Marvin and Mavis: A Love Story

Crows make it look as if they have the world by the tail. When the dark river of them flies over to the nightly roost, they look powerful and untouchable.

In her poem, Crows,  Mary Oliver describes this view of them:

glossy and
rowdy
and
indistinguishable.
The deep
muscle of the
world.

But that anonymous crowd, like all crowds, is made up of many individuals, — each with their own challenges, and their own story.

This is story of the special bond between just two of those many crows — Marvin and Mavis.

They first appeared in my garden around the time we lost George Brokenbeak. George’s mate, Mabel, stayed in the neighbourhood, but moved over a block, leaving my yard with a “vacancy for crows” sign on it. Marvin and Mavis had already been hanging around, so they were quick to move in and become fixtures. It seemed to me that they were a young couple, just starting out together.

Every time I look outside I scan the sky for them. Most of the time, when I can see them, they’re together. If they’re not, one of them is making that “I’m over here. Where are you?” call to check in.

Like most crow couples,  their thoughts turned to nest building last spring. They took on the task with gusto, scouring every tree for just the “right” twigs.

They made one “decoy” nest first and then settled on the real nest site in April.

Marvin watches over the nest — which is nestled in the crook of one of the poplars in the lower right side of the picture.

They worked so hard. They’d be there when the sun went down, forgoing the nightly trip to the roost to guard the nest and its contents, and they’d be back at it at dawn.

Weeks went by and the trees leafed out, making it harder for me to see what was going on up there. One day though, I could tell something had gone wrong.

Mavis left the nest and kept staring at it in confusion. Shortly after, I found their fledgling at the foot of the poplars. It had fallen from the nest and didn’t survive.

They grieved their loss for many days, spending a lot of time just sitting in the trees near the nest, as if hoping the baby would reappear.

Marvin spent a lot of time comforting Mavis, who seemed to have forgotten how to look after herself.

 

Gradually they picked up the pieces  and went back to their pre-nesting pursuits — going to the roost at night and guarding their territory by day.

The summer was hot, dry and smokey from nearby forest fires, so just keeping cool and hydrated was a challenge.

And then came the Great Moult of 2018.

I have never seen our local crows in such a bedraggled state … and for such a long time. It seemed to start in early August and go on well into October.

Mavis, at one point, had lost so many neck feathers, she looked partially decapitated.

O

Marvin lost all his nostril feathers.

They looked objectively terrible, but Marvin and Mavis didn’t seem to care.  They may, for all I know, have giggled a little at the sight of each other, but their devotion remained unwavering.

The new gleaming feathers did eventually come in, of course, and by late October they were their well groomed selves again.

Just in time for winter!

Which brings us to their latest challenge. In December I noticed a small growth on Mavis’s left foot. It’s avian pox, a virus that can spread and cause disability or death. Luckily, in her case, it seems to be not too serious and isn’t spreading. I make sure to put out extra nutritious food for her to keep her immune system in tip top shape.

Marvin seems to know she needs all the help she can get and he seems quite happy to let her shove him out of the way to get her share of food.

 

Their nest from last year is still tucked into the poplars, currently blanketed with snow. I hope that, once spring finally arrives, they’ll start checking out the neighbourhood for new real estate options and give the nest building another try.

Mavis, Feb 12 2019

Marvin, Feb 12, 2019

 

I’m pretty sure that Mavis will not expect roses this Valentine’s Day.

It’s unlikely that they’ll be making reservations at a fancy dumpster.

But they watch out for one another, they comfort each other in hard times, they keep each other warm in the cold, and they refrain from laughing at each other when they look like avian zombies — and, really,  isn’t that better than chocolates in heart-shaped boxes?

But a love song is always nice. Here, Marvin sings one, accompanied by our neighbour’s furnace sounds.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Crowflix

Sometimes the best way to tear yourself away from binge-watching the TV is to drag yourself outside and tune in to the always entertaining Crow Channel.

I’d planned an archival Ken Burns-style documentary for this blog post, going over everything that’s happened with the local crows since I last did an update last fall.

After sorting through months of photographs I was still trying to wrap my mind around a way to fit everything into a post that would be slightly shorter than War and Peace.

