The Crow Summer of 2023

Bongo and Bella Edition

Bongo and Bella are both looking pretty scruffy these days.

Like all crow parents, they’re dealing with the late summer trifecta of ongoing drought, moulting season and teenagers.

There has been no bonging lately, so it’s impossible for me tell, for now, who of the couple is Bongo and who is Bella.

Below: Bongo in the early summer, making his signature call. It seems to be connected to the early months of nesting and fledgling rearing as he seems to stop doing it by mid-July.

Both Bongo and Bella started moulting in July this year. From the crows I watch, it looks as if the crows that fledged their babies earlier in the year also start moulting earlier, as if the whole process is a linked timeline.

Or … it could just be that raising crow babies is so stressful it makes your feathers fall out.

One of the couple started losing some head feathers a few weeks ago …

General bits of feathers are making their escape

This morning silhouette shows the typical late summer “hipster beard” as throat feathers thin out

Certainly they both look as though they could use a week at a spa and, if such a thing existed, they have earned a spot.

Cue the daydream about what amenities a crow spa would offer … nice muddy puddles, an unsecured garbage bin buffet, unlimited preening time, no demanding fledglings allowed …

I digress; but I’m pretty sure most adult crows are engaged in similar relaxation reveries at this point in the breeding season.

Bongo and Bella started out in late May with four fledglings. The first one I didn’t even see — only a bit of a wing, probably a casualty of the local raccoon family or one of the outdoor cats.

There were three babies through early June but down to two by the end of the month.

By a combination of good luck and endless hard work, they seem to have kept the other two alive to reach teenager-hood.  One of them even seems to have some of Bongo’s vocal virtuosity!

Here are a few photos of the Bongo siblings learning the important “what’s food and what isn’t” lesson through the long hot summer.

Early summer — just waiting for food delivery from mom and dad

Rose petals? More of a garnish than a main dish.

Empty peanut shell? Close, but nope.

Plastic bag? Hard no.

Squished orange? Some juicy bits yet, so yes!

Unripe walnut hus? A bit too much work.

Mom or Dad shows how it’s done with a delicious bit of discarded watermelon

Only a few more weeks to go, thinks Bongo, and Crow Spa here we come!


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Late Summer Surprise

2019 has been a rough year for fledgling crows and their parents. Marvin and Mavis had three babies up in the nest one day, and then the local bald eagle swooped by and suddenly there were none.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants, Whitewing and her mate, the Kaslo and the Napier crows were all fledgling-less by the time I got back from my UK trip in June.

Mabel and Gus, however (see most recent post) bucked the trend by successfully raising three babies, born in June some time. Their territory has been the neighbourhood nexus of juvenile crow begging sounds this summer. Both parents are looking a bit exhausted at this point and looking forward, I’m sure, to the young ones becoming fully independent any day now.

Mavis and the Terrible Trio back in early August.

The young ones still occasionally beg for food, but you can tell their hearts aren’t really in it. Mabel and Gus are pretty much ignoring their pleas now — encouraging them to become self-sufficient little urban foragers. The neighbourhood was becoming quiet.

So imagine my surprise when, only last week — well into the second half of August — there was a brand now source of begging sounds. It was the tentative call of quite a young juvenile crow. It took a while to spot her*, but there she was, way up in a sycamore maple, softly quorking …

… and playing with leaves.

It was on a corner I pass by at least once a day walking the dog, and one where I don’t usually see any crows. It’s a buffer zone between two crow territories (the Slocan trio and the Firehall Family) and is generally crow-free. I’m not sure where this little family came from, although I suspect they might be an offshoot of the Firehall gang (for reference see: A Puzzlement of Crows.)

She isn’t a brand new fledgling. She can already fly reasonably well and her eyes have transitioned from the just-out-of-the-nest bright blue, to the grey colour that comes next. But she is obviously several weeks younger than Mabel’s brood and still very much dependant on her two parents. Her beak is still rosy pink at the sides, marking the bright pink inner mouth (gape) that makes such a good target for the parents to deliver food to. Over and over again.

All of this begging and feeding is very usual, but not in late August. So what happened?

I imagine these parents lost their first batch of fledglings to one or more of the usual disasters (eagle, hawk, raven, racoon, car, cat, flying mishap, etc.) quite late in the first go-round, and decided to give it a second try. I can only imagine how much hard work went into the repeat project.

If it had been one of the recent summers, which have been hot and bone dry, I don’t think they’d have managed to find enough food and liquid for the baby so late in the season, but this year has luckily been a bit damper. I’m not sure where they kept her, safe and secret, until I first saw her last week, but they did an excellent job.

Our neighbourhood newcomer has the benefit of two parents devoted to her welfare, but she’s going to have to be a fast learner to catch up with the older juveniles and be able to join them all at the safety of the Still Creek Roost as the nights start to draw in.

She’s a lot noisier now than when I first spotted her last week. I can hear her from our garden (a couple of blocks away) calling to be fed. That in itself can be a bit of a predator-attracting risk when your’e the only noisy one around.


Luckily she does seem to be a quick study. While she still needs her parents to break food into tiny pieces for her, she’s already mimicking their food caching strategies.

Here she’s hiding a peanut that was too big for her to eat under a bit of moss. She’s enrolled in the accelerated Being An Adult Crow class, while still a baby.

She’s got all the curiosity needed to gather important information about this new world of hers. What is, and is not, edible is something that takes a while to figure out.

Now that’s one giant berry …

(… so if you find your Christmas light a bit sticky this year …)

She’s beaten the odds to have made it this far, so here’s hoping she makes it through the next few risky weeks and graduates from her Crow Adulting 101 class with flying colours.

May your late summer be full of nice surprises too!


*I’m referring to this young crow as “her” fairly randomly as, of course, at this point I have no way of knowing her gender.