Well darn it all, I’ve been working on my silly Crow Bingo idea for a few weeks now and just as I’m ready to launch it, our provincial government has managed to make the whole bingo concept controversial with this well-meaning, but perhaps rather ill-timed posting:
Here in BC, in addition to Self Care Bingo, we’re playing a game of emotional Snakes and Ladders with vaccines (very slow to arrive) and Variants of Concern (faster to arrive) — so the idea of crying it out in our blanket forts is perhaps just a bit too real.
But, to get back to my (hopefully less controversial) bingo idea.
My goals for Crow Bingo:
get people out of the house
give parents a focus for walks with kids
introduce everyone to the many benefits of Crow Therapy (for when crying in the blanket fort gets old)
encourage an awareness of all aspects of urban nature
sneakily convert people who don’t know they love crows yet
So here we go …
For beginners, Level One Crow Bingo:
You can chose to go for one row at a time, a diagonal or across, but ultimately it shouldn’t be too hard to sweep the whole board and then move on to …
It would seem that the local corvids took exception to the title of my “Boring Walks” series and have been pulling out all the stops to prove me very wrong.
Young Chip must have been especially offended, as she’s been starring in her own production of Cirque du Corvid this week.
Remember I said in Boring Walks Part One that Chip is fast and cheeky? It seems that she read that and thought, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”
At first I didn’t notice Chip at all. It was Marvin, sitting on the fence and staring intently up at the sky.
So I looked up to see what he was watching …
In all my years of watching crows, I’ve only ever seen this hanging upside routine once before.
But Chip wasn’t JUST hanging around. Oh no.
She hung there for a minute or so and then let go, prompting Marvin to give chase.
That was so much fun, so she did it again. And again.
Looking to see if Marvin is watching
A head tuck and fiddle with the feet
And down she goes
Marvin cannot look away
Chip apparently decided that the “hang and drop” routine was too simple, and added to her routine by clambering, using feet and beak, between the multiple rows of wires.
But with the same end goal — flip, hang, drop and get chased. Woohoo!!
Down on the ground, I was literally gasping at the acrobatic skill. At the same time, I was laughing out loud at her determination to draw Marvin, who was trying to look very dignified, into her vortex of fun and games.
Chip’s family, The Mabels, weren’t even around — it was just her, having a laugh with the neighbours. She often visits the garden when Marvin and Mavis are there. They’re pretty territorial and have spent months trying to chase her off, but they seem less fussed about her presence lately. After all, she is pretty darn entertaining — and way too fast to catch anyway.
Chip’s lesson for me this week — you can just be hanging around, being bored and a bit grumpy — or you can go ahead and make an art form out of it.
Mabel has gone from being a solitary bird after the death of her mate, George Brokenbeak, in 2017, to the matriarch of an unusually massive crow family.
From what I’ve observed over the last few years, such large families remaining together over multiple seasons is somewhat rare. Usually one juvenile crow might stick around for a season or two to learn the ropes, and help the parents with nesting season. In Mabel and her new mate’s case, two of the 2019 juveniles are still with them — plus two more from this season — adding up to a rather rowdy gang of six.
Back in March 2020, when Mabel only had two apprentices.
Among this boisterous bunch it is only Mabel with her distinctive right eye, that I’m regularly able to identify. Hence, I think of them, collectively, as “The Mabels.”
The Mabels, by their sheer numbers, have become a bit of a dominant local force. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the large group has the extra crowpower to have lookouts posted everywhere, making it hard to give our “house crows,” Marvin and Mavis, a few quiet peanuts without bringing the Marauding Mabels into the picture.
To be fair, Mabel and the late lamented George ruled our garden long before Marvin and Mavis, so I’m sure there are some valid territorial claims to be made under Crow Law.
George Brokenbeak and Mabel, our back deck, winter 2016.
Also, this summer, during the hot dry months, I put out a bowl of water in front of the house for the use of any thirsty critters. Mabel, of course, brought the whole family down regularly for refreshment and recreation. I wrote about this in Fledgling Fun.
So it’s hardly surprising that The Mabels of all generations consider our house to be part of their daily routine.
The heart of their territory lies, however, at the other end of the block— part of a local elementary school. Central to the ancestral seat are two old metal yellow posts with rings on top that are used to mark, and sometimes block off, the entrance to the school parking lot.
The right ring has, for time immemorial (well at least for the few years I’ve been watching) been important to this crow family.
