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.
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.
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.
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.