I’ve been thinking a lot about crow calls after being obliged to make my own rather terrible approximation of one last week — on CBC radio no less! I made an attempt at the most common of crow calls — your basic “caw!”
There are, of course, many more linguistic arrows in the corvid quiver — from their lovely gentle “rattle” to the sharp barking alarm call warning of eagles or other aerial danger.
I’ve written quite a few posts about the amazing language of ravens, but crows have some expressive surprises up their feathery sleeves as well.
In fact, just yesterday I heard one of the local crows making a new call.
It sounded rather like “boing,” but I think it may have been a crow version of the beeping sound of a reversing truck. Due to the huge amount of construction our neighbourhood has seen over the past three years, this noise may have been an influential soundscape element for this crow’s formative years!
This next crow lives near some urban backyard chickens and I think I detect a bit of a clucking overtone to their caw.
Finally, White Wing stole the show last spring with her dog woofing with really impressive cat meow finale.
So, if there is ever another occasion when I’m asked to do a crow impersonation, maybe I’ll go for one of these!
While, it is lovely to have particular crow friends and to have eye to eye contact, they also communicate with you from afar. You simply have to tune into the crow wavelength.
It’s not always possible to have close encounters of the corvid kind.
You might live in place where peanut diplomacy is strictly forbidden, or maybe you’re in a rural area where crows tend to be a lot less trusting of humans than they are in the city. You may be away from your familiar crows in a new town.
But that’s OK — because their very presence, however distant, makes a difference. You just have to start start looking for the shapes they make against the sky.
Once you start noticing them they become like elegant punctuation, making sense of a garbled, run-on sentence of a world.
Crow signals can also guide you through the seasons.
In winter you’ll see couples snuggling close and building their bond in advance of the challenging nesting season to come.
You might also see some scenes like this as competition for the best nesting sites heats up . . .
Followed shortly by my favourite crow messages of hope and endeavour . . .
Later in the spring or summer, look for scenes like the one below.
(Will be accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of quarking begging cries from baby crows.)
The parent crows are grateful for a few brief moments of peace in the summertime.
By early autumn the baby crows are independent, and the post-summer socializing and harvest festival begins.
And then — here we go again — the leaves are gone and we see the crow couples settling back into their quiet winter routine.
Some miscellaneous messages from crows:
A sidelong glance at distant crow’s antics can make you laugh aloud.
Sometimes they can tell quite a long story in a fleeting moment.
So, some humans came this morning and cut down all of my trees, but they did leave this one branch, so I’m making a statement here about crow resilience and adaptability and how crows will likely inherit the earth …
The faraway and anonymous crow that inspired this whole post is in the photo below.
This bird performed a whole poem for anyone who happened to be looking up.
Flying very high, she suddenly dropped ten feet in a smooth barrel roll. For a moment I thought something was wrong, but she repeated her trick and I noticed she was dropping something from her beak and catching it over and over.
At last, she caught it for the last time and flew off to enjoy her prize.
The poem, as I interpreted it, covered subjects of exhilaration, skill, freedom, speed, risk, rushing air and pure fun.
The joy, on a hard day in a hard year, was contagious.
Crow therapy from afar. Keep an eye open for the signs!
Most of the local crows seem to have suddenly become enrolled in some sort of corvid witness protection program.
The normally gregarious garden visitors, and dog-walk-followers, are suddenly either absent altogether, or shifty and secretive.
It’s nesting time, and I’m resigned to not seeing so much of Marvin and Mavis and the others until later in the summer when, if we’re lucky, they’ll come back to show off their offspring.
But I don’t give up on watching crows for these few months.
Instead I watch for the calligraphy in the sky.
The crows start to exist in my consciousness as quick brushstrokes, furtively flitting by with tell-tale beak attachments.
The latest cargo for the nest in the poplar trees has been grass, leading me to believe that we’re at the finishing, soft furnishings, stage of construction.
There are only a few short days to gather clues as to who’s nesting where. Just now, the trees aren’t quite leafed out, and the nests under construction are still visible.
But the crows are smart and have tactics to confuse.
I believe it’s Eric and Clara who are building in the poplars and they have at least two nests on the go. I imagine they will decide which of the two to inhabit (or perhaps they have a third that I haven’t spotted at all) once the leaves give them full camouflage.
It’s a bit of a mystery/thriller, illustrated with simple silhouettes.
There are characters other than crows in this year’s storyline. Ravens have decided to try the charms of city living in our neighbourhood this year.
I’m thrilled. The crows are considerably less happy. Ravens will steal eggs from the their nests, so they’re on the “naughty” list, along with eagles, hawks, racoons etc.
As such they are mobbed relentlessly, making for a very busy crow spring.
Not only must nests be built – but ravens must be energetically harassed from dawn to dusk.
