All Quiet On The Nesting Front (For Now)

The crow nesting season goes through various phases, some quiet, others much louder.

Right now we’re in a seemingly tranquil phase

All is secretive and low key as the parents try to keep the nest locations hidden from predators. Sometimes the game is given away when the female, sitting on the eggs, makes begging sounds to remind their mate to hurry up with the food delivery, but generally it’s as if the whole neighbourhood is made up entirely of of very quiet bachelor crows.

Marvin going solo while Mavis sits on the eggs, spring 2022

The mother crow will remain on the nest, incubating 2-6 eggs, for between two and three weeks. Once the eggs hatch, both parents will leave and return to the nest frequently to bring food. Another parental duty is carrying away the babies’ fecal sacs to keep the nest clean. A sure sign of hatched babies is seeing a poop-splattered adult crow — evidence of one of those sacs having failed in the disposal process. The love of a parent truly knows no bounds …

Mr. Walker on dad duty, Spring 2022

This is, of course, the calm before the storm. Soon things will start to get more exciting as dive bombing season begins.

This is such an issue in Vancouver that, a few years back, a Langara College professor created an open-source Geographic Information System called Crowtrax, allowing people to report where they were attacked by crows and thus contribute to a map of the most “crow-terrrorized” parts of the city.

I’m happy to report that there’s been a positive change in the way this part of the crow nesting season in covered by the local media over the past few years. It used to be all Hitchockian horror, with eyeball grabbing headlines about “savage” crows swooping from the sky and randomly mauling innocent pedestrians. In recent times there has been more curiosity about what’s really happening here, and much more thoughtful pieces have been written.

Last year, Georgia Strait reporter, Martin Dunphy, wrote such an article and one of my images was on the front cover.

The article included comments from Vancouver crow scientist, Rob Butler, and myself and was a refreshingly pro-crow look what can be a slightly hysterical time of year.

I have some tips on avoiding getting dive-bombed this year, but first of all it’s helpful understand what’s going on from the crows’ perspective.

The crow parents have been working on this nest since late February, carefully building it, sitting on eggs in secret, carrying bags of baby poop hither and yon, fighting off hawks, raccoons, cats and eagles. They are tired, stressed to the max, and very, very committed to the success of their little families. Now the precious babies are about the leave the relative security of the nest.

These “babies” are almost the same size as the parents at this point, so some people don’t even notice that they’re not adult crows. Sometimes they’re difficult to spot at all as they rest on the ground, camouflaged with dust and leaf litter. They’re often earthbound because, in what seems to be a bit of a design flaw, they come out of the nest before they can fly.

The young crows are curious and eager to explore, but have no idea what might be fun as opposed to fatal. The only things standing between the helpless fledglings and getting stepped on, run over or attacked by animals or birds of prey are good old mom and dad. These exhausted and very tense parents and are the “savage” dive bombers — and it’s really nothing personal, they just want you to STAY AWAY from their precious offspring until they can fly.

In my experience, sometimes the raucous cawing isn’t even directed at us humans. Often they seem to be screaming instructions at their fledging and/or making a lot of racket just to drown out the baby crow noises that might attract real predators.

So try to remember, you’re not in a Hitchcock movie — just a small domestic drama.

TIPS FOR KEEPING YOURSELF AND THE CROWS SAFE

  1. Avoiding the nest area if possible.
  2. If you can’t stay clear, wear a hat or use an umbrella when you walk by.
  3. Try pinning fake eyes (paper drawings, or make some with felt) on the back of your hat or hood. Crows only attack from the rear and if they see a pair of eyes “looking” at them they won’t swoop — according to Seattle crow scientist John Marzluff.
  4. Earn some trust with a small offering of  unsalted peanuts. Not a big pile — just 3 or 4 peanuts as a gesture of friendliness.
  5. This might just be me, but I always speak softly to the parents and tell them what a great job they’re doing.
  6. If you see a crow fledgling alone on the ground, don’t assume it needs rescuing. There will be a parent crow nearby watching over things and, unless the baby is obviously injured, it’s always best to leave it alone.

 

This following little diagram is something I put together years ago as an easy guide to telling fledgling crows apart from adults …

 

Once the baby crows are able to fly the parents will become a lot more relaxed and spend a lot of time feeding, grooming and showing the young ones the ropes of being a successful city crow.

Spending time watching this process will reward you with many laughs as you see yourself reflected in the behaviour of the parents, kids, or both.

 

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Small News

Photo by June Hunter

I walk around the neighbourhood several times a day during nesting season, checking in on the crow news — taking photos and making mental notes of how things are with the various crow families I’ve become acquainted with over the years. 

At this point I’ve got so many crow-notes stuffed into my head, I’m not sure where to start unpacking them. 

Rather than trying to cram all the news into one post, I think I’ll go one crow family at a time, starting with the Pants family in the next post.

First though, I have to tell you about this morning’s drama. 

We’ve had nesting bald eagles in the neighbourhood for years, so all through each nesting season the eagle parents scour the area for baby eagle food, always followed by a loud and angry crow posse. This morning I happened to catch some of the action from relatively close quarters when the eagle landed in the school grounds at the end of the block.