The feet of George upon the yellow throne in 2016.
Mabel seemed to inherit the “ring of power” once George was gone. Until quite recently I never saw another crow rest there for very long, including her new mate, Gus.
Don’t even think about it …
The chains of office, claimed by Mabel.
Signs she may be willing to relinquish her iron grip began this spring.
The younger crows, after first practicing on the less prestigious left hand side yellow post …
… were occasionally allowed to take the one true throne for a short test drive.
They always look a little nervous as Mabel’s tolerance for such impertinence is variable.
Sometimes she perches on the lower railing and supervises.
Other times, she wants her spot back and it’s time for a quick exit …
Recently, one of the Mabels has been standing out from the crowd by sheer force of personality.
The smallest of the family, one of the 2020 batch, is proving to be the boldest. I started thinking of her as Chip (as in “off the old block”) and I notice that she will follow me for several blocks on the dog walks, even when the rest of The Mabels have lost interest.
Chip doesn’t have any distinguishing features, other than being the smallest and the cheekiest, but there is just something about her face.
She’s already got the posing thing down to a fine art.
Recently, she’s been mimicking her mother on the golden throne.
Mabel demonstrates the proper regal attitude …
… while Chip has a ways to go in the poise department …
Mabel (left) and Chip (right) practicing the stone lion pose.
Whether the Mabels will stay together for much longer remains to be seen, but I can’t help hoping that Chip will stick around.
Marvin and Mavis have had a pretty stressful 2020.
They’re far from alone, of course, but spare an extra thought for these two.
Spring was looking pretty good. Several years of effort had paid off and they’d finally driven all other crows out of “their” row of poplar trees on Kaslo Street.
I like to think they had a couple of weeks of feeling satisfied with their achievement before the trees were all felled in June.
Left with a blue construction fence instead of 22 stately trees, they tried at least two different nesting sites in smaller street trees. At one point it seemed that they did have a single fledgling, which came to the house a few times and was spotted on the construction fence.
It’s always hard to keep track of the crows during this period as they change their habits, protecting their young ones and chasing off in unpredictable directions after their novice flyers. All that, combined with the summer of noise and dust on the construction site, caused me to completely lose sight of Marvin and Mavis and the young one.
Unfortunately, by the time the literal and metaphorical dust settled at summer’s end, there were just the two of them again, looking a bit glum on the blue fence and starting to moult.
Fall feathers came back in and I was looking forward to getting back to the normal routine of them coming by the house a couple of times a day and having some quiet chats about world events.
Trouble on this front too, though.
For new readers, a short crow history lesson may be needed here.
In 2019 Mabel and her new mate had three fledglings, with two of them staying with mum and dad. This spring they had three more, and the two survivors of that batch are with them now as well — creating a large family unit of six crows.
Six is a lot of beaks to feed, and Mabel seems to have now remembered that our house was once her territory. Consequently, we have a bit of a power play going on, with Marvin and Mavis seriously outnumbered.
Mabel on the garden gate post, back to her old haunt
I have tried to apply the Peanut Diplomacy method to the problem, scouring the scene for the Mabel gang before putting a few discreet peanuts out for M & M.
But, with six pairs of sharp crow eyes on lookout, it’s very rare that anything gets past them — and Marvin and Mavis are constantly having to fend off interlopers.
It’s rare to see either of them these days without fully deployed head or pants feathers, trying to look as fearsome as possible.
Or ducking …
Anxious to avoid crow riots, and potential crow injuries when they dive bomb each other, I’ve stopped putting peanuts out for anybody for now. When the dog and I leave our gate and I find eight crows waiting, I just walk off and try to lure Mabel and company back to their usual territory at the other end of the block, before rewarding them with a small nut offering.
At the end of the walk, I arrive by a different route at the back of the house and, if I’ve succeeded in losing my “tail,” I can usually find Marvin and Mavis and we can have a bit of discussion about how 2020 is going for each of us.
Suffice to say, sympathy is offered on both sides.
Ada is only 7 months old, but already one of my most trusted Crow Therapists.
She lifted my mood earlier this year, when I was feeling a bit down about being in a cast, and about world news. Of course, none of us knew back in January that 2020 was only just getting warmed up!
Ada was our 2019 late summer surprise, hatched at the very tail end of the 2019 baby crow season — happy news in a year that saw many nest failures.
I first spotted her on the daily dog walk in mid-August last year, gape still very pink and eyes still blue — hallmarks of a fledgling not long out of the nest.