Sometimes, it all just gets too much for the tired corvids.
One day last week I watched this raven in a tree, surrounded for about twenty minutes by a harmonious crowd of crows.
One crow even seemed to getting very close – perhaps trying for a diplomatic detente.
Note: Video follows, so if you’re reading this in email format, click HERE to go to the blog so that you can see the video.
For a moment it seemed that a crow/raven understanding might be reached …
… but talks broke off and hostilities resumed. I guess the crows were just taking a much-needed breather.
So, at this time of year, keep an eye on the sky for calligraphic messages from the crow world. You might just learn where it’s going to be best to avoid (or at least to use an umbrella when walking by) later in the season.
You may (or may not) have been wondering where in the blogosphere I’ve gotten to for the last few months.
Well, puppy training is surprisingly time consuming … and then there has been my City Crow Calendar project.
The puppy training and the cat/dog peace treaty are both, by the way, going well.
But for a while it looked as if there wasn’t going to be a calendar this year.
First, there was the Canada Post dispute over the summer. I was worried that it would linger into to the busy mailing season and I’d have to hand deliver each and every calendar. Time to start Geordie’s sled training!
Happily, the dispute was settled by August. But then I thought maybe I’d left it too late.
Requests and queries started coming in. When will the 2107 calendar be ready? It did sell out by the beginning of December last year, so I guess people were anxious that they might have missed it already.
So in mid-September I finally got into calendar creation mind set.
Narrowing down the 12 images to feature is tough. From the thousands of crow images on my hard drive, it took at least a week to narrow it down to the dozen.
I could have been done then, and have the calendars already printed, but …
I had this lingering thought in my head that I’d like to give people more than just a calendar. I’d like to make it even more of a “crow-promotion” by adding interesting little facts about crows for every month. I also wanted to add some extra photos to help tell the “crow story”. I decided I could do this by using the little bits of vacant real estate on the calendar left by the grid spaces in each month that don’t have dates in them.
It wasn’t too hard to come up with “crow facts” for every month, although it took quite a bit of tweaking and editing to get them concise enough to fit into the little calendar grid boxes. It took a little bit more time to pick out the extra photos.
I thought I was finally finished last Friday, but then I found that the reason that more sensible people don’t make these cute little additions is that it’s a technical nightmare!
I won’t bore you with the InDesign technical reasons why this is such a fiddle, but suffice to say that I spent hours this week going over it with a fine tooth comb to get the weensy boxes of text and mini photos to align perfectly with the grid part of the calendar.
Geordie waits patiently while the crazy woman mutters at the computer screen.
Finally I decided that my nitpicking was going beyond the rational, so Geordie and I took the file off to the printer today. It is now, I am happy to report, out of my hands.
I expect it to be back into my hands early next week when it will be available to order online. I’ll be sending out a newsletter when they’re actually available, just in case you’d like to get your hands on one.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s a crow memo circulating, directing slightly invalided birds to my place. There’s George Brokenbeak and also Hop-Along Hank.
Hank walks with a limp because of a problem with his right foot that he’s had for as long as I’ve known him. Flying is no problem for him, but I can spot him on a roof top from quite a distance because of his distinctive stance, favouring the sore foot. That and his slightly hooked beak.
Hank and Vera have been around since last spring. I wrote about them in an earlier blog, Here’s Hank, charting their failed effort at parenthood last year. I have a feeling that Hank is one of Eric’s offspring. Eric has seemingly ceded our backyard territory to Hank, in favour of a superior nesting spot in the tall poplars at the end of the street.
Hank and Vera paying an early morning visit. You can see Hank’s slightly deformed foot on the far right.
Now Hank and Vera and George and Mabel vie for my attentions. The four of them often sit together peaceably on the wires in the alley, but as soon as there are peanuts, it’s game on. The two pairs will never cooperate and share the food. Much ferocious cawing and occasional dive bombing ensue if I put nuts out when both couples are nearby.
We seem to have worked out a more or less harmonious system where Hank and Vera come first thing in the morning. George and Mabel take the later shift, coming later in the morning , and sometimes in the afternoon too, for a last minute snack before the nightly journey to the Still Creek roost.
Hank (left) and Vera (right) vociferously stake out their claim to the peanuts.
Most of the time, Hank doesn’t seem too bothered by his foot problem, but when the weather is cold and wet, I sometimes see him standing forlornly on one leg.
Another one of Hank’s characteristics is that he seems to like to yawn. I don’t know if crows actually do yawn, but he often opens his beak very wide without any sound coming out — so it looks very much like a yawn.
Hank’s limping gait gives him a rather model-like pose. Auditioning for a part in Zoolander 3?
So, this is Hank, as I know him. I’m sure Vera could tell some tales too!