George’s Tough Year

I would describe George’s 2015 as “catastrophic”. Still, there are lessons to be learned from his persistence.

His year has been so awful, it’s taken me a while to prepare myself to tell the story, and look again at some of the images.

George Waiting

George appeared in my garden about midway through the long, hot, dry summer last year. He was waiting for me one day when I came out of the studio, resting on a branch and looking at me as if we were already well acquainted. It turned out that George had a family — a mate (Mabel) and one fledgling.

Mabel and Baby

The baby crow at first seemed like the average disheveled juvenile, doted upon my both of his parents. But as the summer continued, it became clear that all was not well with Junior. Lumps appeared on his face and then on his feet. He had avian pox, which is often fatal and very contagious to other birds of many species.

George preening baby

I had a crisis of conscience. Fearing for the health of all the other birds that come to my garden, I considered ignoring George’s pleading looks so that the family might start to seek food elsewhere and leave the area. Easier said than done.

Waiting for me outside the studio. Hard to resist.

Waiting for me outside the studio. Hard to resist.

After a couple of miserable days of looking at George’s expectant face through the studio window, I moved to plan B. This consisted of a rather rigorous schedule of feeding George and family at only one spot on the deck and then, after their visit, immediately cleaning the area with bleach and rinsing thoroughly. I also bleached the birdbath daily, and emptied and cleaned all the other bird feeders every few days. I went from crazy crow lady, to crazy bleach lady!

Of course, when I noticed the sick baby and family perched on the hydro wires all over the neighbourhood, I realized that there was a limit to what I could do in the sterilization department.

By the end of the summer, George and Mabel looked completely worn out. All Vancouver wildlife had a tough time dealing with the drought, and many birds started molting early in the summer. George looked thoroughly bedraggled by the time new feathers started to come in for the fall.


Finally, in early fall, his new feathers came in and he looked much more handsome. More importantly, he and Mabel showed no sign of having developed avian pox symptoms.

George in new winter feather finery.

George in new winter feather finery.


A little more on Mabel: she’s a lot more reluctant to get close to me than George. A problem with her right eye probably causes some vision impairment,  naturally making her more cautious. At times the eye is completely closed and, at other times, it looks quite normal. Mostly it doesn’t seem to cause her great problems.

In this photo you can see Mabel's eye problem.

In this photo you can see Mabel’s eye problem.

Moments later, Mabel's right eye looks just fine, as she deftly juggles some peanuts.

Moments later, Mabel’s right eye looks just fine, as she deftly juggles some peanuts.

Sadly, the baby crow grew sicker, although both parents continued to feed and preen him with single-minded dedication. He could still fly, but his damaged feet made it hard for him to land and rest. We could hear his plaintive cries for food from one end of our alleyway to the other.  Then the weather turned suddenly cold and he fell silent.

George’s bad luck did not end there.

Shortly after the sick baby crow died, I saw George waiting for me as usual in the garden and went out to say hello.

I gasped in horror. My brain couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. George the magnificent, was missing half of his top beak.

George - still magnificent.

First of all, I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how this happened.

I still can’t. If anyone has ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Then, I was grief stricken. After all that George had been through, this new catastrophe seemed so unfair.

I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to survive this new challenge. I didn’t post anything about it on Facebook because I was still mentally processing both the event, and my reaction to it.

I struggled with whether it’s wrong to be so very upset about the difficulties facing a crow — given all the terrible things going on in the world.

There’s a whole other, more thoughtful, blog post being pondered to answer that question. Until then, in brief, I’ve decided it’s OK. And even if it isn’t, I can’t help it.

Jaunty George

George's injury doesn't seem to have made less confident. Here he calls a warning to Hank and Vera to stay away from his food source.

George’s injury doesn’t seem to have affected his confidence. Here he calls a warning to Hank and Vera to stay away from his food source.

It’s been several weeks now and I’ve become accustomed to George’s new look. I’m cheered by the adaptability he’s demonstrating with his food collection methods. When he comes for peanuts he turns his head almost upside down for better “shoveling” action. I try to help out by putting the nuts in contained space so he can trap them. It’s rather amazing how efficient he’s become.

Modified Technique 2

Modified technique 1

And, happily, Mabel seems to be standing by her crow. George’s injury doesn’t seem to have affected her loyalty – the two of them remain a fierce team when it comes to protecting their territorial rights.

George and Mabel share a quiet domestic moment.

George and Mabel share a quiet domestic moment.

Clearly Mabel still thinks that George is the top crow, so I’m hoping the two of them together can survive and thrive. I’m full of admiration for George Halfbeak and his resilience. I’m even starting to see a certain dashing charm in his new look.

George this morning, braving the think frost for a few peanuts on the deck.

George this morning, braving the cold and frost for a few peanuts on the deck.

He had a pretty devastating 2015, but looks set to take on 2016 with typical crow determination. Good luck, George and Happy New Year.

logo with crow


54 thoughts on “George’s Tough Year

  1. So sad to hear about George. Spring will be here soon and he does have
    a dependable food source. Good for you June for caring for this fellow. There needs to be more people like you!
    My two little buddies have been scarce these days and a flock of crows have discovered that I am the bearer of treats. I will soon have to disguise myself to go to work!

