Well darn it all, I’ve been working on my silly Crow Bingo idea for a few weeks now and just as I’m ready to launch it, our provincial government has managed to make the whole bingo concept controversial with this well-meaning, but perhaps rather ill-timed posting:
Here in BC, in addition to Self Care Bingo, we’re playing a game of emotional Snakes and Ladders with vaccines (very slow to arrive) and Variants of Concern (faster to arrive) — so the idea of crying it out in our blanket forts is perhaps just a bit too real.
But, to get back to my (hopefully less controversial) bingo idea.
My goals for Crow Bingo:
get people out of the house
give parents a focus for walks with kids
introduce everyone to the many benefits of Crow Therapy (for when crying in the blanket fort gets old)
encourage an awareness of all aspects of urban nature
sneakily convert people who don’t know they love crows yet
So here we go …
For beginners, Level One Crow Bingo:
You can chose to go for one row at a time, a diagonal or across, but ultimately it shouldn’t be too hard to sweep the whole board and then move on to …
There are some mornings when I’m so thoroughly sick of walking the same few blocks around our house. Like everyone else, it’s been close to a year of being mostly confined to same few kilometres.
It’s a proper test of the “Urban Nature Enthusiast” philosophy — finding new things to marvel at in your own backyard and all. I must admit that the last week I’ve been starting to think I’d reached the limit of exploring everything on the same old, same old walk as if it was a voyage to a new land.
Ground Hog Day syndrome had set in.
It was in that spirit of ennui that I set out on yesterday morning’s walk. I wasn’t even sure if I should bring my camera as the weather looked so unpromising. Luckily my corvid therapists must have sensed I needed a boost.
The first part of the walk already cheered me up considerably as I was followed by my new friend, Chip. Small, fast, cheeky, and prone to defying crow territorial convention by following me on the whole walk, Chip always cheers me up.
She’s one of Mabel’s 2020 fledglings, and a clear favourite to follow in her mother’s majestic foot prints. She’s the only one allowed, for example to sit on Mabel’s coveted golden throne. I was glad I brought the camera after all.
Getting a taste for power
Mabel watches on patiently. Sometimes she’ll push Chip off the throne, but she was apparently feeling indulgent this morning.
Further on, the walk also included visits with the Wet Walker family …
… and the similarly rain-spangled White Wing and partner.
The Wings are enthusiastic Block Watch members
Heading home, I was feeling quite satisfied with my “boring” walk. My urban nature battery felt sufficiently recharged and I was ready to pack it in an have a cup of coffee when I heard THAT SOUND.
My husband says it’s the equivalent of the dog sensing a squirrel (SQUIRREL!!!)
Just as squirrels set Geordie’s every nerve end a-tingling, the the slightest whisper of a raven call carried on the wind does the same to me. Raven radar instantly engaged! At first I thought it might have been just wishful thinking, but there it was again . . .
While, it is lovely to have particular crow friends and to have eye to eye contact, they also communicate with you from afar. You simply have to tune into the crow wavelength.
It’s not always possible to have close encounters of the corvid kind.
You might live in place where peanut diplomacy is strictly forbidden, or maybe you’re in a rural area where crows tend to be a lot less trusting of humans than they are in the city. You may be away from your familiar crows in a new town.
But that’s OK — because their very presence, however distant, makes a difference. You just have to start start looking for the shapes they make against the sky.
Once you start noticing them they become like elegant punctuation, making sense of a garbled, run-on sentence of a world.
Crow signals can also guide you through the seasons.
In winter you’ll see couples snuggling close and building their bond in advance of the challenging nesting season to come.
You might also see some scenes like this as competition for the best nesting sites heats up . . .
Followed shortly by my favourite crow messages of hope and endeavour . . .
Later in the spring or summer, look for scenes like the one below.
(Will be accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of quarking begging cries from baby crows.)
The parent crows are grateful for a few brief moments of peace in the summertime.
By early autumn the baby crows are independent, and the post-summer socializing and harvest festival begins.
And then — here we go again — the leaves are gone and we see the crow couples settling back into their quiet winter routine.
Some miscellaneous messages from crows:
A sidelong glance at distant crow’s antics can make you laugh aloud.
Sometimes they can tell quite a long story in a fleeting moment.
So, some humans came this morning and cut down all of my trees, but they did leave this one branch, so I’m making a statement here about crow resilience and adaptability and how crows will likely inherit the earth …
The faraway and anonymous crow that inspired this whole post is in the photo below.
This bird performed a whole poem for anyone who happened to be looking up.
Flying very high, she suddenly dropped ten feet in a smooth barrel roll. For a moment I thought something was wrong, but she repeated her trick and I noticed she was dropping something from her beak and catching it over and over.
At last, she caught it for the last time and flew off to enjoy her prize.
The poem, as I interpreted it, covered subjects of exhilaration, skill, freedom, speed, risk, rushing air and pure fun.
The joy, on a hard day in a hard year, was contagious.
Crow therapy from afar. Keep an eye open for the signs!
This vintage wooden roller coaster at East Vancouver’s Playland is often ringed with crows as they enjoy a little sub-party on their way to or from the big roost at Still Creek.
When we walked by this morning, on this the last day of 2020, there was only a solitary crow. It sat alone with the whole row of coloured light bulbs all to itself. No roller coaster cars rattling by. No other crows.
Perhaps because I tend to view almost everything through a crow-shaped lens, our solo crow seemed an apt symbol for New Year’s Eve 2020.
No big parties. Many of us sitting at home viewing the world from a lonelier vantage point than we’re used to, especially on this night of the year.
Many of us with twinkly lights for mood lifting company.
To be honest, I always find New Year’s Eve to be a bit of a melancholy celebration. The lyrics to Auld Lang Syne make me feel a bit weepy. It’s early in the evening still here, so I’m not sure how I’ll be feeling by midnight.
Possibly more weepy than usual.
Possibly less, as the end of 2020 leaves little to regret.
However you’re feeling, remember (yet another treasure from my mother’s kit bag of handy sayings) “tomorrow is another day.”
And, also, another year.
And that day/year will have crows in it.
Crows you may know quite well, and other crows you may admire from afar and rashly imbue with symbolic importance.
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne
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.
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?
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.
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 …