Bongo The Busker

Since my old friend Mabel disappeared a year ago, her corner and the prized “ring of authority” have been inherited by a new pair of crows, Bongo and his mate, Bella.

Bella is currently keeping a low profile while sitting on the nest.

Bongo, it transpires, is a musical performer — a local vocal virtuoso.

It was around this time last year when he first stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps he felt that, since he wasn’t Mabel, he was going to have to go the extra mile to get my attention …

I’ve been trying to figure out what prompts Bongo’s vocal performances.

Things I have noticed:

  • they are certainly not a daily occurrence
  • they seem to be saved for the spring nesting season
  • it often seems to be raining (but that could be more to do with nesting season occurring in typically wet spring Vancouver weather)

Here is one recent and especially impassioned rendition …

In this video there are calls from other crows that he pauses to listen to.

On most other occasions he waits for a quiet moment and seems to be putting on a concert especially for me.

It could be that he has mistaken me for a visiting impresario, and is hoping for a  Broadway breakthrough. More likely — he’s cleverly deduced that a short recitation results in a few more peanuts.

He certainly puts a lot of effort into his performances — tail  and wings outspread like a maestro fanning out his tailcoat for dramatic impact. A deep ceremonial bow is also part of the performance.

What does it all mean? Is he mimicking something, or is he interpreting the world through song? Is he a crow poet … a bird bard?

Each time I hear him I come up with new ideas.

Is he doing his impression of:

  • the back-up beeping of heavy machinery?
  • the distant “boing” of a dinner gong? (not that this is really a “dinner gong” sort of neighbourhood …)
  • a cat’s plaintive miaowing?

Or is he simply expressing his feelings with a heartfelt “wow” at all the wonders of the world?

When I’ve posted his calls on social media, a lot of people fall squarely into the “sounds just like a  cat” camp. Somehow I’m not quite convinced, as Bongo’s “bongs” don’t sound quite like our cat, Edgar, whose miaows are a considerably more sustained and dramatic.

But that might just be Edgar.

The following video of White Wing (also captured during nesting season) has her making a series of short “barks” followed by a much more convincing, soulful cat and Edgar-like miaow/yowl.

Another thing to note about the Songs of Bongo are that, although soft sounding, they travel far amid the other chaotic city sounds. Rather like a raven, Bongo has excellent projection.

Anyway, Bongo has become one of my favourite crows — and not just because of his troubadour skills. He’s an engaging model and is being a conscientious dad by staying close to his corner and keeping an eye on Bella and the nest.

Bongo is the subject of one of my latest print images, Rust and Crow, in which he manages to look all at once fierce, elegant and (like his forbear Mabel) ever so slightly frazzled — a combination that only crows seem able to pull off perfectly.

I shall give the last, short word to Bongo, who sometimes gives single-bong recitals.
Brief, yet full of meaning …





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23 thoughts on “Bongo The Busker

  1. I have crow friends !
    One sings like yours but 3 notes or more
    Same head bow, same click at the end and poofing of feathers
    I think its a throat thing
    I’d love to share a video and many pictures with you
    J. R.

  2. I just love your stories about the crows. Such a delight to read. We have one on our walk that sounds like he’s saying hello!

  3. Does Bongo also caw like a normal crow? And by forebear do you mean he’s one of Mabel’s offspring?

    • He does caw like a regular crow as well. I have no proof that he’s one of Mabel’s but she had two or three offspring from previous years still around at the time she disappeared so I’m pretty sure he (or Bella) is descended from the noble line of Mabel.:)

  4. I’ve heard and seen a similar performance on one of the Broken Islands, so I think it’s standard crow repertoire. Wish we knew what prompts it!

    Your crow photography is the best I’ve ever seen! So hard to get exposures right on black birds. Have you written somewhere about equipment and technique?

  5. “My” crow comes up to the patio door and does a similar duck and flap, but the vocalization sounds more like the whimper of a dog, and is impossible to resist. I figured it was the female doing the pre-nesting begging thing, but I guess not. And it happens throughout the summer too, come to think of it.

  6. Gorgeous shots! Love that we can really ‘see’ his feather spread on his bow! I don’t hear a cat unless someone suggested it…..more like a backup or notification ping?

  7. I love this crow Bongo, he is so cool! I think Pernille is onto something. It sounds like a notification sound to me. He does it so well, and since most crows tend to imitate sounds they hear in their environment maybe he stays nearby an outdoor eatery or something?

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  11. Fantastic photography as usual June! I wonder if Bongo will learn other sounds? I remember, on a trip to Salt Spring once, we were very puzzled by a rather guttural “meow!” coming from a stand of Arbutus trees. We started getting concerned that a cat was somehow stuck up there. However, we were very amused to spot a crow caught in the act of producing the sound!

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