A lot happens with crows in a few months!

This morning, while walking the dog. I had a epiphany. (This often happens, don’t you find?)

I decided to write the blog just about the hot-from-the-press crow news as gathered on the current morning walk — coming to you live (-ish) & local from East Vancouver.

No sign of Marvin and Mavis first thing, so Geordie and I headed out and put their Sunday morning breakfast (scrambled eggs) in the fridge for later.

The first star appearance in today’s crow drama is Mabel — of George and Mabel fame, and cover model for the 2018 crow calendar.

She and her new mate “own” the western end of our street. I’m sure it’s Mabel, partly because she knows me so well, and partly because of her bad eye. From one side she looks like any other crow.

But from the other, I can see that the eye that was starting to deteriorate when George was alive has gotten worse. I’m not sure if she can see out of it at all now, but somehow it doesn’t seem to slow her down. She rules her territory like a corvid Boudicca, faulty eye or not. All crows are action heroes.

Time for a short crow calligraphy break in the programming as we spot one of the several  Garibaldi School crows, creating an interesting silhouette agains some wavy branches.

Back to some supporting actors in the ongoing crowp opera. There are quite a few characters on Napier Street that I haven’t named yet, although they seem to know me (and Geordie) very well. The white blur in the photo below is Geordie walking between me and the crow. Dog and crow seem to take each other’s presence for granted.

Portrait of a crow, photograph by June Hunter<br /> ©junehunterimages2019<br /> www.junehunter.com

Another un-named, very confident, Napier Street crow …

It’s always a bit tricky when you get to the corner of a block, or wherever the boundary between crow fiefdoms lies. Here we’re on the border of Pants Family terrain, but the Napier crow on the stop sign seems inclined to make a bold incursion this morning.

Napier Street crow on the edge of his territory

Mr. Pants is not amused at the audacity.  We might have had to include a “Warning: Crow Violence” sticker on this program, but I traced my steps back a bit so I could distract the Napier crows with a few peanuts before having a short visit with the Pants Family.

Since the great moulting season of 2018  — see Red Hot Fall Fashion Tips — Mr. Pants has been lacking the feathered trousers that earned him his name. Now that it’s getting a bit colder, he does seem to be getting a bit fluffier around the nether regions, but I’m not sure if he’ll ever be quite so pantaloon-encumbered as he once was.

He probably enjoys the more streamlined life.

The Pants power couple.

Mr. Pants, dashing with or without trousers.

Brief pause for a commercial break … 

June Hunter Studio Sale Feb 2019

And now, back to scheduled programming …

On to William Street next to check in on the White Wing plot line. I know this is Ms. Wing by the way she greets me, even though I can’t see her distinctive wonky feather from this angle.

There we go …

A brisk wind catches her protruding feather this morning. It looks kind of awkward, but she seems to manage very well. In fact, of all the local crows, she was the most successful mom this year, successfully raising three fledglings to independence.

Another break for a spot of crow calligraphy.

The commotion in a tree near William and Kaslo made me think a crow or eagle must be involved, but it seemed to be an all-crow kerfuffle. The one on the far right had something in his beak and it seems that the others felt it was not rightfully his.

They chased him out of the tree, back to the tree and dive bombed repeatedly, but he stubbornly held on to whatever prize he’d managed to score.

On the home stretch  we run into two of our old favourites, Eric and Clara.

They’re Marvin and Mavis’s closest neighbours and there’s been a bit of rivalry between them lately.  When I stop to greet Eric and Clara, I immediately see and hear Marvin on a power line, making grumpy territorial calls.

Eric and Clara

As soon as I get a few steps closer to home, Marvin comes down to claim my full attention. Time for breakfast.

But no … there’s a final twist to the plot (isn’t there always?)

Mavis is watching something else from another hydro wire and she seems perturbed.

Raven!!!! Furious cawing and they take off to escort the intruder out of their territory.

It takes Marvin a few minutes to calm down after that little burst of crow-drenelin.

I thinks he’s earned a good breakfast, so the scrambled eggs are brought out again.

