Family life with a pre-teen. I think I remember those days myself.
One minute they’re all grown up and don’t need their parents AT ALL, next — they just need a snuggle and some comfort food.
At least, when I was raising my kids, I didn’t have moulting to deal with as well.
A moulting crow is a cranky crow, and the whole family is starting that process now.
At least the fledgling can entertain himself with his own escaping feathers
At the same time, Marvin and Mavis are dealing with a pre-teen (Lucky) who is going through the two steps forward, three steps back process of learning to feed himself.
Lucky can definitely come and get his own peanuts from our deck. He has demonstrated prowess (well, competence, at least) in this field.
At first he’d just get one peanut and then wonder what exactly to do with it, but now he’s on to the advanced level of stuffing his gullet to capacity before flying away and hiding some for later, just like mom and dad do.
Other advanced skills include perching on the water bowl and dipping snacks to moisten them.
For most of the day, the family is off on adventures around the neighbourhood, while Marvin and Mavis are presumably teaching Lucky the skills needed to grab more “in the wild” food.
Yet several times a day I still hear Lucky making his begging calls, and every once in a while see one of the parents wavering in their determination to get him self sufficient by stuffing a snack into his waiting beak.
As with all families, there are fractious days when Marvin and Mavis get frustrated with their fledgling — and yet there are just as many peaceful days when the family bumbles along in (relatively) quiet domestic companionship.
I call the following series of videos, Wind in The Wires.
There are no moles, badgers and or rats (though I’m sure some of the latter may be scurrying about down below somewhere) and there’s a noticeable dearth of meandering rivers and lush green woodland in these mini-tales
Instead, I offer you a soothing urban nature bedtime story featuring East Van alleyways, crows, family bonds, Hydro wires and a stiff breeze.
(Note: There’s a bit of wind noise on the videos because, as the title suggests, it was rather blustery and muting those sounds, while keeping the crow voices, is beyond my technical ability. )
Wind in the Wires One
In which baby crow hangs out with mom while she preens and stretches and finds a stray bit of feather fluff.
Wind in the Wires Two
In which baby crow finds his own foot quite entertaining.
Wind in the Wires Three
In which baby crow hangs on in a gale and wants to be just like mom.
Other posts about Marvin and Mavis’s 2022 fledgling:
I try to resist naming fledgling crows until at least September, given the myriad ways in which disaster can befall them in the first few weeks of life. Marvin and Mavis’s young one is tempting me though — and I seem to have started thinking of him as Lucky, rather that just the “safer” Baby M.
Of all the crow parents who built nests this spring, Marvin and Mavis seem to be one of the very few around here with a fledgling surviving into August.
In years gone by all the other crows had much more success at child rearing, with up to three or four fledglings in one season to show for their efforts. Marvin and Mavis’s every nesting attempt met with disaster, until last summer when they successfully raised not one, but two fledglings.
Through a Heat Dome, no less.
This year they only have one, rather doted upon, offspring. His little begging voice is the only one I hear in the neighbourhood. I have to walk a few blocks to find another family with a single fledgling. I’m not sure if this is a Vancouver-wide phenomenon, or just a local quirk.
The Wings suffered some sort of early catastrophe and seem reconciled to a fledgling-less summer
In this area the other crow regulars seem to have resigned themselves to a year off from parenting. They all built nests in spring but, for one reason or another, no fledglings appeared and now there seems to be little appetite for a second, late season, attempt. I wonder if they’re learning to anticipate how dry the summers are getting to be, and remembering how challenging that makes the job of fledgling rearing.
It’s a worrying thought, but it makes me feel all the luckier to see Marvin and Mavis come by most days with little Lucky in tow. It’s such a privilege to watch him figuring the world out, one day at a time.
You can almost see his quick brain absorbing and analyzing every new sign and sound in his rapidly expanding world.
Earlier in July, he spent quite a bit of time napping in the shady Katsura tree in front of the house …
… allowing mom and dad a few precious moments to themselves …
Each parent gets to choose their own self care priority.
Spa treatment … meditation … each follows their own bliss.
I’ve realized that there are few things more peaceful than watching a sleeping bird, riding the gentle waves of the wind-wafted branches and dreaming bird dreams.
These photos were all taken earlier in July, before we went away for a short holiday.