      • Beak damage probably due to spring-style rat or mouse trap. (Wood or plastic triangular base with spring lever and bait shelf,) Peanut butter usually used as bait. I feed my crows dog kibble, chicken and meats from my dog’s diet, not nuts. My rats get baited with the PB only.

  2. Pingback: George in Action | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  3. June, you are such a lovely person with a big heart. I am so delighted at having discovered your writing through discovering your art; I feel like I have found a kindred spirit. Happy New Year, and all the best to George and Mabel.

  4. June, thanks so much for the update on George and Mabel. I can appreciate your comment about worrying so much about a crow given all the terrible things that are going on in the world. I wonder though if it’s the ability to empathize with the struggles of urban wildlife that helps us cope with the bigger issues that demand our attention. And in their struggles we always, without fail, see something positive; George has lost part of his beak but he can rely on your kindness and the unwavering support of Mabel so we know he’ll be fine. Maybe it’s just me but moments like this makes the rest of the world seem a little bit more kind and caring.
    Love your blog and the great photos!

    • I believe you’re right about the observation of wildlife giving us a compassionate lens with which to look at the wider world. I really am working on a blog about this, with ideas gleaned, not only from my own thoughts, but also quotes from a variety excellent writers on nature and the human condition. Happy New Year, Cathy

  5. Excellent read June. I felt like they were my birds too. So worried as I was reading. Thank you for your love of crows and your kindness. Please don’t tell me the little one was ‘baby face’ I have hanging in our condo. Happy New Year to you.

  6. Thank you for your update on a George. I got very teary eyed reading about him and his family. They must be so grateful to have found you and your kindness. Thanks June!

  7. Poor George! I can’t imagine what could have happened that he lost part of his beak. I don’t think I have ever seen that, and we have lots of crows in our yard. Thank goodness you are there to take care of him and his family!

  8. Hello June,

    Wonderful account of George’s bittersweet year. So sad to see that he has lost part of his upper mandible, but amazing that he seems to have overcome the disability. Although I am a bit preoccupied by things related to rats at the moment, I wonder if he had an encounter with a baited rat trap as he tried to eat the bait – cheese, peanut butter, dog food or other delicacy. The rat traps around my place deliver a powerful blow (still waiting for one to catch a rat…..) which is probably strong enough to crack/fracture a crow beak. So the sad result would be a fractured beak but a relatively clean, bloodless amputation (but possibly painful as some birds have nerves in their beaks but don’t know if that includes crows). Anyhow, so glad that George is carrying on!

    Happy New Year! Sarah


    • Thanks, Sarah. I hadn’t thought of a rat trap but I guess that is just as likely as anything else. I know that some people probably try to eliminate their rat population without the same due care and attention as others. While most rat traps are in those containers that keep birds, other animals and curious children (!) out, I bet some people are not as conscientious and put unprotected traps out. Ouch. Good luck with the trap line, btw. June

  9. Happy New Year, June!
    My cat Zoe and I really enjoyed reading your blog about dear, old George. She kept looking behind the screen for George when I scrolled down! Your local wildlife are so lucky to have you as their guardian angel. There is a fair amount of info on the web about beak injuries (seems to be quite common due to collisions). It is tough reading, as it almost painful to see injured birds. I wasn’t sure I would make it through your story! It is a relief that George has adapted so well, and there doesn’t seem to be any exposed soft tissue so I bet the risk of infection is low. I just read that chicken beaks continue to grow throughout their lives. I’m still daydreaming about all of the artwork on your studio walls waiting for me. All good things come to those who wait! I look forward to reading more of your blogs (and catching up on the archives). I wish you and your family, human and otherwise all the best for 2016. I’m so glad to have met you and to have discovered your work.

  10. June, from a rehabbers standpoint, I would say that George is unlikely to grow a new upper beak. Ir will depend on whether or not the growth plate for the beak has been damaged. Or only part of it may grow back. Either way, he seems to have adapted. Birds are so resilient. As a caring, compassionate being, you cannot help but worry about your crow friends. And now we, your blog fans, will worry alongside you, so your worry load will be slightly lessened. We have a squirrel with a dead tail so I (who am not particularly fond of squirrels) worry about how he stays warm, and what keeps him dry when it’s raining, The ugliness in the world will always be there, but our concern for the crows, squirrels, and other critters around us keep us sane, and make us the caring compassionate souls that we are. Thanks so much for sharing, June.

  11. So sad… but they are smart and adapt. I always tease my husband by saying they are smarter then are whole family. I look after 3 families were I work. I feed them dog kibble….that might be something a little easier for George to pick up. You are awesome…not all people understand why I feed them. They never cease to amaze me. All the best in 2016
    Hugs Debi

    • Thanks, Debi. I did give George a little bit of Edgar’s cat food and he did seem to like that. Edgar, on the other hand, was not that impressed. 😉 Maybe I’ll pick up some extra kibble on my next pet food store excursion. Happy New Year!