Marvin graciously lets Mavis have the first serving. Since she developed a spot of avian pox on her right foot late last year, I notice she’s a lot pushier about getting the food and Marvin seems to know she needs as much nutrition as she can get. You can see the small lesion on her back foot in the photo below. It doesn’t seem to be growing, so I’m hoping she’s got enough of an immune system to hold it at bay.

‘Scuse my table manners.

Marvin the patient.

And so today’s Crowflix programming comes to an end … and we didn’t even cover the Slocan Street Trio. Perhaps they’ll need their own episode. Remember, there’s probably a live crow show on offer in  your neighbourhood too. You just have to step away from the TV and out the door.

Crow Conversations

Marvin and Mavis stopped by for a chat over the garden fence yesterday.

I reliably see them each morning when they stop by for a breakfast snack of peanuts and kibble. They’re usually in an “eat and run” mood at that time day, being hungry and having  a full crow-tinterary ahead of them.

Occasionally they stop by for a more leisurely afternoon visit. Yesterday they were in a particularly sociable mood. I almost thought that one day I might get Marvin, the bolder of the pair, to eat from my hand. Not there yet, but Marvin was at least ready to give the matter some serious consideration.

Marvin seemed particularly curious about me yesterday, and prepared to get quite close.

Mavis prefers to keep an eye on proceedings from a bit further away.

Marvin steps a little closer …

Marvin finally got to about a foot away from me and then retreated back in order to do some thinking out loud. You can see his thought process in action in the following video.

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I was so pleased to be part of such a close up performance of the lovely crow “rattle” call. I’m not sure if anyone knows for sure what this type of call means, but it really did seem as if it was part of his consideration on the subject of how much I could be trusted. It was combined with some branch pecking. This, I’ve noticed, is done when they’re feeling a bit frustrated or not sure what to do next.

You can see in this close-up how the tongue seems to move about quite a bit when they make the rattle call.

Quite a bit of rattle calling went on in my garden yesterday. I’d never seen such a long session of it up close.

Mavis keeps looking on silently from her branch.

Eventually they both came down from fence and tree and had a little hop around the back yard.

And so we passed a happy hour or two. If you read my earlier blog post, Home Décor for Nature Lovers, in which I reveal a rather laissez-faire attitude to housework, this post might help explain why that is.

After all, who can find time for dusting when there are such brilliant conversationalists hanging out right in the back yard?

 

 

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Last Call at Still Creek

The night’s watch at Still Creek

Crow roost visiting as therapy — I’m not sure it will catch on as a mainstream practice, but it works for me.

The first time I went to the Still Creek crow roost was about ten years  ago. I’d recently received some bad news and, having moped about for a few days,  felt the need to press the “reset” button on my mood.

I’d already been photographing crows for several years, but I had yet to make it to the mythical evening roost. Somehow I thought that seeing it at last might cheer me up.

It did. In fact, it’s not exaggerating to say it changed my world view.

How did it feel?

Like witnessing a massive storm tide at Long Beach.

Like being bathed in a  sea of sound, with significance just beyond my understanding.

Like standing on the edge of another world.

<Please Note: there are videos in this post that will not play if you’re reading this in an email. To see the post in its proper layout, complete with videos, just click HERE. >

All the more amazing for the fact that I was standing in the midst of rush hour Vancouver traffic in a light industrial, urban area about ten minutes drive from my house.

That experience somehow put my troubles into a new and manageable perspective.

Since that evening, I’ve visited many times. I persuaded my husband to come along after the third or fourth trip, and now he’s hooked too. We don’t even have to be depressed to go — mostly we just go to join in the celebratory atmosphere.

Our routine is to arrive at the edge of the Costco parking lot just east of Willingdon about half an hour before sunset. Sometimes we  arrive a bit early and find no crows at all. Has the roost been called off?  Suddenly a single crow materializes in a nearby tree.

In the blink of an eye, there are ten, then twenty crows, in the same tree.

Then you look to the horizon on all sides and you see them coming. On a clear night you can see the mountains far to the east, pink in the twilight, with a corvid river meandering in front of them. They pour in from the west side of town, and from the north shore.

There’s an overpass just to the west of the Costco parking lot. We like to climb up the stairs to the higher level for a better view of them all rolling in, like a black, noisy tide.