You can see that. his beak was still that bright “feed me” pink, but the eyes had already faded from the bright blue of the first few weeks to a rather lovely soft grey. Marvin and Mavis were still mostly feeding him via “direct deposit” before we left, but also starting to encourage him to pick up his own food.
Worm for the win!!
By the time we came back from our ten day holiday, my first concern was whether Lucky was still with us. I was very happy to hear him squawking from a distance on our first morning back. Phew.
Seeing the family together, I note that Marvin and Mavis are getting incrementally more determined to have him get his own food. While his beak looks less dramatically pink when closed, you can see in the photo below how it still lights up like a beacon when he adopts the “feed me, feed me” pose and the sun catches it.
The begging still works some of the time, but mom and dad are getting a little less indulgent every day.
This morning I noticed Lucky hounding Mavis to bring her some peanuts from our deck railing, a few feet from where they both were. Mavis was having none of this.
If all goes well, Lucky will be pretty independent by September and ready to either stick around with mom and dad until next year to help with nesting chores, or take off on his (or her) own to make their own (exciting, risky) crow way in the city.
Either way, I feel almost as lucky as Marvin and Mavis to have had his entertaining company this summer.
And, by the way, Lucky is already quite capable of getting his own peanuts. For all the fuss this morning, here he was calmly collecting his own food just the day before. Like all skill acquisition, it’s one step forward and one step back, but there IS progress!
“Quiet” and “crow” are, let’s face it, rarely used in the same sentence.
We tend to think of crows as stridently outspoken and rowdy birds, bringing a racket wherever they go.
Crow nesting and fledging time can be especially raucous, with parent crows cawing wildly at fledglings, and at potential threats to fledglings; and the babies begging loudly and unreservedly for food.
Our attention is mostly drawn to them when they are being loud, but crow do spend a lot of time pursuing more secret, secluded and silent crow pastimes.
The large Katsura trees by our our house are never chosen as nest sites, but they do seem make for a perfect crow creche. Often, especially in the afternoon, Marvin and Mavis will come by with their babies and just chill for a couple of hours.
One of my very favourite things to do is peer up into those leafy rooms and see what exactly it is that they get up to during their “down time.”
Here are some of the things I’ve watched Marvin, Mavis, and this year’s fledgling get up to in there over the past few days.
Usually one crow parent takes the opportunity to go off for some “me time” while the other keeps a quiet eye on junior.
Parent on duty.
As the world roars along outside, Junior finds a number of things to pass the time in the peaceful green chamber.
There’s quite a bit of snoozing going on.
When nap time is over, it turns out there are a ton of other things to keep a baby crow amused in a Katsura. Playing with leaves is a lot fun, perhaps because the leaf stem looks just enough like a worm to be interesting …
Also bits of moss are quite entertaining. I imagine this is all part of the important “is this food?” learning that needs to be mastered in these early weeks.
The whole world is a classroom for a baby crow.
Then there’s a lot of s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g to do, preferably without falling out of the tree.
Risky shot of fledging undercarriage …
All those lovely new feathers need careful preening …
Baby M is a few weeks old now so their eyes have moved from that early blue colour to a soft grey now
Learning to be a “covert crow” just like dear old mom.
Mavis, model for Secret Crow image, 2017 … a definite family resemblance
And, of course, there’s trying to figure out what’s up with that strange creature down below with a camera.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this oh-so-quiet little look into the more hidden world of a crow fledgling.
Sneaking away now and maybe baby will go back to sleep and give mom or dad a little more time to regroup before things get rowdy again.
The gazing bowl (AKA Geordie’s outdoor water bowl) normally only provides consoling insights and quiet focus in the autumn months when it becomes a kaleidoscope of spent leaves and shifting reflections.
Perhaps it sensed that quiet moments were especially needed this week as it’s putting on a rare summer performance.
The floral patterns in the bowl are only subsidiary gifs — the main one is that the snowbell (Styrax japonicus) tree itself is in full magnificent bloom for the first time for years.
I’d begun to accept that it would never flower again, but this summer it seems to be trying to make up for every lost opportunity. At times the tree is so full of bees that standing under it is like sticking your head into to a hive (but less dangerous.)
That soothing bzzzzz and the dappled light are the essences of summer.
But back the gazing bowl.
It’s summer message seems to be something of the lines of … take a break from the endlessly dire news cycle.
