Benjamin Crow

Last week I wrote a post on social media about Ben, the crow with a bent foot, in which I mentioned that Marvin and Mavis seem to allow him to get first dibs on the nuts and kibble I put out in the morning.

I immediately started to worry that I’d over-sentimentalized their behaviour.

Crows, much as I love them, are not generally known for their charitable works.

It’s true that  they’re extremely loyal to their family members (see George and Mabel: A Love Story.) At night they’re very co-operative and social when they come together at the roost for mutual protection, information and general fun.

But, during the day, crows stick pretty closely to their own territory — usually half a city block or so — and defend it against other crow visitors.

So why do Marvin and Mavis put up with Ben’s intrusions? I have a couple of theories, none of which include pure crow altruism on their part.

But first, the story of Ben, as far as I know it.

I noticed him last spring when he started following me on dog walks. I assumed he must be a local crow with a recently sustained injury, as I’m sure I’d have noticed his badly deformed foot if he’d been like this for a while.

He would pop up on my walks and, while doing my best to avoid conflict with other crows, I’d try to slip him a few peanuts.

In so doing, I was contravening my own rules of Peanut Diplomacy, but …

As BC’s terrible fall weather made international news, with floods and even a small hurricane, I worried about all the birds — but especially Ben.

I could imagine him out there, clamped to a branch with only one functional claw while the rest of him was flung about in the gales.

Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for a few days after a big storm and I’d think he’d been swept away, but then there he’d be again.

That one good foot must be extra, extra strong.

By then he’d started showing up at my house. I think his territory is a block or so away, but he must have a line of sight to see when I first poke my head out of the back door in the morning.

A picture of Ben looking at me from the roof early one wet morning became the print, Frazzled 2/Too.

The fact that Ben was now showing up for peanuts in Marvin and Mavis’s territory was a further breach of Peanut Diplomacy protocol.

But that face … what to do?

So, back to my theories of why Marvin and Mavis seem to have come to terms with Ben’s visits.

Theory One: Crows Are Trainable

I decided to see if I could try keep both Ben and M&M happy by trying my hand at some rudimentary crow training techniques. I mean, not much else was going on, so why not?

Ben’s great advantage is that he’s willing to come for snacks while I’m still standing nearby. Like other crows with injuries (e.g. George Brokenbeak) the risk/ benefit calculation of getting close to people shifts more into the “worth the risk” side of the ledger as it gets harder for them to get their own food.

I decided to use this fearlessness “superpower” in Ben’s favour.

When the snacks go out in the morning, several sets of crow eyes are watching.  Marvin or Mavis usually sound the breakfast call from their favourite Hydro pole.

Normally M & M would immediate swoop in and summarily scatter the competition — but I found if I stood right beside the peanuts and fixed them with a stern look and said “wait” in my best dog training voice, it bought Ben and his mate time to stuff a few peanuts and kibble in their beaks and take off.

After a couple of weeks of this everybody seemed to have got the hang of things.

Occasionally a tail tweak from Mavis is needed to reinforce the “taking turns” etiquette, but generally Ben and friend seem to know when their time is up.

Theory Two: Not Worth the Hassle

Another risk/benefit calculation, this time on the part of Marvin and Mavis, might be further explanation for their forbearance.

In spite of his limping gait, Ben is fierce. If attacked by other crows  I’ve seen him respond with impressive force. Perhaps Marvin and Mavis, knowing their food supply is generally secure, figure it’s not worth the risk to life and wing to take him on.

The M’s know, after all, that they can always come back later in the day, when things are less competitive, for a quiet visit and some extra peanuts.

Both theories, I guess, boil down to “crows are smart,” which is hardly news. I do know that I’ve spent countless hours watching crows, and the one thing I’ve learned is that they always have another surprise tucked up their wing feathers.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on how Ben makes out, and how long we can keep the Golden Age of Breakfast Co-operation going.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Cat of Insomnia

Just a quiet Sunday post about Edgar, the Cat of Insomnia.

I know there are many fellow insomniacs out there, and some aren’t lucky enough to have such a fine  sleeplessness companion. This is why I thought I’d share Edgar’s COI technique and, in so doing, offer some vicarious benefits.

After lying awake for hours … tossing, turning, examining each individual worry in my mind like a precious stone, viewing it from every angle so it can catch the light of  generalized anxiety and generally creating my own breathtaking, heart thumping prism of consternation … well, then I usually just give up and get out of bed.

