Dishevelled Crows

My mother had a storehouse of wonderful sayings — one for every occasion, really.

If I was looking particularly unkempt (a look I actively cultivated in my hippy days, but that’s an entirely different story) she’d say I looked as if I’d been “dragged through a hedge backwards.”

Sometimes, at the end of a particularly hard day of cleaning and chores, she’d describe feeling like “the wreck of the Hesperus.”

I’m reminded of both sayings every time I go outside at this time of year and see the state of the local crows.

They always look bedraggled at this stage of the molting season, but the seemingly endless, long, hot summer seems to be making them even more tattered and grumpy-looking than usual.

Feathers do not last forever, and after a year of hard service, the crows’ feathers begin to lose their glossy blue-black patina and become dull, with muted shades of sepia and grey. Luckily they have the ability to grow a new set of spanking new ones, but this metamorphosis comes at a cost. The process takes a lot of energy, which is why it’s usually timed for a period of relatively low corvid activity — after nesting and before migration (for those who head to warmer climes for winter). They need rest and good nutrition to grow the new feather cloak and hormonal changes associated with the process can make them feel out of sorts.

This summer, with no rain to speak of in months, it must be especially gruelling. Food sources, and even water, are harder to come by than usual. I’ve been putting out a couple of bowls of water in my neighbourhood for Eric and Clara and the harried parents of the Firehall Triplets. I feel especially sorry for the molting crows with young ones, as they have to find food for extra mouths — and deal with the loud and  constant appeals for food.

The Firehall Family

Although they continue to try their luck at getting the parents to feed them, the fledglings are, by now, capable of doing some of their own foraging. The photo above was taken just this morning. The parent crow ignored that gaping pink beak and flew off with most of the peanuts I’d left. There were a couple left in the grass, and junior eventually got the hint and picked them up himself.

Baby crow figuring out if the leaves of my neighbour’s squash plants are “food.”

Warning: This is a risky vantage point from which to take a photo of a baby (or any) crow.

Eric and Clara

This is Eric, described by my husband as “the James Bond of crows” for his usually sleek unruffled feathers, and manner.

As you can see, even Eric the Suave is looking rather ragged and disgruntled these days.

Eric and Clara this morning. Only 8am and it’s hot already!


Mabel can be found every morning just down the alley from Eric and Clara. Here she is, her faded feathers looking almost as colourful as the towels on the washing line behind her.

Painted Crow

My new pal has conveniently marked him- or herself with some paint around the neck, aiding in instant identification. It’s already fainter now and I guess the little paint mishap will be a distant memory when the new feathers come in.


So, when you slip on your new back-to-school or back-to-work outfit, spare a thought for the poor crows who have to grow their own.

It’s an arduous process, and I’m sure they’ll be mightily proud and relieved when their fall wardrobe finally comes in.



Crow calendars now available online, or at the studio sale.

8 thoughts on “Dishevelled Crows

  1. Another lovely photo essay. You capture beautiful images. You also make a point I never thought of. I’m not hearing nor seeing much of the area crows these days, and I’m guessing molt has something to do with that.

    • Thanks, Susan. Yes I think the crows are conserving their energy to keep cool in the hot weather and grow their new feathers. There was a hawk on my morning walk this morning and the crows did mob it a bit, but in a relatively restrained way compared to their usual all-out cacophony.

  2. Your photos are great as usual, they also give me the chance to see them up close. Our local crows are way up gum trees and usually obscured by leaves and branches. I live to hear them calling in the morning and then in the evening when they return from a days hunting.

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  5. I love your story and photos. We have two groups of crows that have been coming to our house for 2 years now and your crow with the paint reminds me of how every so often I can tell who one of our crows is by sight. Usually I have to see their mannerisms before I know who is who, but the seagulls seem to like to poop on the crows when they can. So, when that happens to one of them, I can tell the crow from the others by sight rather than mannerism for a day or two. LOL. We have 9 crows that come by (a group of 5 American crows and a group of 4 Fish crows). The ones we have named are Roadkill, Spaz, McNugget, Bufflehead, and Sissy. Thanks for sharing your crows with us.

  6. I love your article & photos! And I LOVE crows! I have a resident pair in Victoria BC who have just returned after summer away!

    Thank you for your info & photos!

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