Crow Gifts of All Kinds


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I have to admit, I have been a bit envious of the little girl in Seattle* who has received so many fabulous gifts from the crows she feeds every day in her garden.

My local crow, Eric, and his family don’t usually leave me anything, except that which is white and rather slimy.

But the more I think about the nature of gift giving and receiving, I realize that I’ve gained many things, large and small, from my relationship with crows.

Some things are both large and small at the same time.

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Take the feather, for instance.

I was busy. I was putting out the recycling in the lane behind my studio. I noticed a small fluffy crow under-feather on the ground by the blue box. I picked it up and looked at it.

It was really beautiful. But I said to myself, “June, pull yourself together, you have book-keeping to get to. You can’t get distracted by every feather you find.”

I let go of the feather and it floated in the air. I walked back to the gate and re-entered the garden. The feather wafted along with me. As I closed the gate behind me, the feather snuck in.

At that point I felt that being actively followed by a feather must be a sign that the book-keeping could wait.

feather photos

I spend an hour taking detailed photographs of that feather. The images are integrated into many of my favourite compositions. To most, it just looks like an interesting texture. But to me, it’s a little reminder that the book-keeping can always wait.

A lesson and a gift from the crows.

shopify yoga crow banner

 

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Eric’s greatest gift to me is that he allows me to take his picture. There is a reciprocal agreement, of course, with peanuts being involved. Still, Eric is exceptional in his willingness to be photographed. I have been a crow observer and photographer for years now, and found that most crows are immediately terrified and/or evasive when something is pointed at them, peanuts or no peanuts. No doubt they have strong ancestral memories of being shot at by things other than cameras.

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Eric, perhaps because he’s seen me out with my camera so many times, is far less fearful. Which has given me the priceless gift of getting to “know” and capture images of an individual crow and his family ties and foibles. Eric has a “sliding scale” of how close I can be to him, based on the offerings I present. For the usual peanuts, I can be two feet away. For mouldy cheese or slightly stale sausage, a foot or less is permitted. He is the dominant bird among his group, always grabbing the biggest and choicest pieces of food before the others dare to sneak in. But he’s also an affectionate partner and parent.

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In some ways, the crows’ greatest gift is their potential role as a “gateway” to appreciating urban nature of all kinds.

In her wonderful book, Crow Planet, author Lyanda Lynn Haupt points out that these birds are “the most oft-encountered native wild animal” in most peoples’ lives. Learning to appreciate their intelligence, humour, agility and essential crow-ness can be the first step along the road celebrating all of nature, in the city and beyond.

As John Marzluff points out in his latest book, Subirdia, it is critical that humans maintain a “thirst to remain part of nature” in order to moderate our competing hunger for development, expansion and the continued degradation of the natural world.

So, while I still dream of some day receiving a little trinket from Eric as a token of our “friendship”, I’m happy just to enjoy his company each morning. Every day I notice some new things about the crow life he leads. While I watch him, I also soak up the beauty of the sky, the trees, and the light in the chickadee’s eye.

And I always keep any eye open for any crow feathers that might float by.


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If you’d like to read more about Eric, check out my earlier blog post Who Is Eric?

*More on the BBC story about the Seattle girl receiving gifts from her local crows.

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Just Another Day

It started as a normal Monday in East Vancouver. The dawn made it’s spectacular appearance (an hour late due Daylight Savings).

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Birds began to reappear in the sky, taking their posts for the coming day.

Dawn bird

Eric and his family arrived at their spot — in my garden, waiting for the first peanut handout of the day.

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I was thrilled to see the first downy woodpeckers had returned from whichever winter destination they’d chosen.

Downy Woodpecker male

I noted that the house sparrows were collecting nesting material. And giving the pine siskin some interior design ideas at the same time.

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Suddenly, trouble in paradise.

Eric and his family of crows dove into the lilac tree where all the small songbirds like to be.

I thought the crows had suddenly and unexpectedly decided to start dining on full-grown sparrows and chickadees.

But no — the crows had spotted a juvenile Sharp Shinned Hawk darting into the lilac.

No doubt the hawk had certain designs on the songbirds, snack-wise.

Sharp Shinned Hawk

The hawk fled, pursued by Eric, his family and the neighbourhood watch committee of concerned crows. They flew around the neighbourhood all day.

Hawk soaring, crows cawing.

Hawk on High

A crow keeps a wary eye on the hawk from the top of street sign.

 

So, now we have a new kid on the block, adding to the daily excitement. Another hazard for smaller birds, like the bald eagles and ravens that already cruise the skies. But another thrilling ingredient into the mix of wildlife that calls East Vancouver home.

Last Dawn of 2014

Dawn Flight

I took some time to appreciate the last dawn of 2014 – and such a dawn it was.

After a festive season of heath challenges, it seems even more important that usual to appreciate the small things that are big.