One purpose of the roost is the give the crows a “safety in numbers” sleeping spot, but they really seem to have a whole lot on the agenda before they finally go quiet and turn in for the night.

 

Clouds of crows land on every tree branch, power line, lamp stand and roof within view. And they are loud. I mean, really, really loud. Amid the racket, you can pick out many different types of calls. Bossy, sergeant major calls, clicking, cooing, croaking and good old cawing. On our last visit to the roost I heard at least two crows that really seemed to be mimicking Canada geese!

What could be going on here, apart from crows seeking safety in numbers from owls and other night terrors?

Possibilities: a massive gossip session; a round-up of restaurant reviews (the highly coveted five star dumpster rating is given only occasionally); music class; singles club for young, unattached crows … *

With each explosive take-off the crows are generally moving from the east side of Willingdon, over to the west, towards the McDonalds restaurant.

At a certain point in the evening, the grass outside the McDonalds and the roof edges, are crow-carpeted.

Delicious as the smells coming from the McDonald’s may be (to them), that is not their final destination. As the light dims, they all move a little further west into the industrial/office area between Willingdon and Gilmore.

There always seem to be a few single crows, strategically positioned on posts and signs acting like raucous traffic wardens or air traffic controllers.

Last call for good spots on the Yellow Pages office building! Move along there!

As it gets darker, it’s harder to make out the moving crows. They take on a ghostly air as they fly to their chosen resting spots for the night. .

On a less ethereal note, I’m told that you can tell the “ranking” of a crow by how much white they have on their feathers the next day. The top tier crows get the highest spots, so the younger crows at the bottom of the roost are going to be wearing a lot of crow guano by morning.

If you stay until it’s fully dark, things will become a lot quieter and the crows will settle among the herons and other wildlife in the wooded area around the actual watery part of Still Creek.

You will also see their shadowy outlines on top of most of the buildings between McDonalds and the Still Creek/Gilmore intersection, on each of the small boulevard trees, and lined up like clothes pegs on the power lines along the road.

Note: Do not linger under any of these, unless you want to bear the mark of the low ranking crow.

 

Somehow the name “Still” Creek seems perfect.

Although the twilight hours there are some of the noisiest and busiest in the city, you can also find yourself being unusually still and peaceful in the middle of it all.

Still Creek Moon, print available online.

* A study is currently underway at the University of Washington, using recordings of the nightly vocalizations at their local roost, to try to unravel the mystery of what those crows are really on about.

www.junehunter.com

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Crow Stories

This post will have stories … about crows … eventually.

But first, I wanted to share a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head about the idea of “story.”

Mostly I look at the world in a visual way. I’m a photographer, so I’m always looking for shapes, colours, light, shade, textures and so on. They do say that a picture is worth a thousand words but, for me, the words hovering behind the picture are just as important. Every photograph I take has at least the inkling of a story behind it.

My academic background is in English Literature — so, naturally I’m a sucker for narrative.  I guess that’s why, even though my work is pictorial, I’ve come to love writing this blog. The thousand words behind the picture.

Crows seem to be the perfect subjects for both pictures and stories.

 

Visually, they are fascinating — whether viewed from a distance as inky calligraphy against the sky …

… or closer up, where you can see the myriad colours in the allegedly black feathers, and the soulful intelligence in their restless eyes.

Story-wise, they’re an endless resource. They’re a minefield of metaphor and motif; a stockpile of symbolism and simile.

And character — don’t get me started! Every time I spend time with a crow, I can’t help but see something in their expression that parallels the human experience.

And I guess that’s the value of story.

It lures you into looking deeper into worlds that aren’t your own, and makes your life richer, funnier and more full of empathy as a result.

OK, enough rambling and, finally (as promised) some crow-necdotes!

Tales of Mavis and Marvin

As winter dug in, it became clear that these two had become de facto king and queen of my back garden. For a while some of the younger crows from the Firehall Five would try and horn in on the action, but there must have been some sort of back room deal, because I now never see them in the yard. Occasionally there is some minor skirmish with Eric and Clara who will make forays into the front garden, but generally detente has been reached in the hyper-local corvid community.

