Crow Collective

In spite of local squabbles, crows will come together for a crisis. Instantly.

Border skirmishes, crow etiquette lapses, hereditary rivalries  — all forgotten in a corvid heartbeat when the alarm call goes out.

Peregrine falcon in the ‘hood!

People sometimes consider crows’ mobbing behaviour towards larger birds as somehow mean. The collective noun, a “murder” of crows, is referenced, darkly.

To me, it’s one of their more admirable features — having the sense to know that they’re stronger together, and the ability to put aside individual differences in the face of a common danger.

Raccoons, coyotes, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and even their own cousin, the raven, are considered enemies by crows. All of these creatures will snatch and eat juvenile crows and/or crow eggs, thus earning themselves a permanent spot on the crows’ “naughty” list.

It’s not that they’re really naughty, of course — just doing what nature dictates — going out grocery shopping for the family. The same applies to crows when they feed on smaller birds, and on through the spiralling circle of life.

While nesting season is over now, and most juvenile crows are now smart and fast enough to stay out of the way of the falcon (who is more likely on the lookout for a tasty pigeon) the crow response to a “sometimes-crow-predator” in the neighbourhood is automatic.

Every crow drops what they’re doing and flies off to join the collective effort to repel the enemy. Their job is to convince the “threat” that crows are just way too much bother and get them to move along and become someone else’s problem.

Individual crows will swoop very close to the offending predator. Sometimes too close for their health. Generally, however, the bird of prey will make a pragmatic cost/benefit calculation as to whether it’s worth the caloric output to chase a provocative crow. Most often they decide to wait out the mob for a while and eventually move on to a quieter spot.

All in all, I think “collective” is a much better, and more descriptive, word for a group of crows than a “murder.”

Apart from group defence, another advantage of crow mobbing behaviour is that, if you pay attention, you can catch glimpses of things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

For other posts about crow-revealed nature sighting:

Raccoons: Wall of Sound

Owls: Owl Dreams

Owls and Poets: Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry

Ravens: Raven Tutor

Missing Dogs: A Christmas Miracle — With Crows

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2019. 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.

Roving Crows

A raucous October has spilled over into a riotous November.

No, I’m not talking about the political landscape, just the local crows.

I’m planning to write some individual updates for my various crow acquaintances, but this post is more an overview of the current crow atmosphere.

October is always pretty wild, in a “woohoo the kids are self-sufficient and there are nuts and berries to harvest” sort of way. See last year’s post —Corvid Flash Mobs — for a taste. Usually things quieten down once the nuts and fruit are all consumed, but this year things seem to remain tense on the territorial front.

Almost every crow I come across has an eye to the sky.

Sometimes it’s a well-recognized crow-foe that has them on edge. We’ve had groups of young bald eagles, a Northern Harrier and the occasional raven causing crow alarms.

But the most common cause of crow nerves this fall seems to be other crows.

This fall has been particularly fractious on the crow territorial boundary fronts.

In the city, each half a block or so “belongs” to a crow family and, once the corvid Octoberfest is over, these boundaries are generally respected . Not this year.

I wonder if it’s because so many crow couples this spring didn’t succeed in raising any young ones, so they’re pressed by neighbouring crows who have extra offspring sticking around. Partly these new crows just don’t seem familiar with the “rules” and also they need more space for foraging. Eventually they’ll probably find a mate of their own and carve out their own territory, but in the mean time lots of them are still hanging out with mom and dad.

Marvin on guard at our gate.

Marvin and Mavis lost their nestlings to an eagle this year and they have Mabel’s growing family on one side and young  Ada and her parents on the other. Since our house is part of M & M’s territory, I get to see their efforts to repel “invaders” on an almost daily basis.

Mabel and family sauntering just a little too close for comfort.

Mabel and family throw caution to the wind and fly right into the Marvin and Mavis zone.

In this case, there was a lot of cawing and raised head feathers, but no actual hostilities broke out.

Marvin’s “Hold It Right There” look

Met with Mabel’s “Don’t Mess With Me” look.

Meanwhile, on the Northwestern front, Marvin and Mavis face incursions by the lovely baby Ada and her family. Constant vigilance, and much cawing, is required.

This morning, for example, saw a rather spectacular series of skirmishes in the borderlands.

One minute you’re just sitting, minding your own business and enjoying the view from a nice rotting old washing line post …

For all the flapping and pecking and pushing, no-one was injured and everyone flew off to their respective territories, ready to tussle another day.