Like the wise flight attendant, it’s reminding me — put your psychic oxygen mask on first, or you’ll be no good at helping anyone else. If your beauty tank runs dry, how will you find the energy to fight for what needs fighting for?
So, just in case you need a deep breath of stillness yourself, please take your own reading from the gazing bowl.
You can hum-m-m-m a bit to yourself to mimic the sound of the bees.
As Geordie actually needs the bowl to drink out of at this time of year, the important messages do need to be dumped and rinsed every day.
For now, there are fresh scrying bowl memos each morning — but soon we’ll have to wait until fall for the next hydromancy installment.
On Monday I jokingly posted the suggestion that crows would make excellently determined school zone speed limit enforcers.
I’ve often thought that an intense corvid stare might help bring home all kinds of messages.
Room for 28 crows more up here
The Wings enforcing their local stop sign
Today’s crow thought: why stop at traffic signs?
Put crows where the big decisions are made!
Instead of stuffy CEO portraits or generic landscapes, let’s see crows adorning the walls of the centres of power. We need giant judgemental crows gazing down at the humans sitting down to set policy in government and corporate settings.
A thoughtful corvid presiding over a meeting might help decision makers remember that any new plan should meet the objectives of that most important of all stakeholders — Nature.
At the very least, it would remind meeting attendees to not take themselves too seriously.
The Walkers and their nest have got me puzzled this year. As you know, the Wings have also got me scratching my head, so it’s generally a perplexing time of year.
The benefits of watching several crow families over a number of years include (1) always having things to wonder about and (2) seeing the endless variety of crow story plot lines.
Mr. Walker, corvid matinee idol, June 8 2022
The story of the Walkers’ nesting season so far:
Unlike the Wings , who live on a street with a big tree canopy, the Walkers have smaller trees to work with, so I was able to see the location of their nest.
Wanda sitting on the nest, early May 2022
A slight wrinkle in the Walkers’ nesting plans appeared a few days after I took the previous photo. The City tree crew hung signs on every tree on their block announcing imminent trimming work.
I know the City crews struggle to keep up with all the maintenance work but I do hate to see the trees disturbed during nesting season. On behalf of Wanda, who was unable to get to a phone, I called and emailed the City and requested that they delay the work until later in the year. Somewhat to my amazement, the signs were removed the next day. Small victories!!
Things seemed to be coming along nicely with the nest. Last week I heard what sounded like at least one fledgling in the nest and Wanda was out and about collecting food with Mr. Walker. I was expecting little Walkers any day.
Instead, I was baffled to see Mr. Walker busily carrying twigs to the next tree down the street a few days later.
At first I wasn’t even sure it WAS Mr. Walker as, in the rain, he looked rather like a Mr. Pants impersonator!
But no — definitely Mr. Walker, as he proceeded to jog along beside me in his inimitable style. Here he was more recently, clearly working on the soft furnishings stage of Nest #2.
Confirming that something must have gone amiss with Nest #1 is the fact that Wanda has reverted to the early nesting season female behaviour of begging for food. They do this to get their mates into the habit of bringing them food when they’re confined to the nest incubating the eggs. Again, in this case.
Wanda adopts begging posture
Mr. Walker obliges with peanuts …
… having first thoughtfully dunked them in gutter water for extra succulence and flavour.
So there we are … I have no idea what befell of Nest #1.
It could have been any number of things … raccoons, cats, hawks, cars, operator error …
Sadly, it’s not uncommon, and clearly the Walkers are wasting no time in getting to work on a second go. The story, therefore, continues and we hope we have some new little Walkers before the summer is out.
Detail from Mr. Walker’s section of City Crow Stories, showing 2021 fledglings
I always have mixed feelings about this time of year when the baby crows, still in the nest, are getting oh so close to checking out the pros and cons of gravity.
Sometimes, if the nest is too high and the wings too fragile, this is their first and last adventure. However, most will make it to the ground and then the crow parents’ work really begins.
Fledgling crows are a little like feathered disaster machines — hopping blithely into roads, napping under parked car tires, wandering innocently up to cats, crashing into garden fences, ignoring crow territorial boundaries and antagonizing the neighbours — I’ve watched each one of these scenarios every spring.
My breath is bated for the entire month of June … and I’m just a spectator to all of this.
As I always like to advise people at this time of year, try and put yourself into the mindset of the very tired and very tense crow parents.
