Viewpoints

I shouldn’t really be writing a blog post, having promised myself that I will dedicate this month to (a) getting the City Crow Calendar 2022 ready to go the printer and (b) finishing my upcoming Crow Therapy online presentation.

But it’s crow fledgling season out there and therefore hard to stay on task. As justification for the distraction, one small drama currently playing out meshes rather well with aspects of my Crow Therapy talk.

It concerns periscopes and perspectives

As we go about our day, periscope firmly pointed in the direction of human life goals — not being late for a meeting, what to make for dinner, what’s going to happen next in our favourite TV show — it can come as a bit of a shock to be attacked out of nowhere by a crow.

As always at this time of year there are lots of news stories and tweets about “harrowing” experiences with “crazed” crows. I guess it can seem like that if it comes out of the blue.

But crow nesting season is a perfect time to swivel the periscope in your personal submarine and take in a different view.

There have been some screams from the end of our street lately. The elementary school there is currently being used as a training centre for School Board staff so there’s a lot of coming and going. At least one unsuspecting person has been pursued by furious crows.

Mabel and her mate to be specific.

Frazzled parent, Mabel

From the point of view of the dive-bombee, the crows have inexplicably gone bonkers and need to be restrained in some way.

But (swivel periscope … c-r-e-a-k) let’s look at the situation from Mabel’s point of view.

Mabel and mate have been tending a nest just across the street from the school since April. Early this week their fledgling (probably against parental advice) exited the safety of the nest and took refuge in a small bush right on the corner of school.  Junior can’t yet fly enough to get into a tree, or onto of the school roof, leaving them heartbreakingly vulnerable in a terribly high traffic area.

At one point, I’m told by a neighbour, a landscaping crew heedlessly started weed whacking in the area!!!

From the point of view of Mabel and her mate, people are definitely bonkers and need to be restrained in whatever way possible.

The innocent people walking into work don’t have any idea where all this avian wrath is coming from. Minds inevitably turn to Hitchcockian scenes of malevolent bird invasions.

Mabel and her mate just know that people are deeply unpredictable and often dangerous.

They might step on their baby without even noticing, or back their car over it, they might let their dog or cat attack it, they might inexplicably assault the bushes in which the baby is hiding with a foliage chopping hell machine. You can’t make this stuff up!

So, if warning caws are ignored, humans must be kept away from the fledgling using the only way open to crow parents — the time honoured dive bomb technique.

I’ve attempted to bridge the understanding gap by explaining to a human person from the school what is going on, so hopefully periscopes will be redirected on the human side.

At least until Junior here figures out the flying thing.

I’ve also had a word with Mabel, but I’m not sure she’s about to change her mind.

 

 

 

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Nervous Nesting Notes

Crow couple photo

It’s a stressful time of year, nesting season.

Mostly for the birds, of course — but peripherally for those of us who anxiously watch the goings on.

Yesterday, for example, was very tense.

I don’t know where Marvin and Mavis are nesting this year. I used to be able to see them from my house, when they nested in the Notre Dame poplars and, for good or bad, could distantly watch every development.

In the absence of those trees, I mostly see them on construction fences of various kinds, or perched on the new duplex being built on the corner. Their nesting location this year remains a mystery.

I’m pretty sure they have built one nearby somewhere, as Mavis has been mostly absent for a few weeks, presumably sitting on eggs. One local nest possibility is a big tree in a neighbour’s garden. It looks like a pretty promising location — on paper — but they suffered a raccoon-related nesting disaster there about four years ago.

Crow collecting “soft furnishings” for final touches to a nest.

Yesterday it became clear that (a) someone WAS nesting in there and (b) raccoons have a good memory. We had a crow riot as about a dozen birds whirled round the tree, calling angrily from nearby wires and diving into the branches from time to time.

At first I couldn’t see the raccoon, but  eventually spotted her on a neighbour’s deck, moving somewhat clumsily up to the drain pipe …

Raccoon on a drainpipe

… and from there to the roof to examine the feasibility of leaping directly back into the tree.

In the end, she decided the jump was too much, but must have found another way up as the frenzied cawing went on from the afternoon and into the evening.

I imagine the raccoon probably got what she was after in the end. They usually do, in spite of all the crow racket and, after all, she doubtless had hungry kits waiting at home.

Many crows came to harangue the raccoon and, while I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were among them. I don’t know if this was actually their nest or not. Only time will tell, I say to myself, in an effort to see the big “Nature Unfolding” picture without giving myself a heart attack in the process.