I see Marvin and Mavis’s predicament repeated around the neighbourhood with borders being tested every day. Since the dog and I, on our walks, tend to be regarded as “territory on the move,” I’m being careful not to ignite peanut-driven civil war. This means few peanuts, dropped discretely and far from boundaries.  Even then, I’m finding myself being followed by the new generation of roving crows.

Ever have that feeling you’re being watched?

Stay tuned for more detailed individual updates on Marvin and Mavis, Mabel and Gus, the Pants Family, Ada and the Slocan Trio.

In the meantime, keep your eyes open for those short-lived, but very dramatic, territorial sky squabbles.

Was it something I said …?

www.junehunter.com

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2019. 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.

Reading the Leaves. Again.

Election Day here in Canada.

I will vote today.

I’ll also listen to the news and devour opinion and analysis pieces as they pop up on my phone.

Then, I’ll go into the garden and take a few moments at the annually recurring therapeutic gazing bowl.

In case you need a few seconds too, help yourself …

Even if you don’t live in Canada, you might enjoy a short respite from news and politics and shouting.

You might catch a glimpse of the future in the ripples.

At a minimum, you can be hypnotized by the reflections and raindrops dancing together, and take a few deep breaths.

Just for half a minute.

If you need a longer respite …

Then back to waiting for results and biting nails.

Reading the Leaves part one was posted at almost the same last time last year.

Last Minute Thanksgiving Tip

People are coming over. You could spend days cleaning and tidying the house from top to bottom.

Or … you could just painstakingly dismantle the vintage chandelier and polish all the crystals instead.

Of course, this will take so long there will be no time for other cleaning/tidying … BUT the chandelier will so very dazzling that visitors will be completely distracted from less than perfect bits by the blindingly sparkly light fixture.

Most important of all, the job will mean wrestling the old painting ladder out of the shed. This piece of equipment is one of Edgar’s favourite things and he usually only sees it at Christmas when it’s hauled out for decorating the top of the tree. Seeing it so early made his day.

So, if you happen to be coming over here tomorrow, kindly avert your eyes from dust bunnies in corners and feast your eyes on the mesmerizing chandelier.

And try not to trip over the ladder … 😏

Oh, and and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

For more handy home décor tips see Home Décor For Nature Lovers

September Dreams

As we say farewell to September, it seems to me that we’ve seen fewer golden evenings than is usual for a Vancouver fall. More rainy grey September skies are perhaps what made those few gilded evenings more shimmering and dream-like.

By just happening to walk the dog early on one such lovely evening, I chanced upon a new autumn crow phenomenon. Usually at this time of year groups of roost-bound crows stop at the end of our street to “help” with the nut harvest of a neighbour’s hazel tree. This year, the tree didn’t seem to produce many nuts, so our area has been relatively crow-quiet in the evening.

I thought the crows must just be barrelling on through straight to the roost — until I found they were partying at an alternative fun and refreshments centre.

A short walk from us, there’s a street lined on both sides, for several blocks, with dogwood trees. At this time of year, the lovely blossoms are long gone, but among the brilliant fall leaves are bright, juicy berries!

I expect the clever crows have been harvesting this bounty every fall, but it took me until this year to notice.

On those nights when it hasn’t been raining, I’ve gone up there and watched them.

They seem to move in tandem with the fast fading sun, leaving each tree as it falls into shadow, and flying ahead to the next one still touched with light.

The crow crowd included this year’s juveniles, meaning it’s that happy time of year when the whole family can go to the roost. The young ones were learning the finer points of berry harvesting for the first time.

For some, the berries seem to be a taste that needs some acquiring …

Young crow with berry, like a soccer player in possession of the ball, unsure on next moves …

Older crows showed off harvesting techniques honed over many Septembers.

Now September is over and the berries are harvested. The dogwood street is quiet and the young crows are dreaming about how great they’re going to be at harvesting berries by this time next year.

 

 

http://www.junehunter.com

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© junehunterimages, 2019. 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.

Hummingbird Interlude

There’s really nothing like an Anna’s hummingbird bathing in a rhododendron leaf for a mid-week pick me up.

There you go.

Now you can carry on with your week.

Maybe dream about bathing hummingbirds tonight.

 

 

http://www.junehunter.com

© junehunterimages, 2019. 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 Metamorphosis of Mr. Pants

To keep an eye on Mr. Pants year round  is to witness a miracle of transmogrification.

If you didn’t know it was him, by the territory he guards and by the company he keeps (Mrs. Pants), you might think he was a different crow in each season.

