Family life with a pre-teen. I think I remember those days myself.
One minute they’re all grown up and don’t need their parents AT ALL, next — they just need a snuggle and some comfort food.
At least, when I was raising my kids, I didn’t have moulting to deal with as well.
A moulting crow is a cranky crow, and the whole family is starting that process now.
At least the fledgling can entertain himself with his own escaping feathers
At the same time, Marvin and Mavis are dealing with a pre-teen (Lucky) who is going through the two steps forward, three steps back process of learning to feed himself.
Lucky can definitely come and get his own peanuts from our deck. He has demonstrated prowess (well, competence, at least) in this field.
At first he’d just get one peanut and then wonder what exactly to do with it, but now he’s on to the advanced level of stuffing his gullet to capacity before flying away and hiding some for later, just like mom and dad do.
Other advanced skills include perching on the water bowl and dipping snacks to moisten them.
For most of the day, the family is off on adventures around the neighbourhood, while Marvin and Mavis are presumably teaching Lucky the skills needed to grab more “in the wild” food.
Yet several times a day I still hear Lucky making his begging calls, and every once in a while see one of the parents wavering in their determination to get him self sufficient by stuffing a snack into his waiting beak.
I always have mixed feelings about this time of year when the baby crows, still in the nest, are getting oh so close to checking out the pros and cons of gravity.
Sometimes, if the nest is too high and the wings too fragile, this is their first and last adventure. However, most will make it to the ground and then the crow parents’ work really begins.
Fledgling crows are a little like feathered disaster machines — hopping blithely into roads, napping under parked car tires, wandering innocently up to cats, crashing into garden fences, ignoring crow territorial boundaries and antagonizing the neighbours — I’ve watched each one of these scenarios every spring.
My breath is bated for the entire month of June … and I’m just a spectator to all of this.
As I always like to advise people at this time of year, try and put yourself into the mindset of the very tired and very tense crow parents.
Yes, they may swoop at your head if you get too close to their precious offspring. There will definitely be a lot of sound and fury, signifying something.
But try not to think of this as an adversarial, crow vs humanity type of situation — rather just another way in which crows, as devoted parents, are very like us.
Lots of the cawing isn’t even directed at us. Sometimes, I’ve noticed, the parents make a huge amount of noise just for the purpose of making the vulnerable little baby crow calls less obvious to listening predators.
Sometimes they’re just delivering a loud and endless stream of advice for the fledglings’ benefit: “flap harder,” “get off the road,” “sshh!”
And, if you MUST let your cat outside, please, oh please, at least keep them in during nesting season. Baby birds are, literally, sitting ducks for recreational feline hunters.
Also, take a moment to check around your parked car before driving off!
I haven’t actually seen a fledgling yet this year, but any day now …
I heard some quiet fledgling burbles coming from Marvin and Mavis’s nest a few days ago. Listen carefully after the car noise …
Marvin and Mavis were running a full time Uber Eats service between my deck (and an hourly peanut supply) and this tree a couple of days ago.
Here I am again …
They’ve also been fiercely defending our garden against a new crow couple in the area. Marvin’s feathers have been in fluffed out warrior mode for so long I wonder if this may be his permanent new look.
Now Marvin and Mavis’s visits are much more sporadic and I have the feeling that the fledglings are on the move, so the parents just have to go wherever their waddling, falling or flapping takes them. This is the most nerve wracking and disaster prone stage, so we can only wait and see what happens next.
More updates soon on other local crows’ nesting progress!
Marvin and Mavis are the models for some of my most popular images. Judgemental Crows, for example; that’s Marvin and Mavis . . . and I see them staring at me with that stern look every single day.
Their critical gazes always seem to imply that I’ve mucked up the service again.
Did I inadvertently press the “torrential rain” button again?
Have I gone and leaned on the “unbearable heat” lever in the climate control room?
And really, to be honest, they’ve had a few valid complaints over the last year and a bit.
How Come No-One Told Us How Exhausting Kids Are?
I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were even more thrilled than I that they were finally able to raise two beautiful fledglings this year after many years of disaster and disappointment. But of course, like all parents, they had their moments of asking “did I really sign up for this?” and it WAS a particularly challenging summer to be raising young of any species, with the Heat Dome and weeks of hot and unrelentingly dry weather on top of all the usual parent stuff.
Marvin and Mavis sneaking away to the stadium fence for a few minutes of peace.