The local bald eagles are another constant threat to the crows’ nests. They have their own nest nearby and cruise the neighbourhood several times a day, inevitably pursued by large groups of irate crows.

Crows pursuing a bald eagle

In the photos above you can see how close the crows are willing to get to those big claws. In the second photo the crow looks as if he’s trying to grab the eagle by the tail and pull the bigger bird back. You can also see that, in the eagle claws, is a bird  — most likely a crow fledgling.

So, you see what I mean about this being a tense few weeks!

In other, less traumatic, nesting news   — I’m starting to see the breeding female crows again. In April it’s as if they’ve all  joined a witness protection program, suddenly disappearing from sight in order to sit (ever so, ever so, quietly) on the nest.  If you hear a subtle croak from the nest in April, it’s most likely not a hungry fledgling, but a female quietly reminding her mate that he needs to bring her a snack. The males are also quiet and uncharacteristically low key. Definitely not the time of year to be drawing any unnecessary attention to yourself and give hints to nest location.

White Wing and her mate live on a shady street with a lot of big trees and she’s usually among the first of the local female crows to disappear into the nest. She reappeared this week, indicating that the eggs have probably hatched, and now she’s joining her mate in foraging for food for those endlessly hungry little beaks.

It also seems that, perhaps to entertain herself during those  tedious weeks on the eggs, White Wing was taking language lessons as this (earlier this week) was the first time I’ve ever heard her make sounds like this.

Just around the corner, Mr. Walker has been seen solo for a number of weeks now, keeping lookout on his favourite tree.

In recent days he’s been absent too, so I imagine he and his mate are being kept extremely busy somewhere up in the leafy branches.

In the next few weeks, I hope to see some of these little faces popping up around the neighbourhood.

The parents will be fiercely protective, especially during that high risk period when the baby is out of the nest but can’t fly. There may well be some dive bombing of unwary humans. But we should try to remember how hard these crow parents have worked to get that little fledgling to this stage, how many perils there were along the way, how many more dangers still stand between this little crow and adulthood. The crow parents may seem a little crazy at this time of year, but if you know the backstory you can understand why.

A few tips to avoid being dive bombed:

  • Avoid the area for a week or two if possible;
  • Put fake eyes on the back of a hat (they won’t dive bomb if they think you’re looking right at them;
  • Use an umbrella;
  • Leave a peanut or two as a token of peace.

More about crow nesting season in last week’s Georgia Straight (with Mavis on the cover.)

 

And remember, fingers crossed, in a few weeks time we should be getting to know some brand new crow friends in the neighbourhood!

One of Mabel’s fledglings, summer 2020, with tell tale blue eyes and pink beak edges.

 

 

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Seeking Balance

When we talked about “finding balance” in the Before Times, it seemed different.

More aspirational. More of a long term, “I’ll get there eventually” sort of concept.

These days it seems more like an immediate and visceral struggle — with some of them going far better than others.

One moment you’re a ninja of mindfulness — listening to soothing music instead of doom-scrolling, whipping up scones, churning out preserves, finishing little projects here, starting ambitious new ones there, getting lots of fresh air and exercise, taking one moment at a time, and generally thinking, “I’ve got this.”

In short: you’re CRUSHING this whole balance thing. Easy peasy!

Marvin goes for gold in the Olympic fencing category

Unfortunately those days, for me at least, are rare — dare I say, imaginary — especially as we meander into year two of stress and uncertainty.

There are many more days when my scrolling thumb is screaming for relief, thoughts are scrambled and nerves are stretched thin enough to pluck a plaintive and off key ballad called “Enough Already.”

Balance, in other words, proves elusive.


As you may have gathered, it’s been a rough week.

I’ve recently taken up Fair Isle knitting for the first time in a long time. You really have to concentrate and, if you follow the pattern, it works out more or less as it’s supposed to, which is particularly reassuring at the moment. Another plus — it’s impossible to doom-scroll at the same time.

And, of course, there are always the crow therapists — like Marvin the fencing champion shown above. And Mavis, keeping a stern eye on me . . .

Spring is here — and just as they brought joyful visual messages during difficult times last year . . .

Crow flying against blue sky with trailing branch of blossoms

. . . my crow neighbours are painting hopeful pictures again now.

Leap of Faith

 

 

 

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Snow Crows

There’s something magically transformative about snow. I’ve amassed a large collection of vintage snow globes, and even made some of my own featuring quirky local landmarks. In summary, I’m a bit of a sucker for snow.