While this marks another defeat in the “sleep hygiene” wars, there is consolation in knowing that the Maître d’Insomie awaits.

While Edgar is pretty quiet during the daytime, he comes into his own in the wee hours. As soon as any sleepless human staggers into the living room he starts purring and begins his important work.

Reading or knitting is discouraged by the COI (via gentle paw taps) as such things distract from full appreciation of the artistry at work here.

The best way to enjoy the service is to just sit there and breathe in and out (in and out, in and out …) with the purring.

Become one with the cat, as it were.

The slight downside is that, as you can well imagine, it’s hard to disturb the artiste when he’s in the creative flow, so I often end up staying up an hour or more longer that truly necessary.

I like to think that sitting with Edgar like this is almost as restful as actually being asleep as the various worries dull their sharp edges and fade into relative obscurity.

zzzzzzz …….

 

 

 

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Crows to the Rescue

The peace of wild things has been so very much needed over the past weeks and months. Years.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

It can be hard to chisel those precious nuggets of joy from the daunting and somewhat featureless rock face of pandemic living —and there’s certainly no shortage of  things to wake us, clammy and panic stricken, in the night. In those sleepless hours, poetry and quiet prose is a wonderful solace (along with a cat on the lap, some medium-complicated knitting and a cup of Ovaltine.)

Going to lie down where the wood drake rests, however,  remains less of an option for us city dwellers.

Luckily, nature is really is everywhere — even in the the cacophonous concrete city.

It’s so easy to miss it all among all the stresses and distractions of urban life —but this is where the crow rescue squad can help. Just pay them a little attention, and they will drag your attention (kicking and screaming, if necessary) to the Peace of Wild Things. Dammit.


Crows are wild things, but something … something … about them —  their tight family units, that look in the eye, that tilt of the head — makes them feel like quite close relations.

It really doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch (trust me) to start having conversations with them.

Hey, Mabel — how’s the family? Got one of the kids home visiting I see.

Any sign of spring out there, Marvin and Mavis?

Again, I ask myself quietly, am I spending too much time with birds … ?

And I conclude: not possible. I’d happily spend a lot MORE time with birds!

In fact, every time a see any bird — crow, sparrow, hawk or bushtit, I feel a thrill.

Perhaps it’s because where I grew up, on the Quayside of the industrial Tyne River in Newcastle in  50’s and 60’s Britain, the only birds I saw were rooftop pigeons and distant gulls. (See: Birth Of An Urban Nature Enthusiast)

It seemed to me then that things like birds and trees and squirrels and grass were just for rich people — so that’s what makes spending time with crows and all the other birds lurking in my part of the city, feel like such luxury.

And why it feels as if having a crow rescue committee for darker days is wealth beyond compare, even if I don’t have anywhere to lie down with them.
Probably not such a good idea in any case, when it comes to crows …

I’ve looked at life from both sides now …

 

 

 

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Marvin and Mavis News

Marvin and Mavis have had more than their share of nesting tragedy over the years. They’ve lost hatchlings to bald eagles, raccoons and cars. One particularly sad year, their only fledgling left the nest too soon and didn’t survive the landing. Marvin and Mavis seemed to have the hardest time accepting that particular loss, sitting and peering into the nest for days after, as if hoping the baby would magically reappear.

For a while it looked as if this year was heading down the same sorrowful path.

Things started happily enough, with a fledgling sighting in front of our house on the evening of July 18. I took a couple of photos of the new baby hopping in the flower bed and left the protective parents to it.

But when took a last peek out of the front door to see if they were OK before going to bed, I was just in time to see the fledgling flapping about across the street and crashing into a neighbour’s garden gate. Marvin and Mavis were beside themselves. With sinking heart, I went over to to see what had happened. The little bird was lying motionless and looking quite dead, just inside the gate. The neighbour came out onto her balcony and we discussed the situation, deciding to leave the body till morning — especially given that the parents were clearly distraught.

It was such a sad end to the day, and a seemingly very short life story for this little bird.

I was up first thing next morning, prepared for the worst — but there was no trace of the baby crow — not a single feather, nor any other evidence that I hadn’t dreamed the whole thing. Absolutely no sign of Marvin and Mavis. Later in the day I checked in with the neighbour and she told me she’d gone out after dark the evening before and there was no sign of any crows by then, living or dead.

