The Crow Summer of 2023

Bongo and Bella Edition

Bongo and Bella are both looking pretty scruffy these days.

Like all crow parents, they’re dealing with the late summer trifecta of ongoing drought, moulting season and teenagers.

There has been no bonging lately, so it’s impossible for me tell, for now, who of the couple is Bongo and who is Bella.

Below: Bongo in the early summer, making his signature call. It seems to be connected to the early months of nesting and fledgling rearing as he seems to stop doing it by mid-July.

Both Bongo and Bella started moulting in July this year. From the crows I watch, it looks as if the crows that fledged their babies earlier in the year also start moulting earlier, as if the whole process is a linked timeline.

Or … it could just be that raising crow babies is so stressful it makes your feathers fall out.

One of the couple started losing some head feathers a few weeks ago …

General bits of feathers are making their escape

This morning silhouette shows the typical late summer “hipster beard” as throat feathers thin out

Certainly they both look as though they could use a week at a spa and, if such a thing existed, they have earned a spot.

Cue the daydream about what amenities a crow spa would offer … nice muddy puddles, an unsecured garbage bin buffet, unlimited preening time, no demanding fledglings allowed …

I digress; but I’m pretty sure most adult crows are engaged in similar relaxation reveries at this point in the breeding season.

Bongo and Bella started out in late May with four fledglings. The first one I didn’t even see — only a bit of a wing, probably a casualty of the local raccoon family or one of the outdoor cats.

There were three babies through early June but down to two by the end of the month.

By a combination of good luck and endless hard work, they seem to have kept the other two alive to reach teenager-hood.  One of them even seems to have some of Bongo’s vocal virtuosity!

Here are a few photos of the Bongo siblings learning the important “what’s food and what isn’t” lesson through the long hot summer.

Early summer — just waiting for food delivery from mom and dad

Rose petals? More of a garnish than a main dish.

Empty peanut shell? Close, but nope.

Plastic bag? Hard no.

Squished orange? Some juicy bits yet, so yes!

Unripe walnut hus? A bit too much work.

Mom or Dad shows how it’s done with a delicious bit of discarded watermelon

Only a few more weeks to go, thinks Bongo, and Crow Spa here we come!


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Street Trees PSA

Fallen Katura leaves series, July 2023

Short version:  please get out and water your street trees now, especially the newly planted ones!

Longer version: It is possible to grow up in an area with no trees, but not recommended.

To clap eyes on an actual tree when I was a kid growing up in an industrial northern city in England in the 50s, a special trip to a park or a drive to the countryside was required.

X marks where we lived. Can you spot a tree?

Possibly the result of a tree-starved childhood, I’ve never taken my Vancouver arboreal neighbours for granted, and now I’m quite worried about them.

There are always promising-sounding City of Vancouver initiatives to improve our “urban forest.” I’m not even sure if the “30% tree cover by 2050”  thing is still a goal — but it looks to me, especially in my neighbourhood, that we’re going the wrong way.

Fallen Katsura leaf, July 2023

In our part of Hasting-Sunrise, it looks as if the tree canopy is disappearing far faster than it’s being added to.

Some of  tree loss is just some species reaching the end of their life cycles; in other cases development choices have been made in favour of things other than trees. Climate change is taking a visible toll, and has been for several years

When I’m out with the dog and photographing crows, I’ve also been recording gaps in the street tree population where trees have fallen, removed and never replaced. I passed my list on the City tree planting department, pestered them occasionally, but mostly waited patiently for a couple of years for it to be our neighbourhood’s turn for replanting.

Desiccated Katsura leaf detail, July 2023

I did a little happy dance in January when we returned from a trip to see new trees planted on our block. I was especially thrilled that they’d gone in so early in the year with, I thought, a chance to get established before it got hot.

By May, we’d had so much hot dry weather that the young Katsuras were starting to look stressed. I started carrying buckets of water to a couple of the closest ones, but all of the newly planted trees, for blocks around look very dry and singularly unhappy.

Local Katsura sapling, planted in January and looking near death in July 2023

I seem to recall that in times gone by City crews would leave little notices on the trees asking people to water those planted in front of their houses. I also thought they used to put water bags on the young trees, but nothing like that currently.

I do know, I saw a LOT of water bags on trees in neighbouring Burnaby this week so they’re making Vancouver look bad in the urban forest stakes. Just trying to drum up a little inter-municipality competitive spirit here!

I think the City crew has been by once or twice to water the sad saplings, but it’s definitely not sufficient;  word needs to get out the tree-loving citizenry of Vancouver to get out their watering cans, buckets and hoses.

We’re hearing a lot, at the moment, about the very real drought conditions and water restrictions, but the latter don’t apply to tree watering.

Apart from being expensive to plant in the first place, a tree is an investment in our community with massive payoffs for decades to come. The shade from a mature tree on a scorching day is a gift. The sight of birds in the trees and the sound of wind in the branches are soul lifting. The carbon capture, filtering of pollution and rainwater absorption are less poetic but no less valuable and vital for the future.

Krispy Katsura leaf, July 2023

I’ve been hoping the City would put out a press release on how to help our precious street trees, but I haven’t seen it covered anywhere so far, so this is my own version.

Hey, local Vancouver media, let’s do a story on the city trees and how to keep them alive!!

In the meantime, definitely limit your lawn watering! Keep those showers short and sweet! Turn the tap off while you brush your teeth!

But do spare some H2O for the trees.

Recommended is a good soak with a hose or slow watering with a few of buckets of water twice a week, in early morning or evening, to avoid evaporation.

And, while you’re out there with the hose, fill up a bowl of water for the birds, who are also struggling in the drought.*

The Wings enjoying a very welcome drink

The Walkers soaking food for the fledglings

Last thing: write to or call your local government and city staff to let them know if you’re concerned about the trees in your neighbourhood. Our elected officials need to know we care about our urban forest in order for it to be a priority!



How to keep bird feeders and water bowls clean:
Change the water at least twice a day and  disinfect  the bowl regularly to protect against disease.Wash the bowl and soak with solutions of either bleach or white vinegar. If using bleach, make a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water and leave for 15 minutes. If using vinegar, use 1 part vinegar to 1 part water and leave for one hour. Rinse the bowl well and allow to dry before refilling with water. It’s best to have few inexpensive containers on hand so some can be in use while others are being cleaned.

Walker Crow Babies


Following yesterday’s mysterious coming and going of blog images, this post is by way of another test.

I thought I’d fixed the problem last night, but it looks as if some people are still unable to see the images. Today, I’ve tried a few more tweaks, but it’s hard for me to test since I DO see the pictures on various browsers. Sending out another experimental post seems like the only way to tell if there’s still a problem, so apologies in advance for treating my readers as site testers.

Note: If you receive this post via email and the pictures still don’t show, you can try going to the actual website and (I hope) find the images there.

One of the hatchlings stretching a wing in the confined space

So here are the adorable Walker babies still in the nest yesterday. One is bigger than the other, and both look ready to exit the nest, especially as it must be getting extremely hot in that chimney.

Getting hard to stretch the legs in here!

News update: on the last walk with the dog, I saw one of the babies OUT OF THE NEST, sitting rather gormlessly on the construction fence with both parents keeping a close watch. Photos and any more website fiddling will have to wait till tomorrow as it’s our 37th wedding anniversary so Phillip and I are off out for dinner!

July 5, 1986 — the happy couple and “Best Dog” Finlay.