I wonder if there is any advertising within the crow world on the subject of the perfect gift for Crow Mother’s Day …? I’m fairly sure that roses and chocolates wouldn’t make the list — though a spa visit and brunch certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
It’s going to be up to Dad to arrange the festivities, of course, as the kids are still in egg form, or very newly hatched. No age to be making significant gift-giving decisions, anyway.
So, to help out the crow dads, let’s think of what a crow mom might really appreciate this weekend.
Most of the female crows are either still sitting full-time on the nest to incubate the eggs, or are just beginning to re-emerge into the wider world — stretching and shaking out the weeks of close-quarters confinement.
White Wing, newly emerged from the nest
A yoga retreat would be a nice idea, but it’s going to be months before the mother crows, or the fathers for that matter, will really have more than a minute or two to call their own.
An exhausting summer lies ahead, if all goes well.
Mabel takes that small, almost unconscious step away from one of her demanding fledglings one summer a few years ago.
Meanwhile, the biggest task on the crow mother’s mind is keeping newly hatched babies alive so they can become demanding teenagers. This involves constant feeding, so she’s out and about with dad in search of food.
Another important task is keeping the nest clean. No potties or Pampers for these parents — instead the babies come with a built-in solution — the fecal sac.
I think you can guess how these work …
They’re a brilliant bit of Nature’s design, with the slight snag being that the little sacs are fragile and prone to breaking in transit. This is why, at this time of year, you might see some white-beaked crow parents.
A close look at White Wing’s beak show evidence of nest cleaning duties
Bongo’s mate, Bella, just emerged from the nest this week and looks, I think, the epitome of someone in need of Mother’s Day pampering.
Luckily papa Bongo is on the job!
Such a thoughtful gift …
Already this morning I saw him collecting some bits of wood chips — presumably to refurbish the nest lining and help with the clean up.
And, of course, Bongo’s greatest gift is his music …
If you’re thinking of what YOU could offer your local crow mothers, fathers — all wildlife, in fact — this weekend, I’d suggest a nice bowl of cool, clean water.
Here in the Pacific Northwest we’re expecting temperatures 15 degrees above normal and no rain, so a reliable water supply will definitely be the bird equivalent of a luxury spa!
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
Avoiding the nest area if possible.
If you can’t stay clear, wear a hat or use an umbrella when you walk by.
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.
Earn some trust with a small offering of unsalted peanuts. Not a big pile — just 3 or 4 peanuts as a gesture of friendliness.
This might just be me, but I always speak softly to the parents and tell them what a great job they’re doing.
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.
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.