All was very quiet for a day or two , but then one morning I woke up to the softest crow conversation I’d ever heard  going on in a tree near the house. Little mewing sounds and soft quacks were being answered by very soft, almost raven-complex, murmurings from M & M. I honestly have rarely heard anything so lovely.

I peered up between the leaves, and there was this little face.

I’d been clinging to the very faint hope that the fledgling had just been stunned and given time to come round, had been whisked away by Marvin and Mavis. That just seemed too much to wish for, and yet . . .

In the next day or so, it almost seemed as if I heard an echo of the baby’s calls. A second fledgling really seemed far too much to hope for and I never could see more than one at once, given the jigsaw of leaves the family was hiding in.

But then, a day or so later, on the neighbour’s roof, incontrovertible proof  . . . a pair!

It’s been so very hot and dry, I’ve been constantly providing fresh water for drinking and bathing. Also popping out every hour or so to see if I can still see or hear both of them has become the routine of the summer.

“Still two” is my relieved report after each outing.

Different baby crow personalities emerged almost from the beginning.

One of them seemed to need a lot more attention in the early days.
In the video below, mom and dad are both engaged in soft preening to try and sooth those sad little calls.

Meanwhile, the other fledgling seemed more of an explorer,  enthusiastically collecting data on that essential “is this food or just fun?” research project while Marvin and Mavis were otherwise engaged.

As the days go by, both of the babies, even the initially needy one, are starting to get more independent.

You can see that the wings aren’t fully developed yet which, along with inexperience, is why the fledglings are not yet super proficient at flying.

Looking around at the big new world

Sometimes Marvin and Mavis even get a few moments to themselves now, while the siblings entertain themselves nearly — although one here seems more interested in napping than playing.

Sometimes the kids go off on their own down the street …

. . . while mom and dad ask themselves that question common to all new and exhausted parents, “what have we gotten ourselves into?”

 

More updates coming soon!

 

See also: Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story, 2019

 

 

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Keep. Your Cat. Inside.

Apologies in advance for the rather emotional blog post to follow.

I had planned a rather more joyful one about all the local crow babies, including two belonging to Marvin and Mavis. I have hundreds of photos, and posts will be coming soon, but this morning I am upset.

Every morning, when I’m out walking the dog in the early hours, I see cats in the neighbourhood. Many of them are clearly in hunting mode.

Early today I watched in horror as a cat about half a block ahead of us clawed excitedly at a baby bird on the sidewalk as the fledgling fought to get away. Although I am not one of nature’s runners, I pelted, with Geordie, towards the cat, yelling like a maniac. The cat kept right on toying with the bird until we were a foot away, when it backed off a very short distance. The bird (a juvenile starling, I think) hobbled off into a nearby grapevine. The cat stayed close, waiting for us to leave so he could finish his mission. I stayed there and called Phillip to come from home with a box and towel. The bird clearly had a broken wing, so I tried to capture him for delivery to Wildlife Rescue, but failed, and the bird flapped off into a dense brush area. I spent a long time looking for him, but eventually had to give up, feeling by now that I’d made the poor bird’s fate even worse than if I’d just let the cat get it in the first place. I’m feeling very sad and guilty about that.

Injured juvenile starling

But I also feel angry.

It’s upsetting when an eagle gets a baby crow, or a crow snatches a baby robin, but I know they’re just doing it to feed themselves and their family. A cat killing a bird is not a legitimate part of this circle of life and death. A cat will not cleanly kill a bird to eat it — it will maximize the entertainment by playing with it first. The cat is not hungry. It’s a pet, fed and pampered at home and is out killing wildlife recreationally.

I know this sounds hard, but it’s the truth.

I love cats. Cats are wonderful, and anyone who knows me knows I adore our cat, Edgar.

Many cat owners contend that their particular pet is too gentle, too lazy, or too old to be a hunter of birds. You may tell yourself that, but I present our aforementioned genteel Edgar as proof to the contrary. Although he’s an indoor cat, Edgar is allowed onto our back deck, under supervision, where he usually lays in the sun, keeping out of trouble except for the occasional verbal exchange with the crows.

One day, however, he accidentally got left out there for a couple of hours by himself and by the time we figured out where he was, I found him sitting, looking pleased with himself, beside a beautiful, but very dead, juvenile yellow warbler. Clearly the baby bird had landed near him on the deck and nature just kicked in. Not Edgar’s fault. Mine for leaving him out there and allowing it to happen.