They were busy for weeks, keeping the babies fed and alive while they learned the essential crow life skills of getting their own food, flying without crashing into stuff, not playing on the road, and avoiding getting eaten.
Mavis and one of the cute kids
Here’s one of the babies, after much encouragement from mom and dad, gingerly grabbing their own snacks from the back deck for the first time.
Once the kids finally got the knack of acquiring their own grub they became a lot more independent and free ranging. By late August they were off doing their own thing much of time and hanging out with the other neighbourhood teens.
At least they didn’t ask to borrow the car.
What Have You Done With All The Trees?
Another hot button topic for the past couple of years has been “who keeps taking all the darn trees?”
Since mid-2019 their little half block area has lost 24 big trees, leaving a big hole in their habitat, and that of all the local wildlife.
Raccoon peacefully sleeping in the old poplars
Twenty-one huge poplars were removed in summer 2019 to make way for the Notre Dame High School football stadium and were supposed to be replaced last spring. Trees WERE planted in April but most were dying even before the Heat Dome, and now they are a row of crispy sticks.
On behalf of the wildlife (and people) who are left without shade and beauty, I’ve been writing to the school and the City to see when replacement trees might be expected. We don’t have an answer on that as there’s a fundamental design flaw with the landscaping and retaining wall that needs to be resolved first.
I tell Marvin and Mavis this and they look less than impressed.
Marvin poses with one of the many dead trees at Notre Dame.
In addition to the lost poplars, three big street trees have been removed or fallen in this one half block over the last few months, making the loss of habitat and shade even more noticeable.
The plum tree shown below, further down the block, lost a limb recently and looks likely to be joining the list of the fallen any day now.
I’ve been writing more letters and reaching out to City staff and officials on the topic of street trees, as well as the privately-owned Notre Dame trees — asking to have lost trees on this block, and in the surrounding area, replaced as soon as possible.
I’m also trying to encourage the City to plant trees on the currently barren boulevard beside the school’s stadium. I hope that, once the school trees are finally replanted and thriving, a double row of trees would create a slightly pocket park-like area for our park impoverished neighbourhood, as well as providing nest sites and protection for the local wildlife.
Potential pocket park …
These proposals are crow-approved.
Who’s In Charge of Neighbourhood Watch?
Marvin and Mavis would like it known that that the ancient territorial rules, whereby each crow family keeps to its own half block, are not being taken seriously by certain crows this year.
Our fearless couple are spending a lot of time in full fierce ‘n’ fluffy mode, resolutely guarding their slice of paradise from crow rivals.
Regular flouters of boundaries include my old friend Mabel, who often makes cheeky incursions from the West. That’s almost expected as our backyard used to “belong” to George and Mabel, back in the day.
Below: Marvin deploys the “eyes in the back of the head” technique before eating his morning peanuts.
Mavis, eyes on the sky for interlopers.
I’m pretty sure some of the other crows they caw angrily at are actually the kids, trying to come home to do the corvid version of peering into the family fridge — as recently moved out young adults are wont to do.
One of today’s visitors, who definitely has the look of a returning family member.
All in all, I could sum up Marvin and Mavis’s current mood as “disgruntled.”
But who can blame them really? It’s been a tough, tough year for all of us.
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.
Crow babies are a particularly efficacious form of Crow Therapy. I know they’ve really helped to keep my spirits up during the long and strange summer of 2020.
Mabel, in particular, is having a busy time this year. Again.
She had three fledglings last year. Two survived the winter and have stayed with her and Gus to help with nesting season this year. Just as well, as she has another three to contend with this year!
Three babies. It’s a lot …
Normally she doesn’t come to the house, although our back yard used to “belong” to Mabel and the late lamented George Broken Beak. This summer, however, with three new mouths to feed, and the lure of a bird baths and an occasional sprinkler too strong to resist, she’s been coming back. There have been occasional spats with Marvin and Mavis, but Mabel’s clan have the numerical advantage, with four adult crows and the three rambunctious babies.
Young opera star in training
It started a couple of weeks ago when I was watering the katsura tree in front of the house and it turned into an impromptu corvid version of Splashdown Park.
Enjoying a nice cooling mist.
Learning how to sit with beak open to release heat on those hot summer days.
The triplets first fledged in around mid-July. Most birds don’t indulge the youngsters for nearly such a long time period as crow parents. The babies of smaller birds, like sparrows and finches, are expected to fend for themselves after a few short weeks. Their parents are usually keen to try and fit in a second round of nesting before the season ends, so it’s a short but intensive course on necessary survival skills, and then “good luck and off you go.”
