Wall of Sound

Crow Wall of Sound

It sounded as if Crowmaggedon was in progress  in the back alley.

 

I went out to investigate — expecting, from the sheer volume of sound, to find a full scale murder going on.

Instead, I found two crows — Marvin and Mavis.

Sometimes just Marvin, as Mavis kept making trips back to check on the nest.

It was same call they make when poor Edgar (the cat) ventures out onto our back deck. It is, I’m guessing, their “gound threat” alarm call. They seem to have a slightly higher pitched one for airborne enemies.

Edgar was sleeping innocently on the couch, so not the cause of the ruckus this time.

But I did glimpse a raccoon’s tail disappearing under the neighbour’s fence. It must have gone to sleep there, because Marvin and Mavis kept up their protest for several hours.

Raccoon with Turquoise Wall

This is a raccoon photograph taken the day after the Wall of Sound incident. I never did get a picture of the one that Marvin and Mavis were so mad at. I imagine it was snoring peacefully in the neighbour’s woodpile.

I guess one of the signs that you’ve truly become a “crazy crow lady” is when the ceaseless sound of cawing (which is, objectively, quite annoying after an hour or more)  becomes a source of fascination.

Here is Marvin making his point. It’s impressive, for a solo effort.

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But listen how, when Mavis joins in, they cooperate to create a continuous wall of sound. Eat your heart out Phil Spector.

 

 

Mavis seems to time her calls to fill every gap in Marvin’s sequence, so that they truly do sound like a flowing river of corvid fury.

The other interesting part of the performance was the incredible number of dynamic shapes they cut against the sky.

Marvin Marching on a Line

Marvin would pace theatrically along the neighbour’s washing line — sometimes struggling to combine keeping balanced with the vocal effort. Rather like trying to sing opera while tight rope walking, I should imagine.

 

Marvin on a Line 1

Marvin on a Line 4

Marvin on a Line 5

Marvin on Washing Line Reel

If the story the crows wrote against the sky with their nest building silhouettes was one of peace and tranquility (see Crow Calligraphy) — this more recent essay would be on the subjects of fear, fury and determination.

Mind you, in the middle of all of this, there was time for a bit of curiosity and play. Something at the top of the washing line pole would occasionally distract Marvin from his ranting. Periodic moments of blissful silence would ensue, before he’d remember his sacred mission and pick up the protest.

So, fear, fury, determination … with a side order of comedy.

Marvin Playing

 

Marvin and Mavis on Wires

Mavis reminds Marvin to keep on task.

 

I enjoyed the energy of the performance so much, that I decided to use one of the pictures from that day as part of the cover for the 2019 City Crow Calendar I’m now working on.

Somehow it seems to capture a lot of all that is “crow.”

City Crow Calendar cover 2019

Hoping to have the calendar printed and for sale by August this year!

Later that day, raccoon finally decided to move on and peace was restored.

Here’s a more relaxed Marvin that evening, taking in the view from his favourite power line pole. The nest and the distant North Shore mountains all within view, no predators around for a moment — time to let go of all that raccoon stress.

Sunset Marvin

Crow Wall of Sound

 

Two Crow Families

FAMILY NUMBER ONE

Eric and Clara June 22 2018

Clara and Eric early this morning.

Our first crow family consists of my old friends, Clara and Eric.

They started nest building in mid-April, choosing a spot in the poplar trees bordering the high school at the end of our street. It was visible for a while, but in May the leaves filled in and the nest was veiled in secrecy

Just before the leaves popped out enough to render the nest invisible.

Weeks passed by and I waited to see signs of baby crows. Radio silence — until last week when I woke up to a loud crow-fuffle outside the school.

Half a dozen adult crows were cawing at each other in a circle inside the school fence. Outside the fence sat this little bundle. It seemed as if the adults were trying, and failing, to reach consensus on what do do about the problem at hand.

Baby Crow on the Ground

The dilemma: baby crow was sitting right where, in another half an hour, cars would be pulling up as parents dropped off their children at school.

 

I went home to collect a protective hat and some conciliatory peanuts, and returned,  prepared to move the baby off the road to the relative security of the fence line about 5 feet away. Of course, this did not go over well at all with the adults.  A crowd of about a dozen outraged crows had gathered by now, and they all offered their opinions (loudly) from the trees and fence.

Whether it was their advice, or my getting closer, the baby crow picked himself up and scuttled under his own steam to the fence and off the road edge.

Baby Crow Hop

Day 2: My husband spotted the baby, somehow herded by it’s parents to the inside of the fence line and into an area overgrown with blackberry bushes. Excellent cover.

Day 3: No sign of baby, but parents being very loud and protective.

Day 4: Spotted the baby up in a small crabapple tree on boulevard beside the school.