The crows, backed up by screeching gulls, seemed even more loud and frantic than usual.

So impassioned, in fact, you can see one crow in the video below whacking the sitting eagle hard enough to cause it to fly off.

The reason they were so mad? It looked as if the eagle had scooped an entire crow’s nest right out of a tree. You can see a glimpse of the nest in the video below.

In the end, the eagle dropped most of the nest, although there was something still gripped in its claws as it flew off.

The eagle population is part of the reason the crows are changing their nesting habits. 

Local ornithology expert, Rob Butler, who spoke about crows last weekend on local CBC Radio show, North by Northwest, mentioned this change: crows who had previously chosen high nest sites for protection against ground based predators (raccoons, cats, coyotes) are now picking spots in lower, less eagle-accessible trees — even selecting quite small street trees they calculate will be awkward for raccoons to scale.

I’ve certainly noticed that our local crows have rejected the once-coveted penthouse suites in the Notre Dame poplars this year in favour of much lower and more camouflaged trees. Marvin and Mavis have picked such a low, mid-street location for the nest this year, it would be quite the drama if the eagle swooped that low. 

If you think being dive-bombed by a crow is exciting …!

The Pants crow family, who I’ll be looking at next time, have long been fans of the low-rise nest building solution and we’ll have a look at what they’re up to this spring.

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Marvin and Mavis Nesting 2020

I know I haven’t written about my crow neighbours for quite a while. There are a couple of reasons, apart from the distraction of Edgar and the Cabin Fever series.

One: I have just SO MANY images and stories filling up my brain and computer, I’m having a hard time knowing where to start. But, since it’s also time to start thinking about the 2021 City Crow Calendar, it’s time for a dive into Crowlandia.

Two: it is nesting season, which fills me with a certain level of anxiety. Like most of us, I already have a bit of an anxiety surfeit,  so I was trying to keep a slight emotional distance from the rough and tumble of the bird reproductive season.

But I know it’s hopeless, I can’t stop myself from getting invested in the drama.

I’ll start with a bit of an account of Marvin and Mavis’s nesting season so far. I worry especially about these two as they are my regular visitors and, over the past years, I’ve seen them lose three seasons’ worth of fledglings — to racoons, falling-out-of-tree mishaps and bald eagles.

Marvin and Mavis’s nest, May 2019

For the last two springs, they built their nests high in the Notre Dame poplars.

While those trees have the advantage of height and protection from ground predators, they are also a favourite buffet for the local eagles and hawks. All of the local crows seem to have come to the same conclusion, as I haven’t seen any of them building nests there this spring, although they’re still popular with smaller birds.

Marvin and Mavis got an early start on this year’s nest building back in March, choosing a nice dense pine tree. I’m not sure what went wrong with that project, but by April they were real estate shopping again.

They turned their attention to the dark red-leaved plum trees on our street, which offer great camouflage for dark coloured birds.  A couple of problems arose there.

First of all, Mabel and her mate got an earlier start, with their substantial nest all finished in another plum tree weeks ago. With the added advantage of two youngsters born last year hanging around as nest helpers, they’ve been able to wage war on Marvin and Mavis whenever they start a new building project.

Marvin and Mavis warding off a Mabel clan raid from our roof.

On the lookout for incoming raiders

Marvin and Mavis persevered, however, and managed to start a nice looking nest in one plum tree at the far end of the block from Mabel and co.

While it’s wonderful that many people, forced by the pandemic to slow down and stay close to home, have started appreciating their bird neighbours in a new way, it’s also true that it’s given people more time to become very particular about their gardens. Unfortunately for our intrepid couple, the humans whose house they were building in front of decided they did not want to experience the thrill of a crow’s nest so close to them, and started to knock the partly built nest out of the tree. I did try my best friendly Crow Evangelist pitch to get them to leave it alone, and I thought I’d made some progress, but by the next day the nest that Marvin and Mavis had started rebuilding was gone again, so I guess not.

Having read the writing on the wall, M & M selected another plum tree. This is where they are now — trying to be very quiet as it’s rather too close for comfort to Mabel’s nest. Luckily, all of the crows now seem to have entered the “witness protection” phase of the nesting season where they’re all just trying to be invisible from any potential predators.

Mavis checking out the view from the new nest.

Fingers crossed for them this year. I don’t think they have eggs in there yet as both of them have been coming to the house to visit several times a day — for pep talks and some peanuts.

I’m trying not to draw too much attention to their nest as they try to keep a low profile, and hoping that things go well from now on. Fingers crossed for some little Marvins and Mavises this year, even as I try not to get my nerves too jangled at every twist and turn of the nesting tale. I’ll keep you posted …

Some other posts about crow nesting seasons:

 

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© junehunterimages, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to junehunterimages with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Two Crow Families

FAMILY NUMBER ONE

Eric and Clara June 22 2018

Clara and Eric early this morning.