We had what looks to be this winter’s only snowfall here in Vancouver in mid-February. I was excited to write about it then, but since Texas and other US states were undergoing very real suffering from unseasonably cold weather, snow and ice at that point, it didn’t seem tactful to be waxing lyrical about it. I’m feeling that it might be OK to indulge now …

We get very few days of snow in a typical Vancouver winter, so when the flakes start to fall I’m out of the house with my camera as much as possible. On top of the beguiling alliteration, the combination of “crow” and “snow” is pure enchantment.

Here is a crow with snow, folk music and starling accompaniment …

From a technical point of view, snow is both blessing and curse for crow photography. The camera wants to focus on each falling snowflake rather than the bird, so that’s a challenge. The contrast of the black feathers and the all white landscape also needs considerable over-exposure to reveal the detail in the crows.

But the light! The light is magic — beautifully soft, no harsh highlights, bouncing back into those dark feathers and bringing out the shades of mauve and indigo, pearl and navy. It’s as if the whole world is a light box designed especially for photographing crows. Woohoo!!!

White Wing in the snow

The Wings in a Winter Wonderland

And you just never know what might happen. I accidentally found the snow version of a four leafed clover when photographing Mavis in the back garden this year.

Not yet …

Be patient …

Keep looking …

Bingo!

For just one microsecond a snowflake kept its perfect crystalline form on her face. And I got a photo of it!!

Particularly amazing to see this in Vancouver, where the temperature is usually too warm for snow crystals to remain intact long enough to be visible. It’s the little things that make a photographer’s day!

Another fun thing about a snow day is seeing how the crows adapt to it.

The Walkers not only dealt with the weather conditions, they also gave me instructions on how to do so.

Instead of walking along with me to the bump at the bottom of the tree where I customarily leave a few peanuts, as he normally does, Mr. Walker flew over my shoulder and landed on a higher, slightly less snow covered burl on the tree as if to say, “this will be a better spot to leave them today.”

So I did as instructed and everyone was pleased.

It was young Chip’s first snowfall.

A puzzling development,  but she shook it off with aplomb.

Now the flowers are coming up, birds are collecting nesting materials and spring is very much in the air, but I had fun looking back at our brief yet magical period of Crows in a Winter Wonderland. Hope you did too.

 

 

 

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Chip’s Tips For Hanging Around

It would seem that the local corvids took exception to the title of my “Boring Walks” series and have been pulling out all the stops to prove me very wrong.

Young Chip must have been especially offended, as she’s been starring in her own production of Cirque du Corvid this week.

Remember I said in Boring Walks Part One that Chip is fast and cheeky? It seems that she read that and thought, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

At first I didn’t notice Chip at all. It was Marvin, sitting on the fence and staring intently up at the sky.

So I looked up to see what he was watching …

In all my years of watching crows, I’ve only ever seen this hanging upside routine once before.

But Chip wasn’t JUST hanging around. Oh no.

She hung there for a minute or so and then let go, prompting Marvin to give chase.

That was so much fun, so she did it again. And again.

Looking to see if Marvin is watching

 

A head tuck and fiddle with the feet

 

And down she goes

Marvin cannot look away

Chip apparently decided that the “hang and drop” routine was too simple, and added to her routine by clambering, using feet and beak, between the multiple rows of wires.

But with the same end goal — flip, hang, drop and get chased. Woohoo!!

Down on the ground, I was literally gasping at the acrobatic skill. At the same time, I was laughing out loud at her determination to draw Marvin, who was trying to look very dignified, into her vortex of fun and games.

Chip’s family, The Mabels, weren’t even around — it was just her, having a laugh with the neighbours. She often visits the garden when Marvin and Mavis are there. They’re pretty territorial and have spent months trying to chase her off, but they seem less fussed about her presence lately.  After all, she is pretty darn entertaining — and way too fast to catch anyway.

Chip’s lesson for me this week — you can just be hanging around, being bored and a bit grumpy — or you can go ahead and make an art form out of it.

 

 

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Crow Signals

While, it is lovely to have particular crow friends and to have eye to eye contact, they also communicate with you from afar. You simply have to tune into the crow wavelength.

It’s not always possible to have close encounters of the corvid kind.

You might live in place where peanut diplomacy is strictly forbidden, or maybe you’re in a rural area where crows tend to be a lot less trusting of humans than they are in the city. You may be away from your familiar crows in a new town.

But that’s OK — because their very presence, however distant,  makes a difference. You just have to start start looking for the shapes they make against the sky.