On Christmas Day Marvin and Mavis had the garden to themselves, apart from the chickadees, juncos, song sparrow and lone hummingbird.

Art Appreciation

Marvin continues his fascination with the garden statuary.

Not sure if this was a gesture of affection, or frustration at the failure of his efforts to get a response.

Attempting conversation with the equally taciturn cast iron crows by the studio.

New Year Challenge

The daily offering of peanuts and dog kibble was becoming a bit routine, so I decided to give Marvin and Mavis a bit more of a challenge. Once they’ve had a few easy-picking peanuts and kibble from the back deck, I set up a bit of an obstacle course for them.

There’s a gnarled piece of Hornby Island driftwood in the garden by the picket fence. I wedge a few peanuts in the stick and watch Marvin and Mavis problem-solve how to get them out. First challenge is negotiating a route along the tricky picket fence.

The first few tries had them scrambling and flapping. It’s also a bit of a “beat the clock” affair, since chickadees are snatching them easily from the driftwood while Marvin and Mavis are figuring out how to get to them.

King of the driftwood castle.

After a couple of weeks, they are now experts. This photo of Marvin, showing off his picket fence mastery is now one of my favourites (and available as prints and tiles!).

Winter Weather

As usual in Vancouver, we’ve had a winter mélange of snow, rain and wind. Some of my favourite crow portraits are catching them in seeming response to adverse weather conditions. It’s then that they most remind me of myself, waiting at a bus stop or trudging home with shopping. That stoic and and somewhat exasperated look.

#rainblame

Philosopher Crow — or, Mavis adopts a philosophical approach in the face of inevitable.

Curse, you winter! Actually, this was Mavis’s response to Edgar (the cat) being out on the back deck. More like, “curse you, cat!”

So, the crow stories are endless really. I’m sure I’ll have more I can’t keep to myself soon. I hope they get you to look at the crows in your part of the world with more interest and affection, because life is just more entertaining once you let crows in.

www.junehunter.com

Some Crow Valentines in my shop now.

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Crow Gossip

Just in case you tire of human news, here’s a “celebrity profile” of a different sort.

I’m not sure “who” this up-and-coming power couple are wearing this fall.

Their lives seem to be pretty scandal-free, although you’d have to listen to the roost rumours to be sure of that.

Politically, I’d say they’re pretty apathetic — although very vocal on some local issues.

Marvin and Mavis have claimed my garden as their territory this fall. We’re really just starting to get to know each other, but I can already share a few juicy details about the lifestyle of the loud and feathery.

First of all, they’re art fans — with a particular fondness for sculptural pieces. Marvin was first wowed by the rusty metal jay bird on the back gate.

Then, he became intrigued by the metal figure on the bird feeder.

He’s so impressed with the whole “birds as art” concept , he’s taken to posing as a crow statue.

Corvid performance art.

It is said that crows can tell each other apart by their calls. Until recently, I thought that the difference must be too subtle for human ears, but Marvin has a particularly guttural caw that I can actually recognize at once.

 

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What gets both Marvin and Mavis really riled up is … cats. This is actually quite handy for me, because they often warn me that the neighbour’s cat is in the garden and lurking under the bird feeder, or by the bird bath. They’re quite pleased with how quickly they’ve trained me to run out of the house, waving my arms and yelling at the evil creature. They also notified me when Edgar, our indoor cat, snuck out during the Halloween preparations. Again, they were gratified to see how promptly the ginger devil was captured and contained.

For Halloween, apart from the usual chocolate bars, I also bought some mini bags of Cheezies. I wanted to save some for after Halloween to test Marvin and Mavis’s junk food susceptibility.

All crows I’ve ever known have had a weakness for these frighteningly orange snacks. I don’t buy them often because (a) I don’t want to fill my crows up with junk food and (b) I can’t resist them either.

I can reliably report that Mavis and Marvin are as weak in the face of Cheezie temptation as the rest of us.

Note that the dog kibble and peanuts have been left for a second trip. Best get the Cheezies while the getting’s good.

 

Well, that’s about it for the latest hot crow gossip around here. Stay tuned for the next instalment. Perhaps fashion and beauty tips …

Marvin and Mavis, captured in a candid moment by the relentless paparazzi.