I was worried that she had so little time to catch up with the other 2019 fledglings to be able to fly to the roost with all the other crows by fall.
Another challenge — she had a touch of avian pox on one foot. You can see the pink spot on the photo below.
Luckily, by December her foot had healed completely, as you see in the next photos, and she was keeping up with her cohort just fine.
She experienced some firsts in late 2019/early 2020.
Her first torrential downpour, which left her less than impressed.
She saw her first snow in January, and seemed to prefer that to rain, overall.
Or perhaps she had just acquired that philosophical attitude towards weather, essential for both crow and human mental health in a Canadian winter.
I’m calling Ada “her” — in this case, with no evidence of her gender. With many of my other local crows, observing them at nesting time has allowed me to see who sits on the nest at incubating time, but with Ada, it’s just a random guess. She could just as easily be a young Adam, but I have a 50% chance of being right.
In any case, she’s a feisty and curious young bird.
She’s still hanging about with her parents, but they’re no longer pampering her when it comes to getting food. When she was young, they would answer her calls for food.
Now it’s every crow for him/herself. If I drop some peanuts for Ada, she’s often shoved aside by Mom and Dad, so she’s learning to be faster and trickier — vitally important crow lessons.
She’s also kindly demonstrated for us the all-important cough into your sleeve/wing technique.
Here is my most recent photo of her, taken on a dog walk earlier this week.
You can see that, for a 7 month old, she’s already acquired lots of crow personality and intelligence. As she edges closer to me you can see in those eyes the subtle risk/benefit calculations being made in real time.
I imagine she’ll be sticking around to help her parents with this spring’s nesting efforts, but after that she’ll probably find a mate and move to a new neighbourhood. I’ll miss her when she goes, but hey — she might end up in your neighbourhood and be your new crow therapist!
I don’t think I’ve written about Ms. Wing before, even though we’ve been acquainted for a few years now.
I see her less often than some of my other crow friends because she lives on the outer range of my dog walks. If I go another way, I won’t see her at all — and I didn’t see her for weeks this winter when my foot cast kept me tethered within a smaller radius of home.
But the thing about White Wing is that she knows me instantly, and I know her instantly too. She doesn’t really have a white wing: it’s more of a wonky feather. The first time I saw her, about three years ago, the light hit the crooked feather in a way that made the whole wing look snowy, so her name stuck.
And White Wing does sound more romantic than Wonky Feather, right?
I thought I’d write about her now because, while the present moment is really tough in most ways, it IS a good time to get out and get to know some local crows — and Ms. Wing is good example of the kind of crow that can be the key to starting to figure out the Who’s Who of your local crow-munity. Solving that identity puzzle is good motivation to get out for a walk, and figuring it out can be a great distraction from other news.
As soon as I’m near the block that the Wing family lives on, I can tell for sure that, of all other crows, this one is definitely her. Even from a distance.
And I can tell that her companion must be Mr. Wing. I determined that she is the Ms. in the equation because, of the two of them, she’s the one who disappears for a few weeks during the nesting season when she’s sitting on the eggs. Mr. Wing doesn’t really have any distinguishing features, but I can identify him because of his proximy to Ms. Wing.
This is how Crow Cluedo works.
A couple of times a year, at moulting season, and sometimes during nesting, White Wing’s twisted feather comes out, and she looks, briefly, like any other crow.
However, it always grows back in the same crooked way and, luckily, it doesn’t seem to affect her flying ability … or her self esteem.
Mind you, she can look just as bedraggled as any of the crows on a wet day …
As I mentioned, I didn’t see her for at least a couple of months over the winter, but as soon as I got to “her” corner she picked me out and came down, with a slightly aggrieved expression, as if to say “where the heck have you been?”
Most of the crows I’m lucky enough to have become acquainted with have some sort of physical anomaly that allows me to pick them out from the crowd.
Marvin, when he first appeared has somehow spilled paint on himself, which lasted all summer until moulting
George had his broken beak (although it was intact when we first met.)
Sometimes the differences are easily visible, like White Wing’s feather.
Things like Mabel’s damaged eye are harder to spot, but I have my long camera lens to help out. A small pair of binoculars would do the trick too. Crows are very territorial during the day, so if you see the same “different” bird in the same spot a few times in a row — congratulations — you’ve solved the first layer of the corvid Rubik’s Cube!
Another crow probably came before, but George Broken Beak was the first I knew of to claim the golden ring.