Young crows, however, can be heard, loudly begging for food all summer long and into early fall.
The parents will start refusing to feed them after a few weeks, insisting they learn to forage for their own grub — but they do let the goofy youngsters hang around all summer — and often, as in Mabel and Gus’s case, right into the following year and beyond.
Mabel enjoys a brief moment to herself.
Scientific studies seem to suggest that this extended period of time with mom and dad contributes to the braininess of crows. You can almost hear the mental cogs spinning in the young crows’ brains as they gradually start to figure out the big new world around them.
Some things — like “is foliage a good snack?” — they just have to work out for themselves.
But a lot of the time, you can see them watching intently to see what mom or dad will do in a given situation — and carefully storing that information away for future reference.
I’ve had such fun watching Mabel’s babies this summer, I’m working on prints from some of the pictures.
I also had some buttons made from these new images, plus one of Mabel and a fledgling last year (The Art of Parenting) and I’m mailing them out, in random fashion, with all current orders from my shop.
I’m not sure what it is that I like so much about buttons. I think it reminds me of the thrill of getting a free badge with one of my comics in England, back when I was a fledgling, many years ago.
Mabel and her mate began their 2020 nesting odyssey way back in April when I photographed the series above, written about in A Message in the Sky.
A nest was duly built in a nearby ornamental plum tree, and Mabel sat on it for a while, settled in a pretty pink world.
It seemed like a good early start, so I was all ears for baby crow sounds by mid-June. Sadly, something must have gone wrong with that nest location, as it was was abandoned sometime in June, and it looked as if Mabel and her partners might be deciding to take a year off from the parenting business. They did have an extremely busy time last summer with three demanding fledglings, two of which were still with them this spring.
She surprised me again last week when I heard not one, but two, and possibly three fledglings calling from her neck of the proverbial urban woods.
And there was one …
… and another …
I’m pretty sure I heard a third, but I haven’t seen all three together yet, so hard to say for certain. Either way, it looks like another long, hot, busy summer ahead for Mabel.
Hopefully the “teenagers” still with her be useful baby sitters from time to time. Mostly though, it’s Mabel I’ve seen doing the feeding and general herding of gormless babies out of danger.
One of her fledglings beginning that vital crash course on what is, and what is not, food. Small pebbles now ruled out.
Baby experiences his/her first heatwave
I saw Mabel and one of the babies near our house this morning. That’s not “their” end of the block but the parents do have to follow wherever their boundary-innocent offspring flap off to.
First, baby posed for a distant pop-up portrait …
Then, seeing how fearless mom is, in for a close-up …
Mabel must be getting on bit by now. It looks as if her right eye is getting worse, and yet she continues to add to her corvid dynasty year by year.
More crows in line for her throne and her rusty chain of office — although she looks ready to rule for many years yet.
I confess. I have been hoarding a small bit of good news.
First, because I didn’t really believe it could be true.
Second, in a year with so little good news, I felt sharing it might be a jinx, leading to me having to give you bad news later (which no-one needs.)
The second reason still stands, but I can’t keep this little nugget of joy to myself any longer. Time to celebrate the small good things as they come along!
Drumroll, please . . . I think Marvin and Mavis, after 3 years of failure, may have finally achieved parenthood!
Our immediate neighbourhood has not heard the gurgling/quacking sound of a baby crow in some years. Raccoons, eagles and simple gravity have stymied Marvin and Mavis’s efforts time after time.
And, of all years, I hardly dared think that 2020 would be the one in which they’d finally luck out. Apart from losing a big part of their habitat when the poplars disappeared in June, they’d already built and abandoned three nests in other trees before I lost track of their nesting activity during the construction chaos.
So, when I thought I heard baby crow sounds just outside the house in early July I wrote it off at first as wishful thinking. Or maybe a baby crow from elsewhere that had flown off course on an early training flight.
But I heard it the next day too. And the next. Finally I saw this small face peering out of the tree in front of our house. Then this happy scene in the weeping birch across the street.
The “direct deposit” feeding method.
Now, small caveat: with all the upheaval going on in our neighbourhood, it is just possible that this is some other crow family taking advantage of the chaos to move in on Marvin and Mavis’s turf. All of the crows are behaving a little differently and varying their daily routines — partly due to the rigours of nesting season, and partly due to the suddenly changed local ecosystem. Other crows have been popping by from time to time, but judging by the regular appearance of these two and offspring, I’m 95% sure this is Marvin, Mavis and family.
