the three birds coming up on this thread-crow, raven, eagle-were considered by the indigenous peoples of North American to be particularly symbolically important.  Further, the myths speak of these birds being able to appear to humans in large form, or, in the case of crow, to work with the giant creatures (whatever those were) to intervene in human affairs.  Sort of like there was re-activation of remnants of the genetic architecture of their dinosaur forebears.  All of which is to say, enjoy these birds, whatever they are.  I hope they are harbingers of good fortune for you.  And perhaps you are uniquely qualified to judge their relative size.  Best. 

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I thought I was done with this, but they just keep showing me even weirder stuff.

15 minutes ago, I saw one of the large birds leave the nest and go to a nearby tree. Then, a few obviously-ID'd actual crows (much smaller, in the same tree with the big bird) showed up, raised h-e-double-hockey-sticks, and chased the big bird off, even diving at it from above as it flew away. Do crows do that to other crows? And is there a crow species that is much larger (conservative estimate still stands at 4x the wingspan, could be more but I am trying to not sound like a crazy person) than the typical American crow?

Fish crows are smaller than American crows, yes? And those are the only two crow species here? And it's not a raven 'cause they don't nest here? And it's not a golden eagle because that's just dumb, right? So what is it?

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Yes, Fish crows are slightly smaller. Yes, Fish and American crows are the only expected ones for your area. No, Ravens are not expected in MS. I wouldn't say dumb but Golden Eagles are just extremely highly unlikely.   

Could the smaller birds be Brewer's Blackbirds? They will dive bomb any bird that gets close to their nest ...eagles, hawks, ravens, crows, etc. 🙂

Edited by lonesome55dove
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Is there anyone you know who has a higher resolution camera that could take a few more photos for you to post here or perhaps even a video? Hopefully the chicks fledge soon and a photo of them too. That nest is pretty high up in those trees for those babies...whatever they are ;)

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While Fish Crows are a little smaller than American Crows, it is very unlikely you could tell the difference by size unless they were perched right next to each other. You would clearly recognize their call as being different. Crows mate for life and last year's brood helps raise this year's. I found it unusual that you did not see any other crows around the nest helping out, but that could be explained by these being young birds or something happened to last year's brood. I surely don't have the expertise in picture identification that many posters on this board possess, but relying on your statements (especially your recent post) I highly doubt the nesters are crows.
 I'm the one who first mentioned Golden Eagle as a possibility but at that time I did not realize they were migratory birds. While I would agree that that would make it extremely unlikely they are nesting in central Mississippi, they were definitely not unusual to be seen (at least in fall and winter) along the Pearl River in south central Mississippi in the 1970s. They are HUGE, HUGE, HUGE.
Do bald eagles nest before getting their adult plumage? I don't think so but someone correct me if I'm wrong. Bald Eagle nesting in Mississippi is relatively common especially Sardis Lake and the other large reservoirs.
I believe you need to contact Nick Winstead or the poster who suggested him to have them observe the bird.

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