 

www.junehunter.com

 

A whole year’s worth of corvid rumour and gossip in the City Crow Calendar.

Marvin is the model in this newest miniature crow pendant.

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.

www.junehunter.com

 

 

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

Noisy New Neighbours

Watch for the last few seconds of this baby crow self-grooming video. I think he’s auditioning for his own show on Comedy Network.

 

It has been a bit quiet in the neighbourhood of late.

That’s all changed with the advent of the corvid triplets. They do not keep their feeling to themselves. When hungry (pretty much all of the time) the whole neighbourhood knows about it.

The parents both look pretty exhausted. That dishevelled “new parent” look is made more extreme by the onset of molting season.

This is one of the parents of the three Firehall baby crows. Although my “babies” are now in their twenties, I still remember the slightly stunned, “Am I really qualified for this?” feeling that this parent seems to be experiencing.

I call them the Firehall family because the parents seemed to have their nest in a tree right beside the fire station that is on the corner of our street.

The triplets are venturing further and further from home base. One of them made it all the way to my garden, looking impossibly cute in the coral bark maple tree.

In the video below a harassed parent tries to get away from the ceaseless demands. Again, I do empathize.

 

Meanwhile, where are Mabel and Eric and Clara?

Now that George is gone, Mabel seems happy to stay with the “teenager” crow she and George had last year, in the alley one over from ours. I visit her daily and she seems well.

Eric and Clara are in their usual territory. They didn’t have any babies this year, having lost their nest high in the poplar trees to a windstorm early in the season. They’re kind of taking it easy this year, watching their triplet-tending neighbours with something like relief.

 

City Crows 2018 Calendars

My 2018 City Crow calendar is at the printer’s now and will be ready to ship in the first week of September. You can order yours now! The first 100 orders will come with a large (1.75-inch) Frazzled Mabel button.

If you’ve already ordered a calendar, don’t worry, you’ll be getting a free button too.

 

www.junehunter.com

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In Memory of George

 


I knew I’d be upset when, inevitably, something happened to one of my crow acquaintances.

Even so, I’m surprised at how many tears I’ve shed since burying my pal, George Brokenbeak.

He’s laid to rest on the “garden of tears” side of the yard, along with countless beloved goldfish and hamsters, and the late Elvis (our cat, not the human — although there was some confusion about that when my son was little …)

George has been gone since Friday, but I didn’t want to cast sadness over the long weekend by writing about it then. I don’t really want to write about it now because it makes me cry again, but I thought you’d want to know.

On Friday morning I got a phone call from a friend and fellow dog walker (two rescue Westies.)  We often stop and chat about the foibles of our dogs, and the comings and goings of the local crows. He knew George quite well, because he and Mabel were spending the summer hanging out behind his house — and dunking food in his dogs’ water bowl. George, in fact, was a minor local celebrity.

Not nearly as famous as Canuck, his much more well known fellow corvid, but known in this immediate neighbourhood for his friendly manner, as well as his distinctive profile.

You could tell George in profile from far away. He and Mabel, sharing a quiet moment in the poplars in my “Delicate Balance” image.

My friend had found George lying dead earlier that morning, and he knew I’d want to know.

Since about May, George and Mabel stopped coming to my garden, staying closer to their annual nesting site a block or so away. Still, I’d see them almost every day when out walking the dog. We’d exchange pleasantries and peanuts.

I last saw him what must have been a day or two before he died.  All of the crows are looking pretty scruffy at the moment with the molting season underway, so if he looked a bit the worse for wear, I didn’t worry too much.

I think this may be the last picture I took of George.

It’s been a long, hot, dry summer in British Columbia. As a result, many parts of the province are, or have been, on fire. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and many have lost everything. Livestock and wildlife up there have died.

Here in Vancouver, we’re lucky to only have the smoke to contend with, blocking a lot of the summer sun.

The sun rises in the eerie smoke-filled sky behind the Iron Workers’ Memorial Bridge in East Vancouver.

