In Memory of George


I knew I’d be upset when, inevitably, something happened to one of my crow acquaintances.

Even so, I’m surprised at how many tears I’ve shed since burying my pal, George Brokenbeak.

He’s laid to rest on the “garden of tears” side of the yard, along with countless beloved goldfish and hamsters, and the late Elvis (our cat, not the human — although there was some confusion about that when my son was little …)

George has been gone since Friday, but I didn’t want to cast sadness over the long weekend by writing about it then. I don’t really want to write about it now because it makes me cry again, but I thought you’d want to know.

On Friday morning I got a phone call from a friend and fellow dog walker (two rescue Westies.)  We often stop and chat about the foibles of our dogs, and the comings and goings of the local crows. He knew George quite well, because he and Mabel were spending the summer hanging out behind his house — and dunking food in his dogs’ water bowl. George, in fact, was a minor local celebrity.

Not nearly as famous as Canuck, his much more well known fellow corvid, but known in this immediate neighbourhood for his friendly manner, as well as his distinctive profile.

You could tell George in profile from far away. He and Mabel, sharing a quiet moment in the poplars in my “Delicate Balance” image.

My friend had found George lying dead earlier that morning, and he knew I’d want to know.

Since about May, George and Mabel stopped coming to my garden, staying closer to their annual nesting site a block or so away. Still, I’d see them almost every day when out walking the dog. We’d exchange pleasantries and peanuts.

I last saw him what must have been a day or two before he died.  All of the crows are looking pretty scruffy at the moment with the molting season underway, so if he looked a bit the worse for wear, I didn’t worry too much.

I think this may be the last picture I took of George.

It’s been a long, hot, dry summer in British Columbia. As a result, many parts of the province are, or have been, on fire. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and many have lost everything. Livestock and wildlife up there have died.

Here in Vancouver, we’re lucky to only have the smoke to contend with, blocking a lot of the summer sun.

The sun rises in the eerie smoke-filled sky behind the Iron Workers’ Memorial Bridge in East Vancouver.

But from an urban wildlife perspective, this summer is a disaster. We had less than two mm of rain in July.  None so far in August. Every puddle dried up weeks ago. Any worms must be ten feet down in the earth by now. I’ve seen skunks wandering the streets in broad daylight. They’re normally nocturnal and shy, so this is stressed behaviour. This morning I saw two coyotes on the corner of our block, again in daylight.

In the end, I’m not sure what killed George, but I suspect that, with the extra challenge of his broken beak, it was just too hard to get enough to eat and drink. I’ve been putting water out in front and back of my house, and over by the school at the end of the street. I know George had access to my friend’s dogs’ water bowls, but possibly it was too hard for him to drink efficiently enough for these harsh conditions.

George was found lying at the end of our alley — just a few houses from my back yard. I can’t help wondering if he was making his way back, coming for a drink in the birdbath and some peanuts. I hadn’t seen him anywhere near that part of our neighbourhood since May, so he was on some kind of special mission.

There was no crow funeral being held for George when I got there.  He was just lying there, looking rather peaceful. No signs of injury.

At first I thought I’d just leave him to Nature. Or the City coming to pick him up. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I came home, put my rubber gloves on, and found a shoe box.

I dug a deep hole in the pet graveyard, wrapped George in a linen napkin, and sprinkled flowers on him. I’m sure he didn’t care about any of this, but it made me feel a little better. I placed a flat stone on his grave and stencilled a crow silhouette on it.

Let future archaeologists make of this what they may.

My daughter summed it up well when she replied to my distraught text with the words: “He was a good crow.” Indeed he was. Perhaps it was just his time to go, two years after his original beak injury. For some reason I had come to think he was immortal.

To read more about the wonder that was George, you can visit earlier stories:

Also, future stories about how Mabel carried on without George:

And, in consideration of the thirsty and distressed birds out there, please think about putting a shallow bowl of water out for them wherever you can.

I’m sure George would approve.

PS I know you’ll be wondering what’s become of Mabel. She is still hanging in there, over in the other alleyway. I walked by there this morning to give her my sympathy (and some peanuts.)