Once you start noticing them they become like elegant punctuation, making sense of a garbled, run-on sentence of a world.

Exclamation point!

Full stop.

Crow signals can also guide you through the seasons.

In winter you’ll see couples snuggling close and building their bond in advance of the challenging nesting season to come.

You might also see some scenes like this as competition for the best nesting sites heats up . . .

Followed shortly by my favourite crow messages of hope and endeavour . . .

Later in the spring or summer, look for scenes like the one below.
(Will be accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of quarking begging cries from baby crows.)

The parent crows are grateful for a few brief moments of peace in the summertime.

By early autumn the baby crows are independent, and the post-summer socializing and harvest festival begins.

And then — here we go again — the leaves are gone and we  see the crow couples settling back into their quiet winter routine.

Some miscellaneous messages from crows:

A sidelong glance at distant crow’s antics can make you laugh aloud.

Sometimes they can tell quite a long story in a fleeting moment.

So, some humans came this morning and cut down all of my trees, but they did leave this one branch, so I’m making a statement here about crow resilience and adaptability and how crows will likely inherit the earth …

The faraway and anonymous crow that inspired this whole post is in the photo below.

This bird performed a whole poem for anyone who happened to be looking up.

Flying very high, she suddenly dropped ten feet in a smooth barrel roll.  For a moment I thought something was wrong, but she repeated her trick and I noticed she was dropping something from her beak and catching it over and over.

At last, she caught it for the last time and flew off to enjoy her prize.

The poem, as I interpreted it, covered subjects of exhilaration, skill, freedom, speed, risk, rushing air and pure fun.

The joy, on a hard day in a hard year, was contagious.

Crow therapy from afar. Keep an eye open for the signs!

 

 

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New Year’s Eve

This vintage wooden roller coaster at East Vancouver’s Playland is often ringed with crows as they enjoy a little sub-party on their way to or from the big roost at Still Creek.

When we walked by this morning, on this the last day of 2020, there was only a solitary crow. It sat alone with the whole row of coloured light bulbs all to itself.  No roller coaster cars rattling by. No other crows.

Perhaps because I tend to view almost everything through a crow-shaped lens, our solo crow seemed an apt symbol for New Year’s Eve 2020.

No big parties. Many of us sitting at home viewing the world from a lonelier vantage point than we’re used to, especially on this night of the year.

Many of us with twinkly lights for mood lifting company.

To be honest, I always find New Year’s Eve to be a bit of a melancholy celebration. The lyrics to Auld Lang Syne make me feel a bit weepy. It’s early in the evening still here, so I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling by midnight.

Possibly more weepy than usual.

Possibly less, as the end of 2020 leaves little to regret.

However you’re feeling, remember (yet another treasure from my mother’s kit bag of handy sayings) “tomorrow is another day.”

And, also, another year.

And that day/year will have crows in it.

Crows you may know quite well,  and other crows you may admire from afar and rashly imbue with symbolic importance.

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne

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Tiny Points of Light

Sometimes it’s just the smallest thing that illuminates your day.

I was walking the dog the morning before the winter solstice when an urgent crow meeting convened in the treetops. Crows were flying in from the whole neighbourhood to share their opinions.

I took quite a few photographs in an effort to see what the cause of the commotion was. While I never did figure that out, I did notice that the frail morning light struggling through the clouds at the base of the trees, combined with the darker overlapping of branches and crows at the top, made a rather pleasing composition.

As it seemed to capture the tentative return of the light, I chose the one at the top of this post to share on social media yesterday to mark the solstice.

But that wasn’t the tiny thing that really made me smile.

That came later, when I was sorting through some of the other photos and realized that, of all those crows in the trees, I actually recognized one of them!

See that crow sitting at the top, just right of the one taking off? That’s White Wing!
Recognizable from a hundred feet because of her distinctive silhouette, her wonky wing feather sticking out.

I can’t say exactly why that little observation made me so happy. I was listening to a CBC Radio show earlier today in which they talked about how popular complex jigsaw puzzles have been this year. They mentioned the contentment of being fully immersed in a project that has a fixed end in mind. Flow state, they called it.

When I’m out walking every day I’m also working on a puzzle — the endless mystery of what’s going on in the crow world. I don’t suppose there’s an actual end to this project — no single piece that will dramatically pull every element together.

But picking out White Wing —one small, distinctive component in the giant crow jigsaw — was a moment of pure delight.