George, fall 2016
Mabel inherited it, and since George died in 2017, only she has been allowed to perch there. Until very recently.
Mabel, February 2020
The coveted golden ring is actually a yellow metal loop on a yellow metal pole — one of a pair used to suspend the chain that guards the local elementary school parking lot.
A relatively humble throne, but apparently of great significance in the local crow pecking order. I have never seen, for example, Mabel’s new mate, Gus, sit upon it.
In January, Mabel on her post with Gus and one of the kids below.
As recently as February, Mabel seemed to retain exclusive rights to the perch. One day I was walking by and noticed one of Mabel’s young ones come in for a landing on the revered ring. His claws a-l-m-o-s-t touched down before he remembered himself, making a last minute mid-air flight correction to land on a spot more befitting his station.
Whew, that was close …
Mabel must be getting on by now. Her one bad eye looks worse, although she is still apparently able to see out of it, and she still seems to more than hold her own with the other neighbourhood crows. But some sort of succession plan seems to be in the works.
Family meeting on the railings.
Just last week I walked by and saw a crow that I assumed was Mabel in her usual spot. But no, it was one of the youngsters, and Mabel was sitting by and watching with equanimity. In the photo below, the crow on the furthest spot from the post was Mabel, supervising and making no effort to chase the young one off.
The Heir Apparent, apparently.
I’ve been by a few times lately to see one of the young ones on the perch. I can’t tell if only one of them is favoured with the honour, or if they’re taking turns.
I’m hoping that, in spite of this apparent abdication, Mabel will be around for many years to come. She still seems to rule the neighbourhood with with a determined personality and impressive feather floofing technique.
I can usually tell it’s Mabel from a distance just from her silhouette — the fuzziness, and the attitude.
Mabel, Queen Boudicea of Crows
In looking for the first photo in this post, of George on his yellow perch, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of memories of him and Mabel together.
Here’s just one of the photos of the two of them I found …
And here is Mabel, keeping on keeping on all these years later.
I photographed her just this afternoon in the plum tree, with spring just around the corner.
Partly to distract myself from the actual news, partly to distract you, here is a long overdue local crow news update.
Finally out of my foot cast, I’m really appreciating being able to get about and check what’s going on with my various crow pals.
So much to catch you up on! I think it’s best I divide this into instalments lest I overwhelm you with it all.
Let’s start today with the general crow mood.
Apparently, one in three crows already think it’s time to get started on the nest.
The air is full of pre-nesting season energy. In previous years I’ve noticed Marvin and Mavis starting to gather twigs as soon as the blossoms are fully out on the plum trees on our street. Almost there now!
In the meantime, there are lots of crow-diverting things going on.
And it’s always worth going to see what the commotion is about.
On one dog walk this week we first saw the conductor with his orchestra.
A walk down the alley where they were performing revealed the reason …
By far the most spectacular gathering was a few days ago when a whole street was suddenly full of crow fury. Trees up and down the block were venues for cacophonous corvid conventions. No “social distancing” or Skype meetings for them, obviously.
All the fury was directed to one chimney, and once I got to the right angle I could see a lone raven trying to enjoy a leisurely brunch on the conveniently flat surface.
Judging by the feathers that floated from the “table” it looked as if a mid-sized bird (possibly a robin) was on the menu.
Even though the raven wasn’t feasting on one of their own, and even though they’re a relative, the crows were in full attack. The raven is permanently on the crows’ naughty list because they will, when the time is right, snatch crow eggs and fledglings.
In spite of their best efforts, the raven spent a good fifteen minutes in the chosen spot finishing their meal.
The owner of the chimney came out, wondering why her house was under attack. While I was explaining what was going on the raven finished their snack and flew off.
Today was quieter — a blustery day, so a lot of just-for-fun windborn antics and posing.
Tomorrow I’ll update you on the specific news re. the various crow groups. Quite a few to get through — Marvin & Mavis, Mabel and family, The Pantses, Art and his family, Young Ada — so I think I’ll tackle one a day till we’re up to date.
Think of it a little corvid gossip to break up all the COVID19 news.
Diplomacy —peanut and regular — is tricky. It’s only now that I sit down to write about this topic, I’m forced to face how much actual time pondering the the pitfalls and potential of the practice.
Here’s how the Merriam Webster dictionary defines run-of-the-mill diplomacy: 1 : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations. 2 : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility
Pretty similar, really, to my theory of Peanut Diplomacy: 1: the art and practice of initiating and maintaining diplomatic relations with another species (in this example, crows.) 2: skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility (towards yourself, or amongst your diplomatic counterparts.)
