On Monday I jokingly posted the suggestion that crows would make excellently determined school zone speed limit enforcers.
I’ve often thought that an intense corvid stare might help bring home all kinds of messages.
Room for 28 crows more up here
The Wings enforcing their local stop sign
Today’s crow thought: why stop at traffic signs?
Put crows where the big decisions are made!
Instead of stuffy CEO portraits or generic landscapes, let’s see crows adorning the walls of the centres of power. We need giant judgemental crows gazing down at the humans sitting down to set policy in government and corporate settings.
A thoughtful corvid presiding over a meeting might help decision makers remember that any new plan should meet the objectives of that most important of all stakeholders — Nature.
At the very least, it would remind meeting attendees to not take themselves too seriously.
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.
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.
Crows are often the only obvious representative of the natural world that a busy urbanite might see in a day. Many more wild things live among us, of course — but crows are so “in your face” that they’re hard to overlook, no matter how distracted you are. Once they’ve caught your eye, you can’t help but start to notice the rest of the quieter members of the urban nature gang… sparrows, chickadees, coyotes, eagles, hawks, bushtits, raccoons, ravens, squirrels, flickers, hummingbirds … and the precious scraps of urban greenery in which they thrive.
2. Crow as Mirror
Crows have evolved through millennia along an entirely separate path from humans.
And yet, and yet … here we find ourselves, crows and people, living strangely parallel urban lives.
We all —crows and humans — have to deploy every bit of our creativity and hard work to get by in the urban jungle. We take comfort in our family groups, and we commute in tandem— the nightly river of roost-bound crows soaring raucously over their earthbound fellow travellers, the latter inching their way homeward though traffic.
While I love and admire crows, I don’t usually think of them as my “spirit animal” or anything particularly mystical.
And yet, sometimes, when I look at Mavis …
3. Crows Really Don’t Care What You Think
Crows have a rather enviable devil-may-care attitude.
Their gaze is firmly outward, with little or no thought wasted on what others think of them. They know that their crow-ness is sufficient.
I try to be more like them in that regard, … although I don’t think I don’t think I’m quite ready to start digging up my neighbours’ lawns just yet.
As I get older I wonder if I should start doing Sudoku or crosswords to keep my mind sharp.
I haven’t yet, but I find that crow watching is a pretty good substitute. I see a crow doing something rather inexplicable. I wonder about it, read a book or an article about crows, I watch some more, and then — aha! — the puzzle pieces suddenly fit into place. Then I have to try and keep that bit of information stored in my brain as I add more clues to a growing picture. It’s like being a crow P.I.
Take, for instance, the mystery of the barking crow …
See my previous blog post A Puzzlement of Crows for just how much of my brain this sort of thing occupies at any one time.
Whitewing here has a perennially wonky wing feather which helps me pick her out from the crowd.
5. Crows For Kids
We worry that our kids spend too much time inside, screen-mesmerized (much like the rest of us) and rarely keen to get outside and get involved with nature. They’re able to identify far more corporate logos than birds or plants.
From experiences with my own children when they were younger, the most effective way to get them interested in doing something is to create a story around it.
My son was reluctant to come on walks until we found Dragon Alley. A street near our house is lined with massive trees, and the trunks are all covered in various kinds of thick moss. Once we “discovered” that this was were the local dragons came to rub off their old scales, walking was a delight.
I wish I’d started noticing crows when my children were little. The tales we could have spun! The characters we could have followed! They loved books with animals in them, but most of them were not indigenous to East Vancouver. They read about tigers and badgers and hedgehogs in brambly hedges, none of which they were ever likely to actually find on their own adventures. It would have been fun to introduce them to some real life local crow characters.
Well I guess it’s never too late as I do that now, even though the kids are now in their twenties …
6. Crow Therapy is Egalitarian
Just about anyone in a crow-populated city can take advantage of crow therapy. You don’t even need to get up close and personal — you can read their messages of beauty and nature from a distance in the calligraphy they write against the sky.
We simply need to stop for a moment to look up and try to interpret it.
In fact, crow therapy is SO egalitarian that it doesn’t even need to involve crows.
If it’s wondering what the starlings are up to today, or how the light will hit the leaves on your favourite tree this morning, or which dragons left scales in Dragon Alley overnight — whatever gives you a thrill of anticipation as your step outside — that’s Crow Therapy.