Eric and Edgar Baby in Crabapple Tree

Day 5: Nightmare — the school gardener had taken a weed-wacker to the area where the baby had been taking cover. A sea of chopped up blackberry stems. No sign of baby.

Day 6: Spotted the baby hopping around the diced foliage. Phew. Parents cawing protectively.

Baby Crow Behind Notre Dame Fence

Day 7: Heart stopping moment when I see this inert form lying in the middle of the empty school parking lot.

Sock

Closer inspection reveals it to be a rolled up black sock. But no sign of baby and parents around but not being protective. Not a good sign.

Day 8: Up very early again to see if I can catch the faintest sound of a baby crow calling. Silence. No baby sounds, no parental cawing. Eric and Clara were in their usual spots but not seeming to be in protective mode any more.

Eric and Clara Rattle Call

Eric offers a rattle call this morning, around 6 am. I’m not sure if he’s trying to give me bad new.

If this fledgling hasn’t survived, it will be the second year in a row that Eric and Clara have not produced any young. Last year no babies made it out of the nest — I think because a big windstorm that happened just as they were about to fledge.

However, better news from …

FAMILY NUMBER TWO

This crow family lives about six blocks from us. I see them on the daily dog walks.

It’s rather hospitable area for a growing crow family — a quiet street, lined on both sides with very big, leafy trees The crows there seem to be the first ones in the neighbourhood to have their babies out of the nest.

Last winter I started to notice one particular crow around there. She stood out from the corvid crowd because of what looked like a streak of white on one wing. The flash of white is actually because one feather sticks out at an awkward angle, but the name White Wing stuck in my head.

Her feather mishap didn’t seem to slow her down at all and I saw her almost every day — until early March, when she disappeared. I was quite worried. as it seemed a bit early for the annual nest building, when couples do tend to make themselves scarce.

I saw her companion almost every day, but no sign of White Wing.

Until just over two weeks ago.

Remember this little fellow from my last blog post, Fledgling Alert — he had just dragged himself (literally) out of the gutter. It turns out that he and two siblings are White Wing’s offspring.

Three baby crows and Dad (Mr White Wing) in one of the leafy trees.

Now I see White Wing every day, being harassed by her brood of  hungry offspring.

Begging Baby Crow

Baby Crow Feeding

Feeding time.

These crow babies are gaining skills fast. They can fly now — airborne, if not graceful. This fledgling was playing with a twig on a roof and managed to hop/fly to another roof while still hanging on to her treasure.

Baby Crow Flies with Twig

Already the bright blue eyes of the first few days are changing to a soft grey. They’ll keep the bright pink “gape” of the mouth for a few more weeks as they continue to beg their parents to be fed.

Grey Eyed Baby Crow

Crow Fledglings in Puddle

Sibling puddle fun.

While life will continue to be a risky business for Whitewing’s three offspring — fledglings seem to do quite well in this little neighbourhood every year.

The leafy canopy of trees  provides some cover from aeriel predators like eagles and hawks (although there is a hawk’s nest in those same trees a block or so down the street). It’s a street with lots of gardens, providing plenty of cover, and not much traffic.

Baby Crow with Fire Hydrant

I’ll try and keep you posted on the progress of families one and two. I’m still hoping against hope for Eric and Clara’s single fledgling, but preparing to accept that things haven’t worked out for them this year.

There is also a third family on my radar — post pending.

Marvin and Mavis have a nest in the same trees as Eric and Clara and they seem determined to keep their babies in there until the last minute.

Stay tuned …..

Baby Crow with Parent

A chip off the old block already.

 

 

 

 

 

Fledgling Alert

Baby Crow with Attitude

They’re out there now. Full of attitude and completely gormless — you’ll see them staggering around a neighbourhood near you soon.

No, not zombies — baby crows.

I’ve seen several fledgling crows on our dog walks lately. A lot of them have been taking shelter at the edge of roads, sometimes wedged between parked cars and the curb.

Baby Crow in Gutter

Baby Crow Struggles Out of Gutter Gap

Baby crow struggles out of the narrow gap they’d gotten stuck in between tire and curb.

Baby Crow On Road Edge

Whew made it out. But a minute later it was back in there again.

So, PLEASE CHECK AROUND YOUR CAR before you drive off — just in case there’s a sleepy little baby crow nestled against your wheels.

If you do find one (even though it’s best not interfere with baby crows in general) you can quickly move it to a safer spot close by (within 20 feet) — a bush, or long grass.

See Corvid Research’s informative blog post: 5 Reasons To Leave Baby Crows Alone.

Baby Crow in Tree

In case you have questions as to whether you’re looking at a baby crow or an adult crow, below is a little “cheat sheet” I put together for a blog post a few years ago.

It includes my annual plea for understanding for the dive-bombing crow parents. Don’t take their aggressive behaviour personally.