White Wing, closer up, December 14

White Wing alone in a tree, December 8

The only other crow I’ve been able to reliably identify by silhouette was George. After his beak was broken, that subtle step down on the upper beak was his signature.

George and Mabel: Love’s Delicate Balance

There’s been a lot of darkness this year, and so much uncertainty.

Perhaps that’s why each small answer — even if it’s just one tiny puzzle piece coming home to its rightful place — seems like a comforting ray of light.

 

 

 

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Meet The Walkers

To be perfectly accurate, only one of the Walkers is a keen hiker.

Even then, his perambulations are purposeful, laser focused on a specific destination.

The origin of this routine have been lost in the mists of time.

Who trained who here will forever remain a mystery.

Mr. Walker has no fear of the dog, walking beside him with equanimity.

Mr. Walker’s promenades occur in all weathers …

… and at speeds ranging from dawdle to dash.

Ms. Walker prefers to leave the strolling to her mate, and remains aloft in the tree until the prize is in place.

Ms. Walker on lookout.

Ms. Walker this morning. On the other side her eye is rather damaged, like Mabel’s, but it doesn’t seem to slow her down.

Both of the Walkers will follow me to the end of their block to see me on my way.

Bye-bye, Walkers. See you tomorrow.

 

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The Mabels

Mabel has gone from being a solitary bird after the death of her mate, George Brokenbeak, in 2017, to the matriarch of an unusually massive crow family.

From what I’ve observed over the last few years, such large families remaining together over multiple seasons is somewhat rare. Usually one juvenile crow might stick around for a season or two to learn the ropes, and help the parents with nesting season. In Mabel and her new mate’s case, two of the 2019 juveniles are still with them — plus two more from this season — adding up to a rather rowdy gang of six.

Back in March 2020, when Mabel only had two apprentices.

Among this boisterous bunch it is only Mabel with her distinctive right eye, that I’m regularly able to identify. Hence, I think of them, collectively, as “The Mabels.”

The Mabels, by their sheer numbers, have become a bit of a dominant local force. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the large group has the extra crowpower to have lookouts posted everywhere, making it hard to give our “house crows,” Marvin and Mavis, a few quiet peanuts without bringing the Marauding Mabels into the picture.

To be fair, Mabel and the late lamented George ruled our garden long before Marvin and Mavis, so I’m sure there are some valid territorial claims to be made under Crow Law.

George Brokenbeak and Mabel, our back deck, winter 2016.

Also, this summer, during the hot dry months, I put out a bowl of water in front of the house for the use of any thirsty critters. Mabel, of course, brought the whole family down regularly for refreshment and recreation.  I wrote about this in Fledgling Fun.

So it’s hardly surprising that The Mabels of all generations consider our house to be part of their daily routine.

The heart of their territory lies, however, at the other end of the block— part of a local elementary school. Central to the ancestral seat are two old metal yellow posts with rings on top that are used to mark, and sometimes block off, the entrance to the school parking lot.

The right ring has, for time immemorial (well at least for the few years I’ve been watching) been important to this crow family.

The feet of George upon the yellow throne in 2016.

His Georgeship.

Mabel seemed to inherit the “ring of power” once George was gone. Until quite recently I never saw another crow rest there for very long, including her new mate, Gus.

Don’t even think about it …

The chains of office, claimed by Mabel.

Signs she may be willing to relinquish her iron grip began this spring.

The younger crows, after first practicing on the less prestigious left hand side yellow post …

… were occasionally allowed to take the one true throne for a short test drive.

They always look a little nervous as Mabel’s tolerance for such impertinence is variable.

Sometimes she perches on the lower railing and supervises.

Other times, she wants her spot back and it’s time for a quick exit …

Recently, one of the Mabels has been standing out from the crowd by sheer force of personality.

The smallest of the family, one of the 2020 batch, is proving to be the boldest. I started thinking of her as Chip (as in “off the old block”) and I notice that she will follow me for several blocks on the dog walks, even when the rest of The Mabels have lost interest.

Chip doesn’t have any distinguishing features, other than being the smallest and the cheekiest, but there is just something about her face.

Wet Chip

She’s already got the posing thing down to a fine art.

Recently, she’s been mimicking her mother on the golden throne.

Mabel demonstrates the proper regal attitude …

… while Chip has a ways to go in the poise department …

Mabel (left) and Chip (right) practicing the stone lion pose.

Whether the Mabels will stay together for much longer remains to be seen, but I can’t help hoping that Chip will stick around.

Chip practices multitasking

 

 

 

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