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 …

 

Game of Nests

As I look forward to watching the currently taping first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, I’m also addicted to following the real life epic drama going on right outside my window … Game … Of … Nests!

It’s a tense, political and, at times, violent tale.

Marvin and Mavis have been plotting since February to expand their territory from the north half of the Kaslo poplars to encompass the whole darn row.

Historically, Eric and Clara ruled the southern end of the stand, nesting there for the past few years. Marvin and Mavis, it seems,  are an ambitious couple nursing expansionist dreams. They spent weeks harassing the other pair and “encouraging” them to move to the street trees further down Kaslo Street.

February skirmish with Eric and Clara

Poplar negotiations

By early March I noticed that Marvin and Mavis seemed to have won. Eric and Clara ceded their hold on the poplars and began to consolidate their grip on the block to the south.

All seemed to be going well for the new King and Queen of the Poplars.

Twig gathering was in full progress by March.

Marvin looking for some sturdy twigs in our snowbell tree in March.

By early April, Mavis was looking to brighten up the place with some blossom twigs.

But Marvin and Mavis had made a terrible strategic error. Spending so much time fighting for control of the south end of the trees, they’d neglected their northern front.

The firehall crows took advantage and started to build a nest in the northernmost tree in the stand.

Incensed, Marvin and Mavis rushed to the defence of their neglected territory and days of fierce battle ensued.

Marvin and Mavis spent so much time chasing the interlopers that I was worried they’d forgotten about their own new nest at the south end of the block.

On several occasions I saw them visit their ill-fated nest from last year  — just a couple of trees over from the new nest being built by the Firehall newcomers.

It’s almost as if they were mulling over what went wrong last year (their only fledgling fell out of the nest and didn’t survive) and were taking a few moments to pay their respects.

At last they seemed to decide to leave the past behind and let the northern invaders keep their nest, turning their attention back to the new nest.

Here is a terribly wobbly video, taken from far away of Mavis and Marvin working together on the nest. Warning: do not watch if prone to motion sickness.

While things have quietened down a bit in the Game of Nests, there are still periodic outbreaks of hostility. This morning another crow got too close to the nest and Marvin and Mavis gave furious chase.

The Land of the Tall Poplars, like Westeros, is filled with danger on all sides. No sign of dragons so far — but there is an eagle’s nest visible from my house. That means there will soon by hungry baby eagles. Mom and Pop eagle are already cruising the poplars keeping an eye on where food will be be available later in the season.

The poplars are also home to lots of four-legged crow enemies. This raccoon looks pretty adorable snoozing in the hammock of some high branches … but come nesting time there’s nothing they like better to snack on than crow eggs. In fact, that’s the fate that met Marvin and Mavis’s brood the spring before last.

I find I have to “watch” many parts of Game of Thrones from behind a cushion, asking when the terrible thing is over.

Yet, as full of drama and heartbreak as the HBO series is, it’s nothing compared to the real life struggle for survival going on right outside.

All we can do is root for my favourite characters to make it unscathed through the season/series. Now where’s that cushion …?

Nesting Instinct

It was just like a door-crasher sale for crows, with home furnishings 50% off.

Like a gang of bargain bin foragers, they created an explosion of tugging, flapping, snapping, inspecting and discarding.  Reject twigs littered the sidewalk. In spite of the massive effort involved in finally getting a stick free, the crows would often cast a critical look at their prize and dump it. Perhaps they decided it was going to mess up the feng shui, or didn’t quite match the colour scheme — whatever — it wasn’t up to snuff so time to head back into find the “right” one. Even if a twig was worth flying off with, it would often be taken to a rooftop for some further DIY modification before being deemed nest-worthy.

These photos are of Eric and Clara. I know it’s them because of where they’re building their nest. That half block has been “theirs” for as long as I’ve been watching them — at least four years.

Eric finally flies off with a “perfect” twig.

Eric and Clara’s nest, way up in the poplars.

Because it’s been such a delayed spring here in Vancouver, crows are building their nests before the trees are leafed out enough to camouflage them. I can actually watch Eric and Clara working on the nest from my living room window at the moment. I only hope the local bald eagles and racoons aren’t also making notes!

There was a definite joie de vivre in the air last Friday. Not only were the blossoms out (three weeks late) but it was also dry and sunny for the whole day.

In between battling to acquire furniture, the crows would spend a bit of time just relaxing in their newly-pink world, and enjoying the novelty of the twin phenomena of sun and “not rain.”

 

Clara in the pink.

The blossoms were still there the next day, but the weather took a severe U-turn. There was very little twig collecting going on in the pouring rain. Trying to shake a twig loose from the soaking trees would have resulted in near drowning.  And the wind!

I think this juvenile crow’s look spoke for many of us when the rain started up again.

