Some Good News

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?

 

 

 

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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.

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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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.

Cocktail Party Guests

Cocktail hour is quite a big deal these days.

The rules are as follows: once the dog and cat have been fed (and they are very good at keeping us on schedule with that) it’s cocktail hour.

Actually, that’s about it really. So … rule. Singular.

As it’s still a bit chilly out, the front porch is the best bet for sitting al fresco without a blanket. Toque and down jacket, yes — but no blanket!

Photo 2020-04-12, 5 33 32 PM

Geordie, with  black and white tux colours and serious expression, does a passably good imitation of a maitre de in a very high class establishment.

Photo 2020-04-12, 6 22 22 PM

How are the first sips tasting, madam?

Really, it’s a highlight of the day. The only thing that could make it better?

Friends coming over, of course — but that’s not possible right now.

Or is it?

During cocktail hour a couple of days ago we noticed that we DID have company. Marvin and Mavis, after a hectic day of nest building, were enjoying the corvid equivalent of cocktail hour with us.

Bobbing gently in the breeze in the Katsura tree by the porch, they sat together, dozing, preening and softly chatting for a least half an hour.

Just as we were making a move to head inside, they flew off — only to replaced a second later by the next round of cocktail party guests — a pair of collared doves.

It was almost, almost, like sitting on the patio of one of favourite restaurants, enjoying a drink and some people (or in this case, bird) watching.

It’s the little things . . .

 

 

Young Ada The Crow

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.

Ada theCrow being curious.

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!

 

 

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White Wing the Crow

I don’t think I’ve written about Ms. Wing before, even though we’ve been acquainted for a few years now.

I see her less often than some of my other crow friends because she lives on the outer range of my dog walks. If I go another way, I won’t see her at all — and I didn’t see her for weeks this winter when my foot cast kept me tethered within a smaller radius of home.

But the thing about White Wing is that she knows me instantly, and I know her instantly too. She doesn’t really have a white wing: it’s more of a wonky feather. The first time I saw her, about three years ago, the light hit the crooked feather in a way that made the whole wing look snowy, so her name stuck.

And White Wing does sound more romantic than Wonky Feather, right?

I thought I’d write about her now because, while the present moment is really tough in most ways, it IS a good time to get out and get to know some local crows — and Ms. Wing is good example of the kind of crow that can be the key to starting to figure out the Who’s Who of your local crow-munity. Solving that identity puzzle is good motivation to get out for a walk, and figuring it out can be a great distraction from other news.

As soon as I’m near the block that the Wing family lives on, I can tell for sure that, of all other crows, this one is definitely her. Even from a distance.

And I can tell that her companion must be Mr. Wing. I determined that she is the Ms. in the equation because, of the two of them, she’s the one who disappears for a few weeks during the nesting season when she’s sitting on the eggs. Mr. Wing doesn’t really have any distinguishing features, but I can identify him because of his proximy to Ms. Wing.

This is how Crow Cluedo works.

A couple of times a year, at moulting season, and sometimes during nesting, White Wing’s twisted feather comes out, and she looks, briefly, like any other crow.

However, it always grows back in the same crooked way and, luckily, it doesn’t seem to affect her flying ability … or her self esteem.

Mind you, she can look just as bedraggled as any of the crows on a wet day …

As I mentioned, I didn’t see her for at least a couple of months over the winter, but as soon as I got to “her” corner she picked me out and came down, with a slightly aggrieved expression, as if to say “where the heck have you been?”

Most of the crows I’m lucky enough to have become acquainted with have some sort of physical anomaly that allows me to pick them out from the crowd.

  • Mabel has one damaged eye
  • Mr. Pants has his pantaloons, in season
  • Marvin, when he first appeared has somehow spilled paint on himself, which lasted all summer until moulting
  • George had his broken beak (although it was intact when we first met.)

Sometimes the differences are easily visible, like White Wing’s feather.