We all first came to know him for his breathtaking breeches, his tremendous trousers,  his peculiar pantaloonery …  I could go on, but I’ll be merciful and stop now,  letting a series of summer pictures of Mr. P at his most sartorially splendid  tell the story.

Purple haze, all in my brain …

Splendour In The Grass

Mr. Pants with his summer hipster beard, cover model for the 2020 City Crow Calendar

The following video captures his fantastic pantaloons fluttering in the summer breeze.

 

But. like a perfect truffle, ice wine, or a pumpkin spice lattée, Mr. P’s trouserly splendour is a seasonal offering, and must be appreciated as such.

In winter, he really just looks likes your average pant-less crow.

Suave and handsome for sure, but minus the feathery kilt.

In particularly frosty weather he can, like all the other crows, deploy some feathery long johns, but they’re not the same as his summer finery.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants, January 2018

By spring … still just your normal dapper city crow.

Mr. Pants as seen in the May page of the 2020 City Crow Calendar

But we keep watching.

Around June the fashion miracle begins and the legendary leggings reappear  …

But it is perhaps the autumnal transition from summer splendour to his streamlined winter look that is the most eye catching. For Mr. Pants the molting season is very, very dramatic.

It’s true that every one of the local crows looks like a rejected extra from a pirate/zombie movie, but Mr. P takes things to the extreme.

He does nothing by halves on the feathery fashion front, and the late summer/early fall molting season is no exception. Go big, or go home, seems to be his philosophy.

Here he is as photographed yesterday, September 10, 2019

By October he will be smoothly magnificent once again.

By mid-June 2020 we should see the beginnings of tremendous trousers.

It is the circle of life (and of feathery fashion) embodied in one magnificent crow.

Late Summer Surprise

2019 has been a rough year for fledgling crows and their parents. Marvin and Mavis had three babies up in the nest one day, and then the local bald eagle swooped by and suddenly there were none.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants, Whitewing and her mate, the Kaslo and the Napier crows were all fledgling-less by the time I got back from my UK trip in June.

Mabel and Gus, however (see most recent post) bucked the trend by successfully raising three babies, born in June some time. Their territory has been the neighbourhood nexus of juvenile crow begging sounds this summer. Both parents are looking a bit exhausted at this point and looking forward, I’m sure, to the young ones becoming fully independent any day now.

Mavis and the Terrible Trio back in early August.

The young ones still occasionally beg for food, but you can tell their hearts aren’t really in it. Mabel and Gus are pretty much ignoring their pleas now — encouraging them to become self-sufficient little urban foragers. The neighbourhood was becoming quiet.

So imagine my surprise when, only last week — well into the second half of August — there was a brand now source of begging sounds. It was the tentative call of quite a young juvenile crow. It took a while to spot her*, but there she was, way up in a sycamore maple, softly quorking …

… and playing with leaves.

It was on a corner I pass by at least once a day walking the dog, and one where I don’t usually see any crows. It’s a buffer zone between two crow territories (the Slocan trio and the Firehall Family) and is generally crow-free. I’m not sure where this little family came from, although I suspect they might be an offshoot of the Firehall gang (for reference see: A Puzzlement of Crows.)

She isn’t a brand new fledgling. She can already fly reasonably well and her eyes have transitioned from the just-out-of-the-nest bright blue, to the grey colour that comes next. But she is obviously several weeks younger than Mabel’s brood and still very much dependant on her two parents. Her beak is still rosy pink at the sides, marking the bright pink inner mouth (gape) that makes such a good target for the parents to deliver food to. Over and over again.

All of this begging and feeding is very usual, but not in late August. So what happened?

I imagine these parents lost their first batch of fledglings to one or more of the usual disasters (eagle, hawk, raven, racoon, car, cat, flying mishap, etc.) quite late in the first go-round, and decided to give it a second try. I can only imagine how much hard work went into the repeat project.

If it had been one of the recent summers, which have been hot and bone dry, I don’t think they’d have managed to find enough food and liquid for the baby so late in the season, but this year has luckily been a bit damper. I’m not sure where they kept her, safe and secret, until I first saw her last week, but they did an excellent job.

Our neighbourhood newcomer has the benefit of two parents devoted to her welfare, but she’s going to have to be a fast learner to catch up with the older juveniles and be able to join them all at the safety of the Still Creek Roost as the nights start to draw in.

She’s a lot noisier now than when I first spotted her last week. I can hear her from our garden (a couple of blocks away) calling to be fed. That in itself can be a bit of a predator-attracting risk when your’e the only noisy one around.

