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 …

 

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!