Crow Fest 22 — Part One

Although my last post was about how miserable the local crows are as they go through their annual moult, don’t feel too bad for them — this season is also their most social and joyful.

Several things come together in the the crow world to make fall time the best time:

  • Parent crows are mightily relieved that their fledglings are (mostly) independent
  • Fledgling crows, like teenagers everywhere, are busting to get out there, meet their peers and show off a little
  • Crows, even the still-moulting ones, look fabulous in the golden fall light and glowing autumn leaves
  • There are feasting opportunities/excuses for crow parties all over town

Crow Fest in our neighbourhood begins with …

The Hazelnut Happening

Around the autumn equinox a couple of local hazelnut trees become ripe, and many crows seem to have this date carefully noted in their social calendar. Hundreds of them, and dozens of intrepid squirrels, show up for the event every year.

A few years back a human bravely tried to harvest their share of nuts, wisely wearing a bicycle helmet as protection from the competition. This year, even more wisely, they seem to have left it all for the wildlife.

Normally the crows fly over our neighbourhood at dusk, headed to the roost a few miles east of here with only a few distant caws to mark their passing.

But it’s reliable as clockwork — the very day the hazelnuts are ready, our normally sedate area becomes an evening Crowstock venue, complete with rousing musical accompaniment.

The cawing is accompanied by the random percussion of nuts hitting the tarmac as crows drop them to break the shells.

Bombs Away!

There are other seasonal delicacies on the menu too …

While the raucous crow chaos is the big story here, as with all big events, it’s made up of so many small and personal sub-plots.

I love to pick out small groups or individuals in the crowd and watch them for awhile, trying to parse out the individual stories.

In the seemingly undistinguishable line of crows on the wires, you can often detect a family group — parents and fledglings, or just couples taking a quiet moment in the midst of it all.

The other night I spotted a personal acquaintance on the wires.

White Wing!

I’ve been worried about the Wings as they’ve not been in their usual spot for most of the summer. As if to confirm this was indeed her Wingship, she came down and landed by my feet …

The party rages on, but still full of individual little crow vignettes.

One young, ambitious and agile crow takes a moment to show off the Cirque du Soleil skill set they’ve been working on.

Look, Ma, only one foot!

I’m an a-crow-bat!!!!

Another independently-minded crow in the crowd decides to add a distinctive yip to the chorus of cawing.

A quiet young crow whiles away the time by catching and playing with one of their own recently moulted underfeathers before it floats away on the evening air …

And so the nightly Hazelnut Happening hurtles on for a few days until, finally, the nuts are devoured and relative quietness returns to the ‘hood.

Don’t worry though — the fall festivities are far from over. It’s just time to move on to the Dogwood Disco up the street.

More on this later …

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© junehunterimages, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Unbearable Itchiness of Moulting

While this looks rather like a sea urchin, or some other mysterious spiny undersea creature, it’s actually the back of poor Marvin’s neck.

Mr. Walker, as you can see below, has a similar situation going on.

It’s moulting season — that time when our local crows shed their old feathers, worn out by a year of constant use — to grow their very own shiny new wardrobe.

The new and waterproof feathers usually arrive just in time for the winter rain and wind — a miraculous feat, but an itchy and uncomfortable few weeks for the moult participants.

Apart from looking like low budget pirate movie extras, the whole moulting and regeneration process is physically and psychologically taxing for birds. Luckily the fledglings are pretty independent by now, as mom and dad’s supply of patience is even shorter than usual.

The young ones seem to instinctively end the summer-long begging for food just before the moulting crankiness sets in, though I suppose the odd parental peck may also have something to do with it.

Do not mess with this parent …

Those “sea urchin” spikes on the back of Marvin’s back are new feathers poking through the skin.  Curious as to what exactly is going on, I looked up a few articles about new feather growth.

Apparently these little barbs are called “pin feathers” — I imagine because the poor bird feels like a pin cushion. They’re also called “blood feathers” because they have a blood supply and nerves, making them super sensitive and delicate ( empathetic wince.) They look even more spiky because they have a protective keratin* sheath around them.

Even Marvin’s new fledgling, the lovely Lucky, can’t escape the process. You can see here the “reverse mullet” effect of the missing feathers.

 

Lucky, September 2022

Another moulting fashion phenomenon is the “straggly beard” effect caused by the temporary loss of throat feathers.

Mr. Walker, September 2022

For a glossary of crow Fall Fashion terms, see my blog post from 2018 — Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips

Lucky with an Elizabethan style ruff of moulting neck feathers

Moulting usually begins with an overall fluffy, almost glamorous look as first feathers start to float away …

… and ends up like this, with even tiny “eyebrow” and “nostril” feathers going AWOL  …

The remaining feathers are dull, and often display moody shades of sepia, grey, indigo and mauve.

The only real comfort to be found before the new finery comes in is in the loving attention of family members, like Mavis allopreening Marvin in the video below. I like to think she’s simultaneously offering words of encouragement — “no, honestly dear, you don’t really look THAT bad …”

All in all, it’s a trying time of year to be a crow, but luckily they, as a species, seem to have the chutzpah to carry off whatever outlandish look nature sees fit to bestow upon them.

As with all avant-garde fashion statements, confidence is key.

 

 

*Keratin is a lightweight protein. Different types of keratin form everything from feathers to fingernails, hooves to horns.

 

 

 

© junehunterimages, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.