Our first crow family consists of my old friends, Clara and Eric.

They started nest building in mid-April, choosing a spot in the poplar trees bordering the high school at the end of our street. It was visible for a while, but in May the leaves filled in and the nest was veiled in secrecy

Just before the leaves popped out enough to render the nest invisible.

Weeks passed by and I waited to see signs of baby crows. Radio silence — until last week when I woke up to a loud crow-fuffle outside the school.

Half a dozen adult crows were cawing at each other in a circle inside the school fence. Outside the fence sat this little bundle. It seemed as if the adults were trying, and failing, to reach consensus on what do do about the problem at hand.

Baby Crow on the Ground

The dilemma: baby crow was sitting right where, in another half an hour, cars would be pulling up as parents dropped off their children at school.

 

I went home to collect a protective hat and some conciliatory peanuts, and returned,  prepared to move the baby off the road to the relative security of the fence line about 5 feet away. Of course, this did not go over well at all with the adults.  A crowd of about a dozen outraged crows had gathered by now, and they all offered their opinions (loudly) from the trees and fence.

Whether it was their advice, or my getting closer, the baby crow picked himself up and scuttled under his own steam to the fence and off the road edge.

Baby Crow Hop

Day 2: My husband spotted the baby, somehow herded by it’s parents to the inside of the fence line and into an area overgrown with blackberry bushes. Excellent cover.

Day 3: No sign of baby, but parents being very loud and protective.

Day 4: Spotted the baby up in a small crabapple tree on boulevard beside the school.

Eric and Edgar Baby in Crabapple Tree

Day 5: Nightmare — the school gardener had taken a weed-wacker to the area where the baby had been taking cover. A sea of chopped up blackberry stems. No sign of baby.

Day 6: Spotted the baby hopping around the diced foliage. Phew. Parents cawing protectively.

Baby Crow Behind Notre Dame Fence

Day 7: Heart stopping moment when I see this inert form lying in the middle of the empty school parking lot.

Sock

Closer inspection reveals it to be a rolled up black sock. But no sign of baby and parents around but not being protective. Not a good sign.

Day 8: Up very early again to see if I can catch the faintest sound of a baby crow calling. Silence. No baby sounds, no parental cawing. Eric and Clara were in their usual spots but not seeming to be in protective mode any more.

Eric and Clara Rattle Call

Eric offers a rattle call this morning, around 6 am. I’m not sure if he’s trying to give me bad new.

If this fledgling hasn’t survived, it will be the second year in a row that Eric and Clara have not produced any young. Last year no babies made it out of the nest — I think because a big windstorm that happened just as they were about to fledge.

However, better news from …

FAMILY NUMBER TWO

This crow family lives about six blocks from us. I see them on the daily dog walks.

It’s rather hospitable area for a growing crow family — a quiet street, lined on both sides with very big, leafy trees The crows there seem to be the first ones in the neighbourhood to have their babies out of the nest.

Last winter I started to notice one particular crow around there. She stood out from the corvid crowd because of what looked like a streak of white on one wing. The flash of white is actually because one feather sticks out at an awkward angle, but the name White Wing stuck in my head.

Her feather mishap didn’t seem to slow her down at all and I saw her almost every day — until early March, when she disappeared. I was quite worried. as it seemed a bit early for the annual nest building, when couples do tend to make themselves scarce.

I saw her companion almost every day, but no sign of White Wing.

Until just over two weeks ago.

Remember this little fellow from my last blog post, Fledgling Alert — he had just dragged himself (literally) out of the gutter. It turns out that he and two siblings are White Wing’s offspring.

Three baby crows and Dad (Mr White Wing) in one of the leafy trees.

Now I see White Wing every day, being harassed by her brood of  hungry offspring.

Begging Baby Crow

Baby Crow Feeding

Feeding time.

These crow babies are gaining skills fast. They can fly now — airborne, if not graceful. This fledgling was playing with a twig on a roof and managed to hop/fly to another roof while still hanging on to her treasure.

Baby Crow Flies with Twig

Already the bright blue eyes of the first few days are changing to a soft grey. They’ll keep the bright pink “gape” of the mouth for a few more weeks as they continue to beg their parents to be fed.

Grey Eyed Baby Crow

Crow Fledglings in Puddle

Sibling puddle fun.

While life will continue to be a risky business for Whitewing’s three offspring — fledglings seem to do quite well in this little neighbourhood every year.

The leafy canopy of trees  provides some cover from aeriel predators like eagles and hawks (although there is a hawk’s nest in those same trees a block or so down the street). It’s a street with lots of gardens, providing plenty of cover, and not much traffic.

Baby Crow with Fire Hydrant

I’ll try and keep you posted on the progress of families one and two. I’m still hoping against hope for Eric and Clara’s single fledgling, but preparing to accept that things haven’t worked out for them this year.

There is also a third family on my radar — post pending.

Marvin and Mavis have a nest in the same trees as Eric and Clara and they seem determined to keep their babies in there until the last minute.

Stay tuned …..

Baby Crow with Parent

A chip off the old block already.