Why Peanut Diplomacy?
Let’s face it, unless you have inadvertently tipped a plate of french fries onto the sidewalk, you are of little specific interest to the busy crow population. If you want to open talks with them, peanuts are a great place to start.
Benefits of Peanut Diplomacy
Practiced with finesse, the art of judicious peanut distribution has many benefits. You can have the thrill of being greeted daily by your new crow friends. I am sure they love you for yourself, but the peanuts really help them discover your interesting side.
Over time you can come to observe individuals and small crow families and learn to appreciate how different, funny, and interesting they all are.
Pitfalls of Peanut Diplomacy
As with political diplomacy, things can easily go sideways. You don’t want to bring any harm to your new crow friends. You also don’t want your neighbours starting to hate you.
Peanut Diplomacy Tips
Keeping the Peace
One of the things you don’t want is to create friction amongst various factions of your new friends. In the years I’ve been engaged in the PD field, I’ve always managed to keep the backyard visitors to one family of crows. This takes a bit of diligence, watching out for “your” crows to be nearby before you put out the peanuts and bringing the treats in again if “invaders” try to horn in.
Over the last decade there have been several peaceful coups.
First we had Eric and Clara and their offspring. They moved down the street, of their own accord and Hank and Vera took over. H & V didn’t come back after the mating season one year and we entered the George and Mabel years. Since we lost George in 2018, Mabel has moved down the street and found a new mate and we now have Marvin and Mavis as our corvid garden guardians.
George and his specially adapted peanut collection technique.
Currently, there is some local tension because Mabel has two juvenile crows from last summer and, while Mabel herself (well versed in the rules of territorial rules) doesn’t come to our garden, she doesn’t discourage the two teenagers from exploring this end of the block. Marvin and Mavis are not pleased, so I’m careful not to put peanuts out unless they are right there. I’d hate to see them attacking Mabel’s young ones because of me.
One of Mabel’s kids optimistically hoping for peanuts in our garden.
Mabel takes exception to the intruder.
Marvin on sentinel duty
A subsection of keeping the peace, is distributing peanuts while out walking. In effect you and your peanuts become mobile territory to be squabbled over. I try to avoid this by observing the local boundaries and never dropping peanuts in the “no crow’s land” between domains. Some years it’s more difficult than others to keep the peace.
Mr. and Mrs. Pants didn’t have any surviving fledglings last year — but their neighbours did, and the larger family is trying to horn in on Mr and Mrs P’s corner. We had a few near “diplomatic incidents” when I tried to leave a few nuts for the Pantses earlier this year, so now I either walk another way, or if it seems quiet, try to leave a few nuts near them but out of sight of the bossy neighbours.
Mr. Pants “unpacking” some peanuts he’d just picked up.
If I find I’m suddenly feeling like an extra in Hitchcock’s The Birds, being followed by a small murder of crows, all ignoring the customary boundaries, then it’s time to change my walking route for a week or two to break the pattern.
If there are challenging conditions out (snow covered or frozen, or drought-baked ground) I will offer more nuts. For Marvin and Mavis, when Mavis had pox on her foot, I put out more nutritious food too until she got better. Generally though, I try to just put out enough peanuts to assure my crow pals that I appreciate their letting me take their photographs, and value their friendship.
Marvin and Mavis enjoy their Valentine’s Day brunch
I don’t want them to come to rely on me for food — for their own good, and so I can sometimes go on holiday without fretting about their survival.
I’ve often read that crows prefer peanuts in the shell, and they do! But all those peanut shells end up everywhere. In your roof gutters. Even worse, in your neighbours’ roof gutters. In the interests of human diplomacy, I find it’s better to offer shelled, unsalted nuts. Good quality cat or dog kibble is good too.
Extra Peanut Fun
While Marvin and Mavis always get a “no strings” breakfast, sometimes they come back for visits later in the day and then we have some fun with doing tricks for peanuts.
I “trained” them to pose with my crow calendar at times during the last couple of years, but a favourite is putting the peanuts in more challenging spots. Here Marvin competes in the Picket Fence Challenge.
I’m sure some of you are already accomplished peanut ambassadors, so do forgive my ramblings. And, if you’re just thinking of exploring the world of peanut politics, don’t let me make it seem too complicated. Have fun and make friends!