But from an urban wildlife perspective, this summer is a disaster. We had less than two mm of rain in July.  None so far in August. Every puddle dried up weeks ago. Any worms must be ten feet down in the earth by now. I’ve seen skunks wandering the streets in broad daylight. They’re normally nocturnal and shy, so this is stressed behaviour. This morning I saw two coyotes on the corner of our block, again in daylight.

In the end, I’m not sure what killed George, but I suspect that, with the extra challenge of his broken beak, it was just too hard to get enough to eat and drink. I’ve been putting water out in front and back of my house, and over by the school at the end of the street. I know George had access to my friend’s dogs’ water bowls, but possibly it was too hard for him to drink efficiently enough for these harsh conditions.

George was found lying at the end of our alley — just a few houses from my back yard. I can’t help wondering if he was making his way back, coming for a drink in the birdbath and some peanuts. I hadn’t seen him anywhere near that part of our neighbourhood since May, so he was on some kind of special mission.

There was no crow funeral being held for George when I got there.  He was just lying there, looking rather peaceful. No signs of injury.

At first I thought I’d just leave him to Nature. Or the City coming to pick him up. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I came home, put my rubber gloves on, and found a shoe box.

I dug a deep hole in the pet graveyard, wrapped George in a linen napkin, and sprinkled flowers on him. I’m sure he didn’t care about any of this, but it made me feel a little better. I placed a flat stone on his grave and stencilled a crow silhouette on it.

Let future archaeologists make of this what they may.

My daughter summed it up well when she replied to my distraught text with the words: “He was a good crow.” Indeed he was. Perhaps it was just his time to go, two years after his original beak injury. For some reason I had come to think he was immortal.

To read more about the wonder that was George, you can visit earlier stories:

And, in consideration of the thirsty and distressed birds out there, please think about putting a shallow bowl of water out for them wherever you can.

I’m sure George would approve.

www.junehunter.com

PS I know you’ll be wondering what’s become of Mabel. She is still hanging in there, over in the other alleyway. I walked by there this morning to give her my sympathy (and some peanuts.)

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Real Baby Crows of East Van

The neighbourhood is alive with all kinds of baby bird noises.

Loudest of all, naturally, are the baby crows.

Here is a sample of some of the hilarious baby crow moments I’ve had the joy to observe in the last few days of dog walking. I’m very lucky that Geordie is a patient sort of dog, willing to put up with many unscheduled stops on our expeditions.

Geordie the Crow Watcher

We came across this brand new addition to our block this morning. Could be one of George and Mabel’s, as it was at “their” end of the block. We watched him/her spend several minutes trying to figure out (unsuccessfully) how to squeeze through a garden fence.

Baby Crow, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Has anyone seen my mom???

Not to worry. Mom (or Dad) was supervising from a nearby roof.

This baby was still in the early stages of flying lessons.

Baby crow tries to fly, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

OK, first you spread the wings …

Baby crow tries to fly, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Then, you take a good run and jump …

Baby crow tries to fly, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Oops. Going down …

The baby crows who live a couple of blocks west of us are a week or two ahead in their Skills Development program.

Here’s one taking a deep breath and taking off from the hydro wires.

Baby Crow Flying, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Woohoo! Here we go. Now, how did that flapping thing go again?

Baby Crow with Feather, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Figuring out what is, and isn’t, edible is a bit of a process of trial and error.

Baby crows are very vocal about their constant state of ravenous hunger.

Baby yells for food, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Mom, mom, mom!!! Food, food, food!!!

It seems that the frazzled parents will try anything to get some peace and quiet.

Baby Crow Feeding, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Look – I brought you this delicious stick.

Baby Crow Feeding, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Hold still and eat this delicious bit of wood!

Baby Crow Feeding, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

Look, I went to all the trouble to get you this delicious stick, so you WILL eat it.

Honestly, I can hardly bring myself to come back to the studio to get some work done.

I can’t bear to think what I might be missing in the ongoing reality show of Real Baby Crows of East Van.

Baby Crow on a car roof, photography by June Hunter, part of The Urban Nature Enthusiast blog post Real Baby Crows of East Van, image copyright June Hunter 2017

 

You might also enjoy:

Dive Bombed by Crows!

Crow vs Raven

George and Mabel: A Love Story

www.junehunter.com

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