Somewhere between harvest festivals and soccer riots, these autumnal corvid gatherings are a sure sign of the seasonal shift.
A quiet street corner that is normally the domain of a one crow family is suddenly full of noise and dark feathers. It’s usually early evening when they come, making a stop on the longer trip to the nightly roost.
Wires that are normally punctuated by only two or three crow silhouettes are suddenly sagging under the weight of dozens.
And it’s loud. Not, I grant you, as spectacularly cacophonous as the Still Creek roost — but enough to make itself heard over the indoor household noises.
Enough to make you put on a jacket and go outside to see what’s up.
Often there are additional sounds among the cawing. Crack, plop, bang.
Like giant hail, nuts are falling from above.
In our neighbourhood, two hazel and one walnut tree produce their bounty at about the same time. It seems that the crows of Vancouver have those dates indelibly written in their mental calendars, because every late September/early October (and I’ve been watching for several years now) they come.
The crows leave many nuts on the roads so that cars can do the heavy nut cracking work for them. Because it’s not a very busy street, they entertain themselves between vehicles by dropping the nuts themselves. This seems to have little effect, but they do look as if they’re having fun.
And it’s not only the crows that have this time of year noted in their “things to do” list. Squirrels are darting about amongst the crows, determined to get their share of the seasonal windfall.
Last year (alas, I did not have my camera) there was a human vying for his portion of the nut harvest. Clearly he knew what he was up against as he headed out for his task wearing a bicycle helmet.
The nuts are the focus of all this celebration, but it really feels as if more is going on.
There’s a real party atmosphere when they gather in these loud unruly groups.
The long, hot, dry summer is finally over. Life is easier now. There are puddles to splash in, and worms to dig out of the dirt again.
Crows that have been busy — first nesting — and then trying to keep fledglings alive —since early spring, finally have some time to themselves. The young ones are big enough to forage for themselves and join in the harvest festival fun.
Another reason for celebration — the endless molting season is nearing an end. Crazy bald-patch zombie crows are starting to revert to their true sleek selves and that has got to feel really good.
Baby crows that have survived their first couple of months are now able to fly to the roost every night so the big nightly party is back on. These “block parties” are just the warm up to the main event at Still Creek.
Just as the sun goes down a crow somewhere in the mob sounds the signal.
The wires erupt into a clatter of shadowy wings and commentary.
Then suddenly they’re gone. All of them.
The wires are vacant and the nut-strewn street is silent.
A small tributary of crows trickles through the stand of poplars, golden in the last light of the day.