  12. Oh my… like you we have adopted a crow family. The other day one of the crows from a family down the street couldn’t fly and was stuck in our yard. I called her crow running and wrote a small article on her.

    We had to have a chat with ourselves on what we could do. One, keep her hiding in our yard and feed her (hope no cat finds her), put her in a bin with a light bulb in our shed like we did when we raised our baby crow Ellie, or let her out the gate. Then her family came to the front yard and pecked around…. we went with the gate opening. Next thing I know she was out in the front and walking down the street to where her flock lived. Hope she did ok… and that was the best I could do for her… let her go home.

    So…I feel for your conundrum. How to love them but not control them. Hang in there!! Robin

  13. Thanks for this story (and pictures) about George and his family. Living in the wild is pretty tough, but it’s good to see George is adapting. He’s got some great people on his side 😉

  14. Wow! Crow people I can relate to! I don’t have any co-workers or friends who understand my love for these birds. At my previous workplace, the crows would see my car 2 or 3 blocks away, and several would fly along beside and over my car, amusing my co-workers! Not everyone accepts them though, and many still have a misunderstanding of them. I try to educate when I can.

  15. Such a great story and thank you for posting! Realized a short time ago that a fledgling I befriended in 2013 had avian pox. All I knew at the time was that the little one wasn’t making it to the winter roost, and then I started to notice growths on the feet and around one of his eyes. Very cruel illness, but my local pair looked for that crow every morning to make sure he was OK. I nicknamed him/her “Tiny Tim” and he sometimes slept on the windowsill outside my apartment. He didn’t make it through winter 2013, but I still have very fond memories of Tiny Tim and have been friends with “the family” ever since!

    • I have seen stories of eagles and other birds getting replacement beaks and I have thought of trying to catch George and take him to a vet. I don’t think I’d be able to get close enough to him to do that though. He’s relatively comfortable with me, but not if I get less than a foot away – or grabbing distance!

    • A superb idea, Marianne! He would not be easy to catch though. But if anyone could do it, it would be June. She has a way with her crows!

  16. Pingback: What kind of crow feeder are you? | Corvid Research

  17. Pingback: Black and White World | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  18. Pingback: Crows with broken beaks | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  19. Pingback: The Colour of Crows | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  20. Pingback: The Dog and Crow | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  21. Pingback: George and Mabel – A Love Story |

  22. So glad I stumbled across your site as I’m very interested in crows and so are my kids! Just wanted to comment on your wondering if it’s ok to worry so much about a crow when there are way bigger problems, as I’ve come up against this same question often while tending domestic farm animals (I’m currently putting effort/emotion into one little injured chicken, knowing so many chickens – not to mention humans!- are living miserable lives and I don’t know what to do about that). However, over time I’m becoming convinced that rather than running out and trying to save the world (who knows how to do that?!) If everyone focused on their most local problems, as in, whatever presents in front of then that they are capable of solving, which could be an injured crow, chicken, or even just getting their own life in order, collectively we would be in a much better position. Keep posting and keep the conviction that every little crow matters and it helps other people realize that too, because the world would be a lot better if people acted like they believed that every life has value. Maybe if we all felt that we wouldn’t be capable of causing some of the bigger issues out there, and maybe we need that kind of “spiritual” shift for lack of a better word, that feeling that we are all connected as life, so that our culture becomes less damaging as a whole. I’m not entirely sure but it honestly warms my heart reading your post!

    • Thanks so much for that wonderful response to my blog. I agree with you 100% on the micro issues and how we deal them with our lives somehow percolating into a better future for the world as a whole. There are days, especially in the years since I wrote the post, that it’s even harder to believe it, but I do still feel in my heart that if we all spent a few minutes a day to watch and learn from lives lived in parallel to ours, we’d all be better off – in terms of our own mental health, as well as a general exercise in empathy. Thanks again for that lovely note. It was the first thing I read this morning and set me up for the day. 🙂

  23. Your storyline based on crows, your keen observation and understanding of these birds, you’re loving heart and your sense of humour. Loved all of it! I was searching google for pictures of juvenile crows when by accident I fell upon your site through one of the photos. Kept me hooked for an hour! Hope to keep enjoying it… For now I’ll have to get back to studying (lol). Keep up the good work. ^_^

  24. Pingback: More on Mabel | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  25. Pingback: Peanut Diplomacy | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  26. Pingback: The Inheritance | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  27. I see this is tagged in North Vancouver! I live in Vancouver and have been feeding a crow that’s also missing half of its top beak for almost two years now. He/she has a loyal murder and they all come to my house every day.
    I wonder if my Hafi is your George 😯

    • Sadly not as George is buried in my garden. A neighbour found him deceased in summer 2017 unfortunately. I have seen a few other crows with similar beak injuries to George. I have no idea how it happens, but for some reason, it’s not unique to George. Give my best to Hafi! 🙂

  28. Pingback: White Wing the Crow | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  29. Pingback: George and Mabel – A Love Story | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  30. Pingback: Mabel: A Requiem | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  31. Pingback: In Memory of George | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

Leave a Reply to Denise BrackstoneCancel reply