 

Luckily she does seem to be a quick study. While she still needs her parents to break food into tiny pieces for her, she’s already mimicking their food caching strategies.

Here she’s hiding a peanut that was too big for her to eat under a bit of moss. She’s enrolled in the accelerated Being An Adult Crow class, while still a baby.

She’s got all the curiosity needed to gather important information about this new world of hers. What is, and is not, edible is something that takes a while to figure out.

Now that’s one giant berry …

(… so if you find your Christmas light a bit sticky this year …)

She’s beaten the odds to have made it this far, so here’s hoping she makes it through the next few risky weeks and graduates from her Crow Adulting 101 class with flying colours.

May your late summer be full of nice surprises too!

 

*I’m referring to this young crow as “her” fairly randomly as, of course, at this point I have no way of knowing her gender. 

More on Mabel

Mabel and I go back a long way.

When I first met her, she and George were a couple, and they visited my garden several times a day … for years. I wrote about them a lot in earlier blogs: their love story, their very tough year, the time that George was missing and, finally when George flew off to that great Crow Roost in the Sky.

Mabel never did return to our garden after the summer that George died. I’d still see her every day, as she took up residence at the other end of the street where I’d pass her often and exchange pleasantries (and peanuts) on dog walks. The fledgling she and George had that last summer stuck around for a while, then she seemed to be alone for a bit.

Mabel isn’t a classic beauty. If she cared about such things (which I’m sure she doesn’t) she’d always insist on having her photo taken from the right — her “good” side. From this angle, she looks perfectly hale and healthy. From the left you can see her bad eye, which started to look a bit “wonky” a couple of years ago. She’s also got one very elongated claw, which she’s showing off in the photo at the top of this blog post.

Mabel, February 2017

Mavis, Both Sides Now, July 2019

Mabel is one tough cookie. Although she almost looks blind on that one side, somehow she manages, just as George did with his broken beak. She must be able to see out of that eye a little bit as she never, ever misses a dropped peanut and is ALWAYS first to get to it.

In Spring 2018 she built a nest with a new partner. They didn’t have any surviving babies that year, but she and Gus persisted.

This spring, 2019, was a very tough one for prospective crow parents around here. Marvin and Mavis, Mr. and Ms. Pants,  Eric and Clara, White Wing and her mate — they all built nests and tended them diligently for months. I think the bald eagle family in the neighbourhood may have had something to do with the fact that none of them had any surviving fledglings by July.

Mabel and Gus, however — they hit the jackpot!

As of this morning they still have three surviving fledglings. There are days (quite a few of them) when it looks as if Mabel could use some baby sitting help from all those footloose, fledgling-free, parents out there.

So far, no childcare offers from the other crows. Luckily Gus is an active partner in the endless care and feeding process.

Stiff fledgling competition for that one half a peanut.

Wing stretching exercises on the Hydro wires.

Full of personality already.

Some days, there is just no getting away from parental responsibility.

You think you’re having a quiet rooftop moment to yourself and suddenly …

Pop-up babies. There is no escape!

I’m just going to walk away over here …

To start off with, all three of the babies needed to be fed constantly.  Now that they’re a few weeks old, Mabel and Gus are training them to do some of their own foraging. With varying success.

Two of the three seem to be getting the hang of it, but there’s always that one who just never gives Mom a break. Until she finally snaps …

We’ve all been there, Mabel.

You just need a few minutes of peace and quiet to regain that maternal equilibrium.

Then, back into the child rearing trenches.

Every once in a while, when the fledglings are tucked in for the night, Mabel and Gus get a few moments to dream of grown up crow fun. and being able to fly off to the roost with the other crows. Some time in September …

Mabel has been a past City Crow Calendar cover model. Her “Frazzled” portrait graced the 2018 version. Marvin is the high wire crow on the 2019 cover and  2020 (available now!) will feature Mr. Pants.

Related posts:

Hey Mom, tell me the story about when you were a cover model …

 

Raven Watching at the Tower of London

Watching the ravens: amazing.

Meeting the Ravenmaster: fabulous.

Watching the ravens and tourists interact: priceless.

We were a bit jet lagged for our Tower trip (first morning in the UK) and I was still trying to figure out how to use my new, tiny, and infinitely complicated,  travel camera. But with only two days in London, it was time to dive right in!

If you’re planning a trip to the Tower of London,  tip number one would be to get there as early in the day as you can. This is a massively popular tourist attraction and, while the first hour or so were relatively quiet, the place fills up fast!