Thirty years ago we had another cat; Elvis. At that point, we hadn’t realized the perils for both cat and wildlife, and allowed him to be an outdoor cat. Some vivid memories of Elvis: the time he brought a live pigeon into the house when I was home alone with a newborn and a two year old; the time he got sliced open by a raccoon and cost us several mortgage payments to have him sewn up again; the sad day we found him dead in a neighbour’s garden, having drunk anti-freeze that someone allowed to drain into the gutter.

Elvis as a kitten, with Finlay

Elvis lived outdoors, and to my regret, probably killed hundreds of birds, as well as suffering through, and finally dying from, his neighbourhood adventures. I will never have an outdoor cat again.

Please.

Keep.

Your Cat.

Inside.

 

Some Reading:

 

 

 

 

Crow Bingo

Well darn it all, I’ve been working on my silly Crow Bingo idea for a few weeks now and just as I’m ready to launch it, our provincial government has managed to make the whole bingo concept controversial with this well-meaning, but perhaps rather ill-timed posting:

Here in BC, in addition to Self Care Bingo, we’re playing a game of emotional Snakes and Ladders with vaccines (very slow to arrive) and Variants of Concern (faster to arrive) — so the idea of crying it out in our blanket forts is perhaps just a bit too real.

But, to get back to my (hopefully less controversial) bingo idea.

My goals for Crow Bingo:

  • get people out of the house
  • give parents a focus for walks with kids
  • introduce everyone to the many benefits of Crow Therapy (for when crying in the blanket fort gets old)
  • encourage an awareness of all aspects of urban nature
  • sneakily convert people who don’t know they love crows yet

So here we go …

For beginners, Level One Crow Bingo:

You can chose to go for one row at a time, a diagonal or across, but ultimately it shouldn’t be too hard to sweep the whole board and then move on to …

 INTERMEDIATE LEVEL CROW BINGO:

If you want take your own copy of CROW BINGO to take on your walks with you here  are printable versions of BEGINNERS and INTERMEDIATE CROW BINGO.

Feel free to print as many as you like, share with friends, teachers, whoever you think might benefit from a therapeutic round of Crow Bingo.

I’ll be working on a special Nesting Season Bingo card soon!

Also, I’d love to hear from you with ideas for new squares in Crow Bingo.

 

 

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Raven Kisses

Corvids don’t really kiss like humans … but they do show affection for each other in a number of ways. In the case of the pair above — they were touching beaks in a very affectionate way for quite a while.

I think this behaviour would come under the umbrella of corvid allopreening which usually involves a crow or raven gently (more or less) combing through their partner’s feathers. This solicitous behaviour strengthens the pair bond between them, and helps to keep those very important feathers in tip top condition. I’ve also read an article about ravens using allopreening to restore harmony after some sort of dispute — Ravens Kiss and Make Up After a Brawl (New Scientist.)

On our last snowshoeing trip a couple of weeks ago we saw this pair of ravens …

Watching them was especially therapeutic as it was the day after the storming of the US Capitol building. Such loving care made me want to cry.

Just seeing ravens in general was the equivalent of a Club Med vacation!

In spite of the wet snow.

Geordie also had an excellent day

A rather censorious Steller’s Jay

I may add some new images from the last trip to my Raven Portraits gallery, but for now, Raven Kiss is available now … in time for Valentine’s Day (hint.)

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Crow Comforts

Some days seem harder than others. It’s November — with still more than a month to go before the winter solstice, when the light (slowly, slowly) begins to turn the tide against the dark.

It’s cold, dark and generally miserable. We’re in the middle of pandemic that looks set to get worse before it gets better . . . so, yes,  this week seems particularly grim.

Keeping exclusively to our tiny household groups can make things a bit lonely. It’s certainly not a time to be getting out there and expanding your social circles.

Unless, of course, you’re looking to add some crows to your support group.

The benefits are many — in good times and bad.

I’ve written about my Crow Therapy theory before, but I thought a little pandemic re-cap might be in order.

Hang in there!

Not worrying about how crazy the neighbours might think you are is a bit of prerequisite for longer conversations with your local crows.

I imagine more of us may be at this point now than we were at the start of the year.

I often compare notes with Marvin and Mavis on how our respective years are going.