Yes, they may swoop at your head if you get too close to their precious offspring. There will definitely be a lot of sound and fury, signifying something.
But try not to think of this as an adversarial, crow vs humanity type of situation — rather just another way in which crows, as devoted parents, are very like us.
Lots of the cawing isn’t even directed at us. Sometimes, I’ve noticed, the parents make a huge amount of noise just for the purpose of making the vulnerable little baby crow calls less obvious to listening predators.
Sometimes they’re just delivering a loud and endless stream of advice for the fledglings’ benefit: “flap harder,” “get off the road,” “sshh!”
And, if you MUST let your cat outside, please, oh please, at least keep them in during nesting season. Baby birds are, literally, sitting ducks for recreational feline hunters.
Also, take a moment to check around your parked car before driving off!
I haven’t actually seen a fledgling yet this year, but any day now …
I heard some quiet fledgling burbles coming from Marvin and Mavis’s nest a few days ago. Listen carefully after the car noise …
Marvin and Mavis were running a full time Uber Eats service between my deck (and an hourly peanut supply) and this tree a couple of days ago.
Here I am again …
They’ve also been fiercely defending our garden against a new crow couple in the area. Marvin’s feathers have been in fluffed out warrior mode for so long I wonder if this may be his permanent new look.
Now Marvin and Mavis’s visits are much more sporadic and I have the feeling that the fledglings are on the move, so the parents just have to go wherever their waddling, falling or flapping takes them. This is the most nerve wracking and disaster prone stage, so we can only wait and see what happens next.
More updates soon on other local crows’ nesting progress!
Here is something of what I wanted to write last week, which ended up being a whirlwind of packaging and shipping pre-ordered City Crow Stories books in the middle of having the floors in the main part of our house re-finished.
“Before” floors with baffled pets
I’d hoped that the launching of the book and the floor project would fall at different times but they seemed pulled inexorably together like catastrophically aligned meteors. Luckily the convergence was more along the lines of domestic chaos than planetary cataclysm.
Outdoor kitchen set up — almost like a camping holiday!
Because the pre-orders came in as we were madly trying to get the house emptied, and I was still waiting for the books to be printed and bound, it was only when I was actually physically picking up each printed order and placing it with the book to put in an envelope that I saw all the names of people who had purchased one.
The “camping at home” might have been a little nicer if it wasn’t the coldest May in recorded history!
As I packed each book I smiled at all the names I recognized, ranging from old friends to people I’ve come to know online.
I wished I could write a little note with every order, but things were so overwhelming at that point I felt I just had to keep going and get the hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of books on their way.
So here is, with apologies for the generalization, the note I wished I’d been able to include:
Thank-you so much for ordering the book.
Thank-you so much for your support over the years (some of you since the first studio sale in the small garden shed I shared with squirrels!)
Thank-you all the encouraging, funny, touching, fascinating emails you’ve sent about your own experiences with crows and ravens and about what my work has meant to you.
Amid the general madness, I’ve felt very grateful to know so many lovely people.
And a PS — many thanks to those of you who’ve received your City Crow Stories, read it and written back with such kind comments.
Lily was miraculously available to help with some of the packaging. Couldn’t have done it without her!
The Story Behind the City Crow Stories
I first started thinking of creating a book some time in 2020, but the thought just rattled around in my mind, month after month.
The downside of self-publishing is that you don’t have an editor telling you what to do — the book can be anything you want it to be, which is actually rather terrifying.
By the start of 2022 I was determined to get started, but January and February consisted of more mental flailing, as I became convinced that I had to write a book to Save The World via crows.
Relief came when I realized that I just needed to write a few stories about some crows I know — and let the crows do the saving on their own!
Some of my goals in creating City Crow Stories were to:
make a book that is full of beauty and humour
create a lot of visual space to let the crows’ beauty and character speak for themselves
tell the story of how I came to love crows
help people realize that “my” crows are not the only special ones
offer some tips on how to recognize and make friends with crows
encourage people to take a break from the meta-verse
inspire curiosity in other lives
as stated earlier, save the world, via crows (a girl can dream …)
Meanwhile, on the home front, the floors look lovely. They’re still full of character, but with a lot fewer splinters. In fact, they look SO good we’ve now got to re-paint the walls to match their splendour, meaning we’re still semi-camping out.