Anyway, I am trying to stop myself from feeling like a besotted new grandma. Unchecked, I could easily start knitting tiny crow-sized bonnets for this youngster.
As it is, I’m out several times a day taking photos. “See how adorable s/he is?” “Isn’t this absolutely the cutest little fledgling you’ve ever seen?” ”
One of the first “baby” photos — July 9
Such a good eater!
Strong family resemblance!!
I had all but given up on such good news for Marvin and Mavis this year. In the days after the poplars came down I often saw them sitting together on the construction fence assessing the devastation.
But somewhere, I guess, they had this little newcomer tucked away until rudimentary flight skills had been achieved.
Things could, of course, still go badly wrong. The survival rate for bird fledglings, including crows, seems to be 50-50 at best. Every morning the first thing I do is go outside and anxiously listen for the tell-tale begging sounds.
A few days ago, parents and baby came to hang out in the Katsura tree in front of the house for a couple of hours. One of the summer’s highlights so far!
So far they haven’t brought junior into the garden with them when they come for their breakfast, but I’m hoping they may do so soon.
Baby in the background
Parenting is a tiring business …
Worrying about a baby crow is a good exercise in taking one day at a time. Here is junior yesterday looking for interesting things in the gutter (a reminder to check around your car before taking off too quickly at this time of year!)
Checking out a wide new world
Here’s my most recent photo (I told you there’d be lots!) taken this morning. The blue eyes are changing to grey now and more adventures (much nail biting) are being undertaken.
The video below, also from this morning, captures one of the things that make crows so very entertaining to watch.
Who among us, human parents or kids, cannot relate to this little exchange?
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!
To celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is a re-post of the popular 2017 George and Mabel: A Love Story
They say that crows usually mate for life. George and Mabel have certainly stuck together through good, and some very bad, times — so, in honour of Valentine’s Day, here is their story.
I wrote about some of their trials and tribulations about a year ago in the blog post George’s Tough Year. This is the next instalment of their story.
In spite of babies lost to illness and a seemingly catastrophic injury, George has kept on keeping on and, with the help of his mate, Mabel, seems to be thriving.
We never did figure out what exactly caused George’s beak to break. Theories have included: crash landing; attack from other birds; and a run in with a rat trap. I don’t think George is going to tell me any time soon. In any case, I hardly think he notices his half-beak any more.
He’s developed his own method of scooping up food, turning his head upside down for a more efficient “shovelling” action.
You would think that other crows would take advantage of George’s disability, but he and Mabel, as a team, are a force to be reckoned with. While George comes down to pick up their breakfast, Mabel stands guard on a higher roof and warns of incoming interlopers.
Mabel on Guard
George’s great advantage over other crows is that he’s not afraid of me at all. If I’m present, the other crows are too afraid to come and eat, while George regards me as his personal catering manager. If I forget one of his “snacks” he will perch right by my studio and stare meaningfully at me through the window until I get the message.
In 2015 they had a baby but s/he was terribly afflicted by avian pox and died as soon as the cold weather came. Last summer I watched carefully to see what would happen. They had two babies. One didn’t make it, but the second is hanging in there. Boy/Girl George, as I like to call him/her has a small foot deformity, but has survived a bitterly cold winter, so fingers crossed.
George and Mabel are working incessantly to make sure their offspring thrives. After George has collected the food I put out (and he can cram an amazing amount into his gullet and beak) he flies off to share the bounty with Mabel and the baby. I think George is trying to show Junior the food collecting ropes, but s/he remains skittish about coming too close for now.
Mom and Baby
So this Valentine’s Day, we can celebrate the many kinds of love. From the giddy excitement of first infatuation, to the less dramatic but lifelong kind that George and Mabel enjoy.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Some of these pictures may look familiar. This may be because you read my blog post when it came out in 2017, or it could be because some of these photographs were taken without permission and used in a fabricated crow love story that went wildly viral across the internet. The story here is the true story of George and Mabel, and these (as with all of the images in my blog posts) are my photographs.
Sadly, George passed away the summer after I wrote this story. He is buried in my garden. See: In Memory of George
George and Mabel’s offspring did survive and Mabel is still thriving. She eventually found a new mate and in the spring of 2019 they had three babies, two of which survived and are still hanging around with mom and dad. See More on Mabel