Just imagine you’d just given birth to three or four kids at once and they were all instantly teenagers who think they know everything. I expect you’d be behaving a little erratically too …

 

How to Spot Baby Crows

So, have fun watching out for the new neighbourhood babies.

And — do remember to check around your car for someone like this before you drive off.

Baby Crow Shelters In Gutter

Corvid Clarity

 

Crow and Raven

How can you tell if it’s a crow or a raven?

This is a question that often comes up in my email and social media.

There are a lot of excellent resources to help out with this (more on these later) — but I thought I’d try my hand at the explanation too, based mostly on my own observations.

First of all, I made a special set of magnets, titled Corvid Clarity, so that you could keep a small reference guide where you’ll see it often (on your fridge or filing cabinet.)

June Hunter Crow Raven Magnets

The magnets show the first two ways I write about to tell a crow from a raven.

TAIL SHAPE

First of all, if you just catch a glimpse of a crow/raven mystery bird flying over you — check out the tail shape.

The raven’s tail feathers form a diamond shape, while the crow’s tail is in more of flat-edged fan arrangement.

Crow and Raven Flying Silhouettes

Raven in FlightCrow Take Off

While you’re watching them in flight, note if they’re doing more soaring or flapping.

Raven are more prone to  using the air currents for long, effortless glides, while crows tend to rely  more on flapping.

That being said — I have seen crows having a lot of fun on windy days, just riding the gusts of wind like a roller coaster.

THROAT FEATHERS

The raven is distinguished by a rather magnificent arrangement of throat feathers — something like an very opulent cravat.

Raven Portrait

Crows, while also (of course) magnificent in their own way, are less generously endowed in the cravat department.

Crow on a Fence

 

RELATIVE SIZE

Having been unable to persuade either species to remain still while I measure them, I’ve had to rely on information gleaned from the internet here.

Ravens, I’ve read,  measure up to 67 cm (26 inches) long with a wingspan of up to 130 (51 inches).  Their smaller relatives, the crow are about 46 cm (18 inches) long and have a wingspan of around 95 cm (36 inches).

Unless you happen to see them sitting side by side at an equal distance from you, it’s difficult to make an identification based on size alone.

Crow Raven Size Comparison

In this case the two birds were more or less the same distance away, although the crow was a bit higher up in the tree, probably making him look a little smaller.

Raven and Two Crows on Wires

Raven and two crows — here the crows are considerably further away, making the scale deceptive.

 

BEHAVIOUR

If you see a large black corvid being mobbed by one or more smaller ones, you can pretty much guarantee that the big one is a raven and s/he is being harassed by the crow Neighbourhood Watch committee.

Crows Mob Raven

In spite of their family connections, ravens will blithely raid crow nests for a tasty egg snack — putting them firmly on the crows’ “naughty list” along with eagles, hawks, racoons, squirrels, coyotes, cats and etc.

Crow Raven Pursuit

SOUNDS

By far the easiest way to tell a crow from a raven is by the sound they make.

Crows caw and ravens have more of a croaking sound. But that’s a great simplification of their complicated call sets.

Here are just few examples to help you tell them apart:

CROW ALARM CALL

This is probably the most common corvid you’ll hear in a city. This example is Marvin and Mavis expressing their displeasure at our cat being out on the deck.

CROW “RATTLE” CALL

This is another crow call, less often heard because it’s a softer, more intimate form of crow-munication.

RAVEN CALL

This seems to be the most common raven call I hear, both in the city and in the mountains.

RAVEN KNOCKING CALL

This beautiful sound is more like the crow’s rattle call – more subtle and melodic – almost like water dripping or a hollow bamboo tube being tapped.

RAVEN RECITATION

In this clip a raven seems to be performing a jazz concert of different subtle sounds — an example of how complex corvid language is.

ATTITUDE

When it comes to confidence and attitude, ravens and crows have so much in common.

Both are highly intelligent birds — you can almost hear the cogs of their brains whirring as they work out myriad “risk/benefit” calculations when they come close to humans.

It’s really not surprising that both crows and ravens are often characterized as tricksters in stories and legends.

Crow Raven Dancers

 

OTHER RESOURCES

Kaeli Swift – Corvid Research

One of the best places to find out all about corvids is on Kaeli Swift’s awesome blog Corvid Research.  Kaeli covers every corvid related topic you can think of in her posts. You can also follow her on social media and participate in her skill-building weekly Crow or No? contests.

John Marzluff

His books In The Company of Crows and Ravens and Gifts of the Crows, are just full of interesting information on both of these amazing birds.

LINKS

Audubon: How to Tell a Raven From a Crow

Cornell University Birdlab : Crows and Ravens by Kevin McGowan

See also:

Vancouver’s Urban Ravens

Crow Gifts of All Kinds

The Colour of Crows

Edgar Allen Poe and the Raven Mix-up

Learning to Speak Raven

 

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