Nest Construction Notes

Last year, after nesting season was over, I found this fallen crow’s nest. I brought it home to photograph its architectural features — a perfect embodiment of urban and nature. The main form was constructed from sturdy twigs, grass and moss, then reinforced with human detritus — old zap straps and twine. A bit of packing fluff for a luxurious finishing touch.

 

www.junehunter.com

 

Here’s Hank

First there was Eric. Then there was Hank. Now there are Hank and Eric and Vera and Eric’s mate and some babies. That’s a lot of crows for a small area, but they seem to have worked out a way to keep things civil.

They key is that certain rules have to be adhered to. Eric and his family have the run of the front street and the large poplars at the end of the street.

Hank and Vera rule the back garden and the alley. They still seem to be tending to a nest in a big tree in the alley.

Hank is responsible for feeding Vera while she's nesting.

Hank is responsible for feeding Vera while she’s nesting.

Harmony exists as long as no-one forgets to cross the unseen borders. If they do – holy moly, there is trouble.

The other day Hank was on his usual perch on the neighbour’s roof when Eric came a-calling. After all, the back yard used to be Eric’s domain, so I can see how he might be confused. I was photographing Hank at the time, so I was able to catch the instantaneous transformation from relaxed, rather gormlessly sunbathing crow — to puffed-up (look how big and scary I am!) tough-guy crow.

On the left, Hank is in relaxed, sunbathing mode. One second later, sensing intruders into his space, he's in tough crow mode.

On the left, Hank is in relaxed, sunbathing mode. One second later, sensing intruders into his space, he’s in tough crow mode.

I can easily tell the difference between Hank and Eric because Hank has a rather distinctive “over beak”. His top beak curves over the bottom slightly. They engaged in a few minutes of angry cawing and a touch of dive bombing action before Eric relinquished the territory to Hank.

Hank Close Up

Ruler of the backyard.

It’s lucky the trouble was short lived — because Hank really seems to enjoy just hanging about and soaking up the sun. Here he is later that day doing some more sun bathing on the studio roof. He likes to relax with his beak open and wings spread out. He’s a real West Coast, laid back kind of crow.

Wings spread, beak open - I think it's like dogs panting, it must create some sort of cooling effect.

Wings spread, beak open – I think it’s like dogs panting, it must create some sort of cooling effect.

More wing spreading.

More wing spreading.

He probably does yoga when I’m not looking. Actually, I think I may have caught him a hula hoop practice in this picture.

Check out that hip action!

Check out that hip action!

I am getting quite fond of Hank and he is getting less nervous around me, and therefore a more willing model for my photographs.

If you’d like to hear more about what goes on with the local crows on a daily basis, check in at my Facebook page. 

I post lots of pictures there and keep you up on latest in the ongoing crow soap opera.

And if you’d like to see my collection of crow portraits for sale, check out my website.

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Winsome

 

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Meet Vera

Vera is a little nervous around the camera, but not as phobic as this photo would suggest. She was actually enjoying a good scratch!

She and her partner (Hank) are one of many young couples starting out and trying to raise a family here in East Vancouver.

Vera and Hank

Vera and Hank

The two of them started hanging out in my garden regularly a few weeks ago. Sadly, I haven’t seen Eric in a while, but I’m hoping he’s just busy nesting nearby. I hope to see him again in the fall.

Vera and Hank have been busy ransacking my trees for branches that are “just right” for weeks. I soon began to suspect they had plans to settle in the area. They fly in and out of a big tree close by, so I’m pretty sure that’s their new address.

This will look fabulous in the living room!

This will look fabulous in the living room!

A couple of weeks ago I noticed Vera begging for food and being fed by her partner, another sign that babies are on the way. Finally, I noticed a big pink patch of featherless skin under Vera’s belly. At first I was worried that she’d been in a fight and gotten injured, but then the phrase “brood patch” popped into my head.

Feeding Vera

Yum!

I’m nervously monitoring their progress. They both seem pretty young. Vera, in particular, could be one of last year’s babies. She still has the brownish feathers of juvenile crow. It seems that she’s pretty low ranking in the crow-verse. When I first saw her she’d appear in the morning adorned with droppings, meaning that, in the crow roost, she got to sleep on the lower branches. High branches are reserved for the senior crows, like Eric. Lately she’s been cleaner, probably because she’s not going to the roost at night, but staying with Hank to guard the nest.

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Curse those higher up crows!

Flying Cinderella

Vera looks as though she’s having a bit of a hard life. Her feathers are strangely tattered — the Cinderella of the crow world. She’s clearly at the opposite end of the crow hierarchy from Eric the Magnificent.

I named her Vera after one of my favourite British TV detectives. The fictional Vera is tough and determined, so I’m hoping some of that will rub off on this “Vera”. She’ll need all the help she can get make it in the rough and tumble world of the urban crow.

Vera, Incoming

I’ll keep you posted on any developments in the baby crow department!

For portraits of the crows of East Vancouver, check out my web site.

www.junehunter.com

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