Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story

Crows make it look as if they have the world by the tail. When the dark river of them flies over to the nightly roost, they look powerful and untouchable.

In her poem, Crows,  Mary Oliver describes this view of them:

glossy and
rowdy
and
indistinguishable.
The deep
muscle of the
world.

But that anonymous crowd, like all crowds, is made up of many individuals, — each with their own challenges, and their own story.

This is story of the special bond between just two of those many crows — Marvin and Mavis.

They first appeared in my garden around the time we lost George Brokenbeak. George’s mate, Mabel, stayed in the neighbourhood, but moved over a block, leaving my yard with a “vacancy for crows” sign on it. Marvin and Mavis had already been hanging around, so they were quick to move in and become fixtures. It seemed to me that they were a young couple, just starting out together.

Every time I look outside I scan the sky for them. Most of the time, when I can see them, they’re together. If they’re not, one of them is making that “I’m over here. Where are you?” call to check in.

Like most crow couples,  their thoughts turned to nest building last spring. They took on the task with gusto, scouring every tree for just the “right” twigs.

They made one “decoy” nest first and then settled on the real nest site in April.

Marvin watches over the nest — which is nestled in the crook of one of the poplars in the lower right side of the picture.

They worked so hard. They’d be there when the sun went down, forgoing the nightly trip to the roost to guard the nest and its contents, and they’d be back at it at dawn.

Weeks went by and the trees leafed out, making it harder for me to see what was going on up there. One day though, I could tell something had gone wrong.

Mavis left the nest and kept staring at it in confusion. Shortly after, I found their fledgling at the foot of the poplars. It had fallen from the nest and didn’t survive.

They grieved their loss for many days, spending a lot of time just sitting in the trees near the nest, as if hoping the baby would reappear.

Marvin spent a lot of time comforting Mavis, who seemed to have forgotten how to look after herself.

 

Gradually they picked up the pieces  and went back to their pre-nesting pursuits — going to the roost at night and guarding their territory by day.

The summer was hot, dry and smokey from nearby forest fires, so just keeping cool and hydrated was a challenge.

And then came the Great Moult of 2018.

I have never seen our local crows in such a bedraggled state … and for such a long time. It seemed to start in early August and go on well into October.

Mavis, at one point, had lost so many neck feathers, she looked partially decapitated.

O

Marvin lost all his nostril feathers.

They looked objectively terrible, but Marvin and Mavis didn’t seem to care.  They may, for all I know, have giggled a little at the sight of each other, but their devotion remained unwavering.

The new gleaming feathers did eventually come in, of course, and by late October they were their well groomed selves again.

Just in time for winter!

Which brings us to their latest challenge. In December I noticed a small growth on Mavis’s left foot. It’s avian pox, a virus that can spread and cause disability or death. Luckily, in her case, it seems to be not too serious and isn’t spreading. I make sure to put out extra nutritious food for her to keep her immune system in tip top shape.

Marvin seems to know she needs all the help she can get and he seems quite happy to let her shove him out of the way to get her share of food.

 

Their nest from last year is still tucked into the poplars, currently blanketed with snow. I hope that, once spring finally arrives, they’ll start checking out the neighbourhood for new real estate options and give the nest building another try.

Mavis, Feb 12 2019

Marvin, Feb 12, 2019

 

I’m pretty sure that Mavis will not expect roses this Valentine’s Day.

It’s unlikely that they’ll be making reservations at a fancy dumpster.

But they watch out for one another, they comfort each other in hard times, they keep each other warm in the cold, and they refrain from laughing at each other when they look like avian zombies — and, really,  isn’t that better than chocolates in heart-shaped boxes?

