Feather Focus

I’ve been trying to write this post about feathers for weeks now, but my brain seems reluctant to string words together.

The world news makes almost everything else seem feather-light and trivial.

But sometimes, I can’t sustain the wide-eyed, wide-angle focus on the state of things. I just have to zoom in on something small and close by … something that has a pattern and seems to make sense of the world for a moment or two.

“Hope” is the the thing with feathers ” by Emily Dickinson is the first thing to float into my mind when thinking of feathers.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The line that stands out to me the most in this beautiful poem at the current time of reading is “And sings the tune without the words -”

I often wish we could just stop and listen to the wordless tune that nature belts out every day, whether we’re paying attention or not.

Lately, it seems as if words, used so rarely as a means of getting to real understanding, are only getting us into more trouble.

It gets hard to hear the “thing with feathers” amid the Gale of unfiltered information thundering around us.

To avoid adding too many more of my own words to the storm, here are a few feathers to consider in quietness.

A tiny, fingernail-sized mystery feather I found in the garden recently

Greatly magnified Anna’s Hummingbird feathers

Feathers always look best on the bird …

Female Wood Duck feather detail

Male Wood Duck feather detail

Below is a Sooty Grouse tail feather that I found, inexplicably, in our 100% grouse-free urban neighbourhood.

Fabulously blue Steller’s Jay feathers

Proud owner of the electric blue feathers

Red-winged blackbird epaulettes

Crow feathers, newly grown in after the moulting season — just in time for the winter rains

The miracle of Starling feathers

I was actually on the point of abandoning this blog post altogether when I had a visit from Sparky, “the thing with feathers” personified. He gave me a fizzy starling pep talk.

A new print — “Hope is the thing.




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Crow Gifts of All Kinds


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.


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



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.



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.



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.


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.

logo with crow