63 thoughts on “In Memory of George

  1. Heartfelt condolences. What a tender tribute. I love that you wrapped his body in linen with flower petals on top. You are a good and reverent woman.

  2. I am so sorry to read this. Poor George. Thank you so much, June, for bringing him to us, so we could learn about him and admire him too.

  3. Oh dear,I’m so sorry. Thank you for your tender care of him, I’m so glad you didn’t leave him for the city.

  4. I’m so sorry June. What a lovely tribute to George. Thank you for what you do for urban wildlife. Much sympathy.

  5. I love this story even though I am sad that George has gone to “Bird Heaven”. We must follow Mabel in Memory of George. Thank You June for sharing these stories.

  6. I share in your tears, I feel like my resident crow, Hopper, with his crooked foot, is a kindred spirit to George. But I’m reminded of the circle of life or maybe even reincarnation. Hopper and his mate, Helen, have allowed me to live in their neighborhood for 4 years. My first summer on Hopper Street (aka 4th Ave) I noticed a third and very noisy crow hanging around and realized later that the interloper was Hopper and Helen’s baby. Then two summers came and went and Hopper and Helen seemed to be empty nesters. But this summer, two weeks ago in fact, I heard what I thought was a crow argument on the roof next door. To my delight, Helen was stuffing food into a noisy baby’s beak (the baby continuing to squawk as it swallowed her food, the equivalent or eating with her mouth open?). My son, the namer of the crows, named her Holly.

    This last Saturday around crow dinner time, I was leaving the house, and I grew concerned when I saw what I thought was a neighbor crow trying to get in on the feeding time action. As Helen stuffed food into Holly’s beak, Hopper stuffed food into the pink beak of another blue eyed baby! Holly has a brother! After years of sharing space with the quiet couple, Hopper and Helen, they are once again enjoying family life with not one, but two noisy, demanding, manner-less teenagers.

    I believe we are all connected…humans, wildlife, beloved pets, and all manner of flora. I believe that life does not end, but enters into a new phase of existence, whatever that may be. I’d like to think that a little bit of George lives on in Herman, the newest addition to the Hopper Street clan.

    • Thanks so much for the lovely story of Hopper and Helen and their expanding dynasty. Sounds like an exciting time in your garden. Funnily enough, just this morning the Firehall Crow family (who live by the Firehall on the corner of our block) came to my garden for the first time – with three noisy, chaotic babies. As you say, the circle of life. Say hi to Herman for me!

  7. So sorry to learn about George’s passing. I remember your blog post when you discovered his injury and thought of him quite often. Thank you taking care of him and letting us all to get to know him. RIP little George, you will be missed…

  8. Sorry to hear this June, he was a remarkable crow. It has been a tough summer here for wildlife and glad you are helping out with water in your neighbourhood too. George is flying free somewhere.

  9. We’ve been feeding the local birds for years but it’s only been this summer that the crows have joined out little backyard habitat, washing their food in the dish of water we’ve been putting out in the hot weather. They’re a delight and, as with all juvenile birds, their young ones are a source of entertainment. I haven’t experienced losing a crow yet. I know that will be hard. I’m glad you paid him the respect he was due.

  10. Reading this made me cry. I loved reading your stories about the plucky survivor George was. This has been a very difficult summer for wildlife everywhere in BC.

  11. June, as all things must pass , so it was with George. Right now the wounds of loss are too fresh, but someday you will think back on George with a smile, and be reminded of his tale. Thanks to you for sharing George with us, even in death. Hugs.

  12. Heartbreaking, June. Remember, his many gifts to you live on, and you can take solace in the thought of the love he received and benefited from during his life. In sympathy.

  13. June. Thank you for sharing your stories of the birds and so sorry to hear about George. I live in South Texas and have so many varieties of birds that come to my yard for food and water. From the smallest hummingbird to Red-Tailed hawks. I’m afraid I don’t always welcome the hawks, the Blue Jays and the Grackles (the closest thing we have to a crow) as they hunt the smaller birds but that’s the circle of life I’m afraid.