Things like Mabel’s damaged eye are harder to spot, but I have my long camera lens to help out. A small pair of binoculars would do the trick too.  Crows are very territorial during the day, so if you see the same “different” bird in the same spot a few times in a row — congratulations — you’ve solved the first layer of the corvid Rubik’s Cube!

Mabel the Magnificent

See also: Peanut Diplomacy.

Stay safe everyone, and try to balance the understandably constant craving for news with a spot of Crow Therapy.

Some other posts you might enjoy at this unsettled time:

 

 

 

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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.

A Small Care Package

I had meant to write another crow update blog post today, but somehow it was a bit hard to focus on pulling the images and words together.

So, instead, here is a small, somewhat random bouquet of things that are helpful for my mental health at this tough time. I hope they help you too.

First, here is Norman the Nuthatch visiting the garden this morning.

It’s just 5 seconds, but I find playing him over and over again kind of restful.

Second, here is Mr. Pants, looking at me from the wires on our morning dog walk.

Crow Therapy is proving to be a lifeline for me at the moment.

Third, in exceptionally good timing we have Luke the Super Emotional Support dog staying with us for the weekend. Triple-strength dog therapy with Geordie and Nina. They take their work very seriously.

Fourth, and last, we need Edgar’s advice …

As an indoor cat he is already a master of both social distancing and extreme cleanliness.

Further advice he would like to share:  stay safe, nap frequently, and be very kind to others.

 

 

 

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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.

The Inheritance

Another crow probably came before, but George Broken Beak was the first I knew of to claim the golden ring.

George, fall 2016

Mabel inherited it, and since George died in 2017,  only she has been allowed to perch there. Until very recently.

Mabel, February 2020

The coveted golden ring is actually a yellow metal loop on a yellow metal pole — one of a pair used to suspend the chain that guards the local elementary school parking lot.

A relatively humble throne, but apparently of great significance in the local crow pecking order. I have never seen, for example, Mabel’s new mate, Gus, sit upon it.

In January, Mabel on her post with Gus and one of the kids below.

As recently as February, Mabel seemed to retain exclusive rights to the perch. One day I was walking by and noticed  one of Mabel’s young ones come in for a landing on the revered ring. His claws a-l-m-o-s-t touched down before he remembered himself, making a last minute mid-air flight correction to land on a spot more befitting his station.

Whew, that was close …

Mabel must be getting on by now. Her one bad eye looks worse, although she is still apparently able to see out of it, and she still seems to more than hold her own with the other neighbourhood crows. But some sort of succession plan seems to be in the works.

Family meeting on the railings.

Just last week I walked by and saw a crow that I assumed was Mabel in her usual spot. But no, it was one of the youngsters, and Mabel was sitting by and watching with equanimity. In the photo below, the crow on the furthest spot from the post was Mabel, supervising and making no effort to chase the young one off.

Practice percher

The Heir Apparent, apparently.

I’ve been by a few times lately to see one of the young ones on the perch. I can’t tell if only one of them is favoured with the honour, or if they’re taking turns.

I’m hoping that, in spite of this apparent abdication, Mabel will be around for many years to come. She still seems to rule the neighbourhood with with a determined personality and impressive feather floofing technique.

I can usually tell it’s Mabel from a distance just from her silhouette — the fuzziness, and the attitude.

Mabel, Queen Boudicea of Crows

In looking for the first photo in this post, of George on his yellow perch, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole of memories of him and Mabel together.

Here’s just one of the photos of the two of them I found …

And here is Mabel, keeping on keeping on all these years later.

I photographed her just this afternoon in the plum tree, with spring just around the corner.

 

logo with crow

 

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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.

Mods and Rockers

Corvid fashion wars are being fought in our backyard right now.

Luckily the current battle is more about voguing than violence and we’ve seen nothing like the infamous Brighton riot fought by their human counterparts in 1964.