I know they’ve had a rough 2020, losing their entire tree territory overnight this summer and, in spite of building at least three nests this spring, having no surviving fledglings to show for all that hard work.

Consequently, it’s hard to say who’s sympathizing with who when I tell them about the latest political and pandemic news.

Nothing really surprises them any more.

Although sometimes . . .

If you don’t feel ready for fully fledged conversations with crows just yet, they also appreciate a simple generic greeting as you pass by, delivered in a suitably appreciative tone.

How’s it going, guys? Lookin’ good.

Of course, you may not feel ready to engage in any degree of chatting with crows (yet)— and this is  perfectly fine.

The benefits of paying attention to crows can also be experienced from a discreet distance.

If you watch them every day, through the whole year, you’ll start see seasonal behaviour patterns. There will be lots of tender allopreening in the weeks before they start nesting, building that pair bond for the hard work ahead. There may also be some local skirmishes as they stake out nest territory. Then there’s the lovely “flying with twigs” period as they start construction.


Next, the nesting females will disappear completely for a while, hidden as they  incubate the eggs. By early summer it’s the time of baby crows, with some dive bombing of unwary pedestrians as parent crows try to protect their flight incompetent fledglings. A summer of noisily begging baby crows and increasingly exhausted parents ensues. The end-of-summer moulting season blends into raucous fall behaviour, gradually quietening into winter, as new crows learn the rules of etiquette and everyone settles into their usual territory and predicable habits.

One of the main purposes of my annual City Crow Calendar is to give a small sense of this lovely pattern of parallel lives going on through the seasons — although, rest assured, it does also have dates and the usual calendar stuff in it too!

Observing this cycle of life has been especially grounding this year when so many  human habits and expectations have been upended.

I heard my son telling a friend on the phone today about a lovely dream he had last night — of being at a party. It’s so sad that simple parties are currently the stuff of dreams. It’s not an exact substitute, but you can safely soak up a rave-like atmosphere by observing your local crow roost any night of the week.

While scouring the stressful news seems unavoidable this year, I do find it helpful to have the alternative narrative of what’s happening in my local crow world running in my mind. It’s a refreshing channel change to look at the world from their point of view — and there are truly plenty of compelling stories going on out there.

Stay tuned for some of the latest from the CrowFlix in coming posts …

 

I know — pretty gripping, right?

 

 

 

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The Gazing Bowl

There’s a lot (a lot!) of pressure on the gazing bowl this year.

Unlike tea leaves, the assorted bits of foliage in the gazing bowl confer no psychic abilities upon the reader — well, not this one, anyway.

Handy as that would be. Especially this year.

While the future remains stubbornly hidden, time spent peering into its depths does unveil some ephemeral truths.

October 25

Pondering the ever-changing patterns gives me a different way to see the world, if only for a few moments.

This year, I’ve been finding in it  metaphors for history and ideologies — one layer affecting another —murkiness in the complexity —shadows and light — one thing reflecting another.

November 2

But then, the bowl (and everything else) depends upon Nature — and I hope we all remember that in the coming hours, days, months and years, and steer our history and ideology to reflect that truth.

Geordie, who seems to think that my prognostication receptacle is actually his water bowl, has lately been hinting that the murkiness I am seeing in it is less metaphorical, and more a question of diminished drinkability.

Begging his indulgence, I think I’ll leave it for one more day and then tip it out and fill it with clean, fresh water.

 

See also:

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

October Walk

As a sequel to yesterday’s post, here are some photos from this morning’s walk — just a few crows in an autumn landscape.

Most of today’s crows are not close acquaintances, but part of the mysterious entourage that follows me along the dog walking route.

As I mentioned yesterday, the autumnal rowdiness is kept in check by an absence of peanuts and a few kind words of thanks after I take their photos.

I’m not sure why they follow me, but I always get an especially warm welcome at the corner where (almost two years ago now) crows played a pivotal role in the finding of a lost dog.  I always thank them when I walk by and they seem to remember me still.

This character, photographed close to home, is one of Mabel’s offspring. I can’t tell it’s one of the 2020 batch, or one of two 2019 youngsters who still hang around.

It’s a very grounding feeling to walk your own neighbourhood and see familiar faces, human and corvid, and exchange daily pleasantries.

It makes me feel that the world is still spinning on some sort of stable axis.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.