  14. Thanks so much for sharing the tale of George’s sad demise, June. As you say, it probably truly is a marvel he survived this long, especially over the last winter we had. But probably this summer was extra hard on him and with his handicap, he just wasn’t up to saving himself this time. It’s very sad news for sure. Your tale brought a tear (or three) to my eyes, too. I’m glad you did the right thing and buried him. You def ‘had’ to. I hope Mabel does ok, trust you can get her some nuts in the coming days and weeks. And yes, let’s hope this weather and bad air breaks soon. It must be so hard on all the wildlife, for sure. I’ve def been doing my bit for them also – water and food – where I can. Thanks again for sharing this news, as sad as it is. Take care.

  15. I’m so sorry to hear about George.
    I always admired the way that he took what life handed him and carried on.
    The ritual of saying Good-bye is really to comfort those of us still here, but it also is the way we honour the one who has left. You did right by your friend George.
    Let us know how Mabel is.

    • Thanks, Jo. Mabel seems to be doing OK. I try to go by the alley she seems to be calling home at least once a day with peanuts. She was there this morning – looking ragged with molting feathers like the rest of them at this time of year, but otherwise OK.

  16. My heart goes out to you and his family. It is profoundly sad but one has to remember due to his disability you got to know him more than you ever could without it. Even in death his beak assured us we would know his fate.

    That does not diminish the tears I type blurried eye thru. Be strong and know the crow murder above is watching over you with great kindness. Remember they know who is good.

    I too have adopted what I call gimpy crows. This was after our Ellie who we raised came home with a broken foot., For about 8 years i tracked her until one day she never came again.

    May the god of crows smile on you for all you do for them. She knows and so does George and Mabel.

  17. What a beautiful tribute, both in words and in his resting place. I know that he, as well as all the crows must absolutely love you through and through. They’re such beautiful and brilliant creatures, that it’s an honor to be in their graces as you are. Your love of each of them is palpable through your wonderful blog. Much luck and love to all the wildlife in your neck of the woods.

  18. A heartbreaking and moving tribute to a fine crow. We’re so lucky to have animals in this world–they keep us sane and show us what’s important. Thanks for letting us have a glimpse into George’s world.

  19. Hello June,

    I’m so sorry to have not seen this earlier. My sincere condolences to you (and Mabel) on the passing of George. What a lovely animal he was and my thanks to you for sharing his exploits with us. I’m sure your kindness to him and his fellow corvids does not go unnoticed by them. xoxo

  20. Your lovely memorial to George brings tears to my eyes. I hope Mabel can hold onto her memories of George and let them propel her into more great adventures. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all the birds who choose to create new life in our yard…or the yard we all share raising our families here together. It’s painful to see wounded birds coming to the feeders and we hope to see them often as repeat visitors. We are waiting for the final robin in one of the yard’s nests, one of three babies, to fledge so that we can once again let the dogs out front. We’re very lucky this summer in upstate New York that we’ve had plenty of rain to keep all the birds and wildlife from being hungry. Thank you for your heart warmingly wonderful bird stories.

  21. Oh, NO! I go to Long Beach for the day to visit the crows there and come back to *this*! Yes, it seemed as though George was immortal. This is such sad news! I was wondering about him as I unwrapped my delightful frazzled Mabel tiles last night with no clue as to what had happened. My sympathies to you.

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  28. I didn’t even know George but this tribute might have made me shed a manly tear or two. You are a good person, and George was so lucky to have you.

  29. Dear June,

    I just came across your blog post through a tweet and read the story of George and Mabel and thought it was beautiful. I kept reading and found out he has since passed. I know it’s been some time now but I’d like you to know that his story and the way you wrote about him touched me, I have shed some tears for him and for how you must have felt that day.

    Thank you so much for being so kind to him and to the other birds. And thank you for sharing his story, I’m happy I got to read about him.

  30. We love our birds here in Rural eastern Washington. We had a 30ft tree fall over and turned all the smaller branches and limbs into a HUGE bird’s nest used by at least 6 different varieties of bird. There are dozens who use it and you reminded me to fill our community bird water feeder. We grow sunflowers and walnuts (which I will crack a few pounds worth for them weekly when available) for the birds and actually talk/sing with them several mornings a week. We also have an older robin’s nest (used many many times) which has been modified for finches. So many things and we are so blessed!

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