Marvin and Mavis clearly represent the Rockers in this fashion showdown, channeling their inner Marlon Brando at every opportunity.

Marvin - Mean Moody and Magnificent

Mean, moody and always magnificent.

Tougher than the toughest leather motor bike boots.

Marvin on the Roof

Call Of The Wild

While it was the human Rockers who flaunted the pompadour hairstyles, in this corvid context it’s our Mods — the fabulously flamboyant Steller’s jays — who sport the gravity defying up-do’s.

Wet Steller's Jay

Not to mention the spectacular trousers.

Steller's Jay tail feathers

Steller's Jay with Eyebrows

Some of the new visitors have very fashion forward white eyebrows

As I mentioned, the corvid contest has been peaceable and restricted to friendly fashion competition so far.

Two possible reasons for this. First, Marvin and Mavis seem far more concerned about keeping fellow crows, Mabel and her growing family, away from this end of the block. Second, both parties seem to be on board with the established backyard hierarchy. The Steller’s Jays will squawk and strut around the garden like fashion royalty.

Steller's Jay Call

Marvin and Mavis will look at them with a certain curiosity.

Mavis the Curious

But if Marvin and Mavis decide they’re coming in for peanuts, there’s no debate. The small gang of Steller’s Jays will immediately clear the premises, off to squawk at some other neighbours.

I mean, if you have feathers this gorgeous, would you want to mess them up in a brawl?

Stellers Jay on mossy log

Snow Crow

We’ll see how things progress, corvid rivalry-wise, as the season progresses.

Of course, an all-important element of Vancouver fashion is how well your look stands up to the elements. It’s no use heading out looking all put-together and perfect if everything falls apart at the first hint of weather.

When it comes to those blustery days, the Crows probably have a slight advantage over the Jays, not having those extra head feathers to worry about.

Windy Day Marvin

Windy day Steller's Jay

But in Vancouver, the most crucial consideration of all is how good you look in the rain. Here we see Marvin going up against one of the Jays in that very competitive category.

Rainy Day Marvin

Rainy Day Steller's Jay

Well … who do you think wears it best?

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Crow Therapy, January 2020

 

2020 has left me feeling rather hopeless so far. Everything I’ve thought of writing about seemed trivial to the point of being worthless.

As usual, it took a crow to get me to pull my metaphysical socks up.

It helped, I’m sure, that a day without rain permitted me and my air cast to venture out past the confines of the back yard.

It been early December since I’ve been able to get around far enough to check on the corvid situation and I was happy to get out and see Mabel and family, Art and the gang and Ada the young crow.

I’m not sure why, but it was Ada who adjusted my mindset.

I’d been thinking that posting pictures of crows and other birds on social media, even making art from my bird images, seemed just so inadequate. I should make more impactful, statement-making art.  I should quit taking photographs altogether and devote myself to action for climate, social and political justice.

Possibly all of those things are true, but Ada pointed out that sometimes the best thing you can do is keep on keeping on with the small, hopeful projects.

My photographing and writing about my local crows is unlikely to change the world.

I do have small, subversive ambitions. I hope that my words and images create familiarity with other species … leading to love and protective instincts … leading to action.

So, here is Ada.

She came down to see me and I put some peanuts down for her, but she was being intimidated by some more senior crows. She was tempted, I could see, to fly away and leave them to it, but she stood her ground.

You can see she gives a nervous little wing flap after the other crow caws above her, but ultimately decides to stick it out. She did get the peanuts in the end.

So, there you are. Just another little bird anecdote.

More coming in 2020.

If you feel you need daily #crowtherapy or #birdtherapy you can follow me on Instagram or Facebook, where I try to post at least once a day.

Ada also wanted me to pass this on. If you’d like to help out the countless creatures displaced and injured by the fires in Australia, you can donate to WIRES, an Australian non-profit wildlife rescue association. To help people who have lost everything in the bush fires, you can donate to the New South Wales Rural Fire service.