Dishevelled Crows

My mother had a storehouse of wonderful sayings — one for every occasion, really.

If I was looking particularly unkempt (a look I actively cultivated in my hippy days, but that’s an entirely different story) she’d say I looked as if I’d been “dragged through a hedge backwards.”

Sometimes, at the end of a particularly hard day of cleaning and chores, she’d describe feeling like “the wreck of the Hesperus.”

I’m reminded of both sayings every time I go outside at this time of year and see the state of the local crows.

They always look bedraggled at this stage of the molting season, but the seemingly endless, long, hot summer seems to be making them even more tattered and grumpy-looking than usual.

Feathers do not last forever, and after a year of hard service, the crows’ feathers begin to lose their glossy blue-black patina and become dull, with muted shades of sepia and grey. Luckily they have the ability to grow a new set of spanking new ones, but this metamorphosis comes at a cost. The process takes a lot of energy, which is why it’s usually timed for a period of relatively low corvid activity — after nesting and before migration (for those who head to warmer climes for winter). They need rest and good nutrition to grow the new feather cloak and hormonal changes associated with the process can make them feel out of sorts.

This summer, with no rain to speak of in months, it must be especially gruelling. Food sources, and even water, are harder to come by than usual. I’ve been putting out a couple of bowls of water in my neighbourhood for Eric and Clara and the harried parents of the Firehall Triplets. I feel especially sorry for the molting crows with young ones, as they have to find food for extra mouths — and deal with the loud and  constant appeals for food.

The Firehall Family

Although they continue to try their luck at getting the parents to feed them, the fledglings are, by now, capable of doing some of their own foraging. The photo above was taken just this morning. The parent crow ignored that gaping pink beak and flew off with most of the peanuts I’d left. There were a couple left in the grass, and junior eventually got the hint and picked them up himself.

Baby crow figuring out if the leaves of my neighbour’s squash plants are “food.”

Warning: This is a risky vantage point from which to take a photo of a baby (or any) crow.

Eric and Clara

This is Eric, described by my husband as “the James Bond of crows” for his usually sleek unruffled feathers, and manner.

As you can see, even Eric the Suave is looking rather ragged and disgruntled these days.

Eric and Clara this morning. Only 8am and it’s hot already!

Mabel

Mabel can be found every morning just down the alley from Eric and Clara. Here she is, her faded feathers looking almost as colourful as the towels on the washing line behind her.

Painted Crow

My new pal has conveniently marked him- or herself with some paint around the neck, aiding in instant identification. It’s already fainter now and I guess the little paint mishap will be a distant memory when the new feathers come in.

 

So, when you slip on your new back-to-school or back-to-work outfit, spare a thought for the poor crows who have to grow their own.

It’s an arduous process, and I’m sure they’ll be mightily proud and relieved when their fall wardrobe finally comes in.

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Crow calendars now available online, or at the studio sale.

Autumn Crow Walk

If you’ve been wondering where Eric the crow is these days, read on.

After a rather long day in the studio I was faced with the choice of a “feet up with tea” break, or a short walk. Luckily the sunshine outside persuaded me to go for the latter.

I do love autumn. The special light, the sharpness in the air, the colours. All were on offer for my half hour walk.

Maple leaves in bright sun and shadow

Maple leaves in bright sun and shadow

I set out in the direction of Notre Dame School at the end of our street and to my delight, as soon as I reached the corner, there was my old buddy, Eric.

Eric in his new schoolyard territory

Eric in his new schoolyard territory

He used to be in my garden all the time last winter, but he moved his family over to the school, with it’s stand of tall Lombardy poplars, for the nesting season.

Lombardy poplars at Kaslo and Parker

Lombardy poplars at Kaslo and Parker

Since then, my garden has been “claimed” by Vera and Hank who tried and failed to raise a family in the big tree just across the alley. They vanished some time over the summer to be replaced by George and his family, which includes an ailing baby crow. Recently there’s been a bit of a territorial conflict with George defending “his” space from other crows — which may include Eric. It’s hard to tell who’s who when they’re swirling about in the air. Much as I’d love to have Eric back in the garden, I pretty much have to leave it to the crows to sort out their own pecking order.

However,  I do try to visit the school corner once a week or so to check in and see if Eric is still there and looking well. And, I am happy to report, he is.

Eric, looking good!

Eric, looking good!

After a short chat with Eric (crazy crow lady alert!) and the donation of a couple of peanuts I found in the seams of my pocket, I walked south a bit and then west along Charles Street.

As you may know, I have a bit of a hydrangea obsession — particularly at this time of year when they are a bit faded, but displaying gorgeous moody and subtle shades.

Yet another version of hydrangea's autumn colour palette.

Yet another version of hydrangea’s autumn colour palette.

The long view down Charles Street, with the sun behind the maple and dogwood trees created an explosion of autumn colour.

Maple leaves with pedestrian in early evening light.

Maple leaves with pedestrian in early evening light.

A bonanza of fallen berries on Penticton Street. When we had two Labs we had to avoid this street in fall, because they’d just stop to feast. With disastrous results later … Those berries always remind me of Molly and Taz.

A bounty of fallen berries

A bounty of fallen berries

Post-swim Taz and Molly. Miss those dogs!

Post-swim Taz and Molly. Miss those dogs!

Gold and Scarlet - berries waiting to fall.

Gold and Scarlet

Finally, it was time to head home. At the corner of Parker and Slocan, I was greeted by  George. I knew it was him at once because of (a) the meaningful look and (b) the sick baby crow he was with.

Look, it's George. I knew it was him by the way he recognized me and by the presence of the sick baby crow nearby.

Hi George!

George was surprised to see me out of my usual garden setting, but immediately recognized me.

George was surprised to see me out of my usual garden setting, but immediately recognized me.

George's magnificent armour plated feet reflected on a shiny fence.

George’s magnificent armour plated feet reflected on a shiny fence.

George followed me the block home. We walked (well, he flew) down the alley.

Now that the leaves are mostly fallen, you can see the nest where Hank and Vera tried their hand/claws at raising a family in the spring. Hopefully they’ll succeed next year after this spring’s practice run.

Now the leaves are falling, I can see the nest where Hank and Vera tried their hand/claws at parenting this spring.

Back at the garden, George settles himself on the studio roof, waiting for a few peanuts.

Home Sweet Home!

Home Sweet Home!

I only had half an hour “off”, but I felt as if I’d been on a proper little mini-vacation!

You can see portraits of Eric and George and the other local crow characters on my web site in the Crow Portrait series. The current gallery is about to be retired (on Oct 31) and replaced with a new series.

My City Crow calendar features all pictures of Eric and his family, taken in 2014 and 2015.

Happy autumn. Remember to get out and take a walk. You never know what (or who) you might see.

logo with crow