The Mabels

Mabel has gone from being a solitary bird after the death of her mate, George Brokenbeak, in 2017, to the matriarch of an unusually massive crow family.

From what I’ve observed over the last few years, such large families remaining together over multiple seasons is somewhat rare. Usually one juvenile crow might stick around for a season or two to learn the ropes, and help the parents with nesting season. In Mabel and her new mate’s case, two of the 2019 juveniles are still with them — plus two more from this season — adding up to a rather rowdy gang of six.

Back in March 2020, when Mabel only had two apprentices.

Among this boisterous bunch it is only Mabel with her distinctive right eye, that I’m regularly able to identify. Hence, I think of them, collectively, as “The Mabels.”

The Mabels, by their sheer numbers, have become a bit of a dominant local force. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the large group has the extra crowpower to have lookouts posted everywhere, making it hard to give our “house crows,” Marvin and Mavis, a few quiet peanuts without bringing the Marauding Mabels into the picture.

To be fair, Mabel and the late lamented George ruled our garden long before Marvin and Mavis, so I’m sure there are some valid territorial claims to be made under Crow Law.

George Brokenbeak and Mabel, our back deck, winter 2016.

Also, this summer, during the hot dry months, I put out a bowl of water in front of the house for the use of any thirsty critters. Mabel, of course, brought the whole family down regularly for refreshment and recreation.  I wrote about this in Fledgling Fun.

So it’s hardly surprising that The Mabels of all generations consider our house to be part of their daily routine.

The heart of their territory lies, however, at the other end of the block— part of a local elementary school. Central to the ancestral seat are two old metal yellow posts with rings on top that are used to mark, and sometimes block off, the entrance to the school parking lot.

The right ring has, for time immemorial (well at least for the few years I’ve been watching) been important to this crow family.

The feet of George upon the yellow throne in 2016.

His Georgeship.

Mabel seemed to inherit the “ring of power” once George was gone. Until quite recently I never saw another crow rest there for very long, including her new mate, Gus.

Don’t even think about it …

The chains of office, claimed by Mabel.

Signs she may be willing to relinquish her iron grip began this spring.

The younger crows, after first practicing on the less prestigious left hand side yellow post …

… were occasionally allowed to take the one true throne for a short test drive.

They always look a little nervous as Mabel’s tolerance for such impertinence is variable.

Sometimes she perches on the lower railing and supervises.

Other times, she wants her spot back and it’s time for a quick exit …

Recently, one of the Mabels has been standing out from the crowd by sheer force of personality.

The smallest of the family, one of the 2020 batch, is proving to be the boldest. I started thinking of her as Chip (as in “off the old block”) and I notice that she will follow me for several blocks on the dog walks, even when the rest of The Mabels have lost interest.

Chip doesn’t have any distinguishing features, other than being the smallest and the cheekiest, but there is just something about her face.

Wet Chip

She’s already got the posing thing down to a fine art.

Recently, she’s been mimicking her mother on the golden throne.

Mabel demonstrates the proper regal attitude …

… while Chip has a ways to go in the poise department …

Mabel (left) and Chip (right) practicing the stone lion pose.

Whether the Mabels will stay together for much longer remains to be seen, but I can’t help hoping that Chip will stick around.

Chip practices multitasking





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12 thoughts on “The Mabels

  1. I look forward to hearing more about the “Mabels “. It was nice to see some old pics of George, who is remembered very fondly. ❤️

  2. I love your interpretations of all the various poses. The personalities are clear and your photos, was always, are brilliant. Thank you.

  3. Really enjoyed reading about ‘The Mabels’! Though I do have a crow family (a few) that graces this neighbourhood, I have yet to name them. There was one who had a cry just like a newborn and it made me stop my gardening until I realised that it was just her calling her mum. Now, I hear that she seems to have passed that call on to HER young ones! Love the crows and watching them bathe in the stream behind my house. There is a raven too but he/she is not really welcomed by the gaggles of crows and gets chased off regularly.
    Hope you are staying safe and comfortable during these testing times.

  4. Exactly the same behaviour as our UK crows. Our ‘golden ring’ is a neighbours tv aerial and the top of the church spire. The magpies only use it when the crow isn’t there. My Corvid couple follow my car until I drop treats from the window. They have trained me to do this!

    • Thank you immensely for all your wonderful stories. There was a George Brokenbeak that frequented our area years ago. I’m thinking it could be one and the same George, as we live in the same area and same hundred block number, but several streets parallel to each other. I remember distinctly how he would peck at the shelled peanuts and other goodies differently than the rest of the crows. I always had a soft heart for him and have never seen him since about the same time you mention he passed.

      Again, I thank you for writing such wonderful compelling little short (real) stories. I thank you for standing your ground and doing your utmost in trying to save the poplars this past year. These stories really touched my heart. I was a fellow student at the high school many many many years ago. I frequently walked past the poplars almost every lunch hour with my good friend and enjoyed wonderful teenage conversations. It was sad to see them go. It was sad that a lot of little ones lost crucial housing in those poplars for their current and future families…. It was just plain old sad…..

  5. Very interesting update on the Mabels in the Urban Nature Enthusiast- Dec 2, 2020.
    Seems like there’s a whole lot of activity going on in any given neighborhood that often goes unnoticed. I have been a bird lover for decades and pay close attention to the birds around me on a daily basis. The crows and ravens here in Minnesota our quite hard to get close enough to,
    to strike up a conversation with, or hang out and have lunch!
    Thanks for the article!
    Always fun!

  6. Thanks for another very entertaining post about all the crowish going’s on! Miss Chip seems to be quite the character!

  7. Hi June! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this edition of your blog! The Mabels have captured my heart. It was wonderful to read about the importance of the yellow posts with the rings on top. And yes! Let’s hope Chip sticks around! Warmest wishes, Corinne

  8. I really enjoyed this post about crow family makeup. In our suburban Minnesota backyard we have a crow family that comes to our feeders. I’m surprised this fall that I’ve seen up to eight of them together. Usually there are five. Is this an unusually large number? And who would those family members be? It has surprised me to see so many at once not arguing.

  9. Pingback: Chip’s Tips For Hanging Around | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

  10. Pingback: Mabel: A Requiem | The Urban Nature Enthusiast

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