My childhood included annual trips to the Tower of London when we came down from Newcastle to visit my grandparents.  A standing family joke was that we shouldn’t call it the Bloody Tower because “that’s swearing.” Somewhat ironic, coming from our dear Dad! Our jovial family name for it was the Woody Tower. 

I do remember ravens on those trips, but they were secondary to the haunting tales of imprisonment, intrigue, mystery and murder that have always permeated those ancient walls.

This time though, my priority was clear — ravens, ravens and more ravens.

Phillip, who had never been to the Tower before, was determined to see it all — the Crown Jewels, and every tower, gate and courtyard.  I set off in search of the ravens and their “master.”

I started off at the raven enclosure. Poppy* (one of the younger Tower ravens) was posing on top.

NOTE: Thanks to my online friend, Samantha, who is a volunteer with the ravens at the Tower and who helped me identify them retroactively from the colour combinations of the bands on their legs. I think Sam can tell them apart just from knowing them so well, but the banding code is handy for me, the Tower Raven neophyte. 

Just like the ravens I’ve watched in the West Coast mountains, Poppy was starting her day by getting all those magnificent feathers in order. Must look one’s best for the visitors.

And speaking of the visitors, I had almost as much fun listening to their comments about the ravens, as I did watching the ravens themselves.

“Good grief, these crows are enormous,” “how did they all get out of their cages?” were a couple of entertaining things I overheard.

Poppy is particularly keen on interfacing with the public — mostly, it would seem, because she has a bit of a shoe fixation. Watching peoples’ reaction to having their footwear inspected by a raven was very entertaining. Of course, I was kind of thrilled when she had a bit of a peck at my shoes. Others were a bit less sure.

Poppy seemed to be available for selfies …

… but it turned out there was a fee for service.

She was very curious about this man’s hair and they had a genial encounter.

Time for some more preening …

And off to check out some more footwear.

So many to choose from!

I probably could have just watched Poppy all day. In fact, I was so fascinated by her I didn’t really notice that George, the Tower’s very newest raven, was inside the enclosure having a rat for brunch. He’s one of four baby ravens born at the Tower earlier this year. I did take a picture of him, but since I hadn’t had time to figure out the manual focus on my new fangled new camera, he’s just a blur behind the perfectly focused enclosure mesh. 😦

But there were lots more ravens to see. Here, for example is Jubilee — looking rather magnificent on an ancient parapet.

Jubilee was also a regular guard by the the Jewel House (where the Crown Jewels are housed.)

Looking slightly less magnificent as he does a bit of a feather shuffle …

But pulling himself together in time to make an important announcement.

Here’s Jubilee again, looking utterly at home among the throngs of tourists, completely unfazed by the paparazzi.

One more announcement …

The next raven is Erin (my friend, Samantha’s special buddy at the Tower). Here she is looking terribly official on the multi-lingual warning sign, “Caution, Ravens May Bite.”

Here she is again, in a slightly less official capacity …

It looks a bit as if the Yeoman Warder’s arm in the poster is reaching out to stop her …

A small child was yelling at her that this was a naughty thing to do, but Erin clearly feels that littering rules do not apply to her.

Erin strikes a pose with some more ravenly gravitas …

By now, almost six hours of raven watching had gone by. Phillip had explored everywhere and it was time to leave. I was a bit disappointed that our wanderings hadn’t turned up the Ravenmaster himself, but I was still really happy with my visit.

But luck was smiling upon us.

Not only did we run into Chris Skaife (AKA The Ravenmaster) — he was momentarily not surrounded by fans. In fact, he was all on his own until he gave a signal to his special raven friend, Merlina, who flew directly over to join us.

Having read his book and followed him online, I was thrilled to meet him in person and I can now confirm that he’s just as nice a man as you’d expect him to be. We managed to have a short chat about the amazing personalities of the ravens, the enormous value of  nature in an urban setting, and about his efforts to move away from the closely manicured landscaping traditions at the Tower to a slightly wilder, more creature-friendly environment. We were very lucky to get to talk to him for 10 or 15 minutes (time flew by) before he was once again deluged by other visitors.

You’ll notice that I was (of course) carrying my raven bag.

Bye, bye, Merlina — till next time.

This is moments after we left, so you can see how lucky we were to get the Ravenmaster (and Merlina)  to ourselves for a few moments.

So day one of our UK trip was amazing and , as it turned out, was just the start of four action-packed weeks of fun. More blog posts to come!

PS  — on another note, the 2020 City Crow Calendar is almost ready to go the the printer. I’ll let you know when it’s available on the web site. I sold out again last year, so it’s always a good idea to get one early!