But a love song is always nice. Here, Marvin sings one, accompanied by our neighbour’s furnace sounds.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

20 thoughts on “Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story

  1. June…
    Thank you for your sweet Valentine’s Day gift! Now as I look out the window at yet another round of falling snow, with no one to share the beauty (or the work), I can smile after enjoying your unexpected love story and remarkable photography! Reminds me that I’d better shovel my way out to the back yard and fill my squirrels’ feeder with special treats for the holiday. Finding it quite a chore for this old lady to make it through the ever-deepening white ground cover. Positive thought: It’s so beautiful! Negative: So cold, messy, and dangerous! At least we’ll be sure to have enough irrigation water for our hot summer this year due to the heavy snow pack in the mountains, an annual concern. Looking out my window just a foot or so from my computer, I already see a pair of the squirrels peaking in at me from a branch in a maple tree, probably wondering why I’m just sitting here instead of being outside preparing their breakfast! I’m having difficulty trying to keep the bird feeders clean of enough snow for all my little flying critters. Even with “roofs,” the wind blows the snow in sideways and renders them practically useless. Should I find myself complaining about the paralyzing heat this summer, I’ll try to remember our winter of 2019. We are breaking records over here! Please take care, and I so love the fact that you are out in the cold watching out for your black beauties in spite of the weather conditions. Best of all, I love that you take the time to share your discoveries with your many interested fans!
    Diane

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Diane — sorry it’s been a few days and I’m just now getting back to you. Nasty cough/cold, round 2 of the winter is my excuse. Even here in mild Vancouver we’ve had sudden snow and cold weather in February. Luckily I was able to get out and make some efforts to protect the tender plants in the garden and put the trouble light up to warm the hummingbird feeder, get some photos of the crows in the lovely snow-reflected light etc before I got sicker. I know it’s been record breakingly cold out east, so I know we have nothing really to complain about here. It’s been raining now, so we’ve got a lot of slush, but it’s supposed to snow again next week. Hoping I’ll be a bit better then because there is nothing lovelier (in my biased opinion) that crows in snow. Take care in the slippy snow – your birds and squirrels clearly need you. I have some grippy things I but on the soles of my boots when it’s icy out so I don’t take a tumble.

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  2. Dear June,

    That is one of the best stories ever! Thank you so much for making my day!

    In adfition, your close bond with these two magnificent birds and your deep mutual affection is a Valentine’s story of its own.

    Warmly, Chris

    On Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 5:52 AM The Urban Nature Enthusiast wrote:

    > The Urban Nature Enthusiast posted: ” Crows make it look as if they have > the world by the tail. When the dark river of them flies over to the > nightly roost, they look powerful and untouchable. In her poem, Crows, > Mary Oliver describes this view of them: glossy and rowdy and indi” >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved your story. My friend and I are great admirers of Marvin and Mavis and enjoy hearing how & what they are doing. We have a murder of crows and watch them closely , feeding them shelled peanuts 3 times a day. It seems like it’s never enough. 20 crows was my last count.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I would love to have some crows come to my house but all I manage to get is a lovely Western Scrub Jay and a big fat squirrel that I would rather just stayed in his tree.
    Thank you for this wonderful story you are telling on Valentine’s Day no less.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful story! I wish I knew what has happened to my family of four. They were here for a couple of years, visiting me every day to get peanuts. Then only two were left and now I don’t see them at all. I am brokenhearted.

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    • Hi Janice – oh that is sad. It’s hard when you get so fond of wild birds — our connection with the being strong in emotional terms, but tenuous in terms of how much we really know what goes on with them and their fates. If it makes you feel any better, it could be that the two could have just shifted their territory a bit. Eric and Clara always came to my back yard but, for some esoteric crow reason, several years ago they ceded the territory to other crows and moved half a block away, where they still are. Mabel, after George died, stopped coming to my backyard, letting Marvin and Mavis take over. But Mabel is also still around – half a block away in another direction. Who knows what decisions are made and why in those crow brains. Perhaps, if something happened to the first two, the others decided to move somewhere else. I hope a new pair will come by and “claim” your area. And thanks, I am very glad you liked Marvin and Mavis’s story. They are out now, squabbling with Eric and Clara in the poplar trees. I think they might be negotiating who gets what nesting site this spring.

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