Being with family, good friends, health (it’s all relative), moments of quiet loveliness, every dawn, every sunset. Crows, naturally.

A week or so before Christmas my husband was in a nasty bike accident. When we found him in emergency he couldn’t remember the last five years or so of his life, or how he had come to be in the ER. Thanks to his helmet, he did not have a major brain injury, “just” a concussion. By the next day he remembered everything, except for the ride to work, the accident, the ride in the ambulance and the hours spent in the hospital. These things he may never remember. Concussions, I am learning, are tricky things, taking anything from weeks to months to recover from. Phillip has spent about 90% of the holiday season in bed, in the dark with his new best friends — audio books. Even watching TV or reading is too much for his rattled brain at this point.

He will get better eventually, with rest and quiet, so as frustrating as the process of healing can be, we are grateful every day that things weren’t much, much worse.

So this morning I made a point of spending an hour or so bundled up on the top deck of our house to welcome in the last day of 2014 in all its splendour. This may be the most exciting part of my New Year’s celebrations this year, but that’s just fine with me.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

The first of the commuter crows arrive.

As the sun rose, the sky behind the poplars at the end of our street was painted with sugared almond shades of peach, raspberry and lavender. And, as reliable as clockwork, the crows began to arrive from the east and their night time roost at Still Creek. Most were just passing through, heading to their “day jobs” in North Vancouver and points west of here.

Crow's Nest View of the Dawn

But the locals stopped on the very tops of the poplars as if to take in the breath-taking views. I’ve often noticed them hanging around there on mornings with particularly gorgeous sunrises, as if they are as susceptible to the beauty as I am. Of course, it could be that they sit there every morning and I only notice them when I happen to be out taking in the view myself, but I prefer to go with my “crows as dawn worshippers” theory.

Incoming

You can see the neighbourhood waking up from the vantage point of our roof, the sky changing and a positive rush hour of birds – flickers, gulls, geese, sparrows, juncos, were spotted this morning, as well as Eric and the gang.

Gulls over the Mountains

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

The northern flicker scooped the weeping birch perch this morning.

As I watched Eric and his little group huddling together on the wires, I was also reminded of how grateful we’ve been for all the friends who’ve rallied around since the accident. It’s the crow equivalent of volunteers leaving the little crow family group to head over and scare away the eagle. I’m sure our friends would scare eagles away for us too, but, in the absence of winged predators, we are very grateful for all of the soup, cookies, help and concern that we’ve received.

Family Group on Pink

And, of course, I’m very grateful to Eric and his corvid kin, because watching them lifts me away from my worries and cares for a while as I realize there are so many lives being lived in parallel to our human ones, even here in the middle of East Vancouver.

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric's feathers

The colours of the sunrise glow on Eric’s feathers

Happy New Year, everyone. From me, and Eric.

Who Is Eric?

Well, I’m sure he has a different self-image entirely, but this is his CV from my perspective.

Here I Am

Eric, first of all, is a crow.

He is, relative to others of his species, quite unconcerned by my camera. In fact, since I use a long lens, I often have to back away from him to keep him in focus. We crow paparazzi are a minor inconvenience in his life.

My husband has described Eric as the James Bond of crows.

He lands on any awkward surface with purpose, aplomb and minimal flapping.

One down, four to go.

One down, four to go.

If there are 5 nuts he will make sure he methodically picks up each one with no spillage.

If there are only 4 nuts, Eric will wait and look at me meaningfully until I fill his quota (5). After all, the trip has to be worth his time. Plus he’s letting me take his picture. Further evidence that birds can count!

Three down, two to go

Three down, two to go

Eric does not like celery. I saved the scraps from the turkey this Thanksgiving and froze small bags of it to serve up as special treats. He loves his turkey leftovers with stuffing, but I always find any trace of celery meticulously picked out and left behind.

Eric LOVES cheese puffs. I believe, like humans, he is addicted to whatever terrible substance is in that yellow powder. These are a very occasional treat. I don’t want to turn him into a junk food junkie.

Eric is a family crow. His mate usually watches his food gathering antics from the hydro wires. The two kids come with him to watch and learn. Occasionally Eric lets them get a morsel or two.

He’s a real stickler for appearances, spending a lot of time grooming his (sometimes impatient) offspring. I can almost hear him muttering, “How do you expect to get on in the world, with your feathers all uncombed like that?”

There. Now that's better.

There. Now that’s better.

Hmmm....

Eric Junior is not sure about the new hairdo.

Finally, why “Eric”?

The name just popped into my head one day.

It seems to combine Viking boldness with Monty Python humour.

This will be the first of what I hope will be many Eric Reports. Of course, you never know with wild creatures — today may be the last day I see him. So I’d better get out there with his five almonds!

Eric the Crow