After over ten years of watching crows every day you sometimes think perhaps you’ve seen it all, but no — they always have something else amazing up those feathery sleeves.
I’ve written before about the crow (and squirrel) festival we have at the end of our street when a combination of walnut, hazelnut and chestnut trees start producing their harvest. Hundreds of crows stop by on the way to the roost in the evening and have big noisy get-togethers while feasting on the bounty. This usually starts in September.
It’s only August, of course, but it’s been so hot and dry that the trees are dropping fruit early. Bongo and Bella are anxious to get in on the action on their home turf, so I’ve seen them a few times now dropping walnuts, still in the green husks, from the hydro wires onto the road to try and break them.
Anyway, there was either Bongo or Bella dropping a nut this morning when one of the fledglings came over to have a look at what mom or dad was pecking at.
Instead of begging for a taste, they crouched down and started making the rattle call.
The rattle call continued as they went on to adopt a fully prostrate pose in the middle of the road. I’m not sure if they were addressing this display to the parent crow or the walnut.
Bongo or Bella decided to leave the fledgling to their walnut-worship and sauntered off.
Left alone with the prize, the fledging took a few investigatory pecks and also wandered off.
Lessons no doubt learned. But what exactly that lesson was, I’d love to know.
In the many years I’ve been photographing and following crows I had never actually had one make physical contact — until this week.
It was predictable in two ways.
It’s THAT Time of Year.
I never get close to being dive bombed in nesting season, which you’d think would be the riskiest season of all.
Nope, it’s early fall, when the local crows are giddy with new freedom, that seems to be the most perilous time for me. The adult crows are free of parental responsibility and the young crows are (literally) spreading their wings and testing the limits of what they can get away with.
These crows, the young and the restless, are unbound by the conventions of who’s territory is whose and general good manners.
Anyway, Dennis the Menace (or possibly Denise the Menice) has always been a little bit cheeky, following me to the end of his family’s territory and often swooping very close — enough for the occasional rush of wind from a wing against my face. While last year he was kind of scrawny and generally stayed close to his parents, this year he seems to be full of boundless confidence.
Perhaps a little too much confidence …
He keeps a close eye on me as I walk by.
Dennis … and a few of his closest friends (none of them being his parents) following me beyond the normal Pearl family territorial boundaries …
I’m used to Dennis swooping after me, wondering where his peanuts are, and I usually turn around in time so that he’ll swerve off to left or right.
Crows, according to crow scientist John Marzluff, won’t fly at you from the front and he recommends affixing fake eyes to the back of your hat if necessary.
A couple of days ago Dennis actually managed to make contact. I think it was the touch of a claw on the back of my head. Very light and no damage done, but it just shows what a determined little character this particular crow is. No meanness on his part, just a spot of over-enthusiasm.
What worried me much more than Dennis was a time when another clever crow, realizing that swooping close to me didn’t faze me, started to try and find my Achilles heel by flying at Geordie from behind. Geordie (my dog) has always been extremely relaxed around crows, but it would only take one crow landing on his back to change all that — forever!!! Luckily he never noticed how close the crow got as I managed to turn around in time to ward off actual contact and we changed walking route for a couple of weeks, just in case.
Back to Dennis. We had a good talk last time I saw him and he hasn’t managed to catch me out over the last few days. I also turn around a lot when I’m in his neighbourhood.
I was recently thinking of taking up my needle felting again to make some new birds, but now I’m wondering if I should first felt myself a couple of large “eyes” for the back of my head!
* when I gave the name Dennis the Menace, I’m thinking (and giving away my age in saying so) about the comic strip, Dennis and Gnasher, from the UK children’s comic, the Beano — very popular in the 50’s.
Once the nutty attractions of the Hazelnut Happening are exhausted the crows still just wanna have fun — and seem to know it’s now time for the …
A temporary evening scene of colour and sound, the Dogwood Disco is a kaleidoscope of rosy berries, golden leaves, flapping black wings and excited crow calls.
The whole thing lasts for under half an hour between the arrival of the party guests and their departure for the roost just before sunset. They leave behind a bit of a red carpet situation on the sidewalk …
Dogwood trees run for several blocks along Charles Street and, for some reason, the crows seem to start at the west end and, each evening, move a little to the east. They leave quite a lot of berries uneaten. Some sort of mysterious crow etiquette … ?
Perhaps they’re leaving some of the berries for the humans. Apparently they are edible, though from what I’ve read, it would take quite a lot of work to make something palatable from them. These are Kousa dogwoods, and apparently the pulp of the berries tastes a little like persimmon, but to get to that, you first have to deal with a bitter skin and a lot of hard seeds within the fruit. If you’re interested in doing a little urban foraging, I found this helpful blog post with some tips from T. Abe Lloyd. He aptly describes the berry as “a pink soccer ball on a stick.”
You could also view them as teeny, crow-sized disco balls!
And here’s what the blooms look like in early summer when the street is a river of white …
But back to the crows …
They are clearly undeterred by any finicky concerns about bitter skin or seeds as they dig in for their evening snack, which seems to be as much competition as fine dining.
The leaves are still so thick on the branches, it often looks as if the crows are swimming along the surface to get to their prize.
Almost there …. I can already taste it!
Sometimes the berries are consumed in the tree, while others prefer a more stable surface for consumption.
Unless there’s too much competition …
Giving new meaning to the phrase “Fall Launch.”
Like the Hazelnut Happening, it seems that the event is partly about food but, like all good parties, it’s about much more — mixing and mingling, marking the end of summer, and teaching those fledglings about group etiquette — all while making as much noise and mess as possible. Woohoo!
Over the course of a week they seem to be getting the the eastern edge of the dogwood feasting area, so I’m not sure how many more nights they’ll be stopping. I expect there’s probably another important Crow Fest venue in their fall itinerary but, if there is, it must be out my walking range.
Who knows where they’re headed next, but keep your eyes open — it might be your neighbourhood!