Nervous Nesting Notes

Crow couple photo

It’s a stressful time of year, nesting season.

Mostly for the birds, of course — but peripherally for those of us who anxiously watch the goings on.

Yesterday, for example, was very tense.

I don’t know where Marvin and Mavis are nesting this year. I used to be able to see them from my house, when they nested in the Notre Dame poplars and, for good or bad, could distantly watch every development.

In the absence of those trees, I mostly see them on construction fences of various kinds, or perched on the new duplex being built on the corner. Their nesting location this year remains a mystery.

I’m pretty sure they have built one nearby somewhere, as Mavis has been mostly absent for a few weeks, presumably sitting on eggs. One local nest possibility is a big tree in a neighbour’s garden. It looks like a pretty promising location — on paper — but they suffered a raccoon-related nesting disaster there about four years ago.

Crow collecting “soft furnishings” for final touches to a nest.

Yesterday it became clear that (a) someone WAS nesting in there and (b) raccoons have a good memory. We had a crow riot as about a dozen birds whirled round the tree, calling angrily from nearby wires and diving into the branches from time to time.

At first I couldn’t see the raccoon, but  eventually spotted her on a neighbour’s deck, moving somewhat clumsily up to the drain pipe …

Raccoon on a drainpipe

… and from there to the roof to examine the feasibility of leaping directly back into the tree.

In the end, she decided the jump was too much, but must have found another way up as the frenzied cawing went on from the afternoon and into the evening.

I imagine the raccoon probably got what she was after in the end. They usually do, in spite of all the crow racket and, after all, she doubtless had hungry kits waiting at home.

Many crows came to harangue the raccoon and, while I’m sure Marvin and Mavis were among them. I don’t know if this was actually their nest or not. Only time will tell, I say to myself, in an effort to see the big “Nature Unfolding” picture without giving myself a heart attack in the process.

The local bald eagles are another constant threat to the crows’ nests. They have their own nest nearby and cruise the neighbourhood several times a day, inevitably pursued by large groups of irate crows.

Crows pursuing a bald eagle

In the photos above you can see how close the crows are willing to get to those big claws. In the second photo the crow looks as if he’s trying to grab the eagle by the tail and pull the bigger bird back. You can also see that, in the eagle claws, is a bird  — most likely a crow fledgling.

So, you see what I mean about this being a tense few weeks!

In other, less traumatic, nesting news   — I’m starting to see the breeding female crows again. In April it’s as if they’ve all  joined a witness protection program, suddenly disappearing from sight in order to sit (ever so, ever so, quietly) on the nest.  If you hear a subtle croak from the nest in April, it’s most likely not a hungry fledgling, but a female quietly reminding her mate that he needs to bring her a snack. The males are also quiet and uncharacteristically low key. Definitely not the time of year to be drawing any unnecessary attention to yourself and give hints to nest location.

White Wing and her mate live on a shady street with a lot of big trees and she’s usually among the first of the local female crows to disappear into the nest. She reappeared this week, indicating that the eggs have probably hatched, and now she’s joining her mate in foraging for food for those endlessly hungry little beaks.

It also seems that, perhaps to entertain herself during those  tedious weeks on the eggs, White Wing was taking language lessons as this (earlier this week) was the first time I’ve ever heard her make sounds like this.

Just around the corner, Mr. Walker has been seen solo for a number of weeks now, keeping lookout on his favourite tree.

In recent days he’s been absent too, so I imagine he and his mate are being kept extremely busy somewhere up in the leafy branches.

In the next few weeks, I hope to see some of these little faces popping up around the neighbourhood.

The parents will be fiercely protective, especially during that high risk period when the baby is out of the nest but can’t fly. There may well be some dive bombing of unwary humans. But we should try to remember how hard these crow parents have worked to get that little fledgling to this stage, how many perils there were along the way, how many more dangers still stand between this little crow and adulthood. The crow parents may seem a little crazy at this time of year, but if you know the backstory you can understand why.

A few tips to avoid being dive bombed:

  • Avoid the area for a week or two if possible;
  • Put fake eyes on the back of a hat (they won’t dive bomb if they think you’re looking right at them;
  • Use an umbrella;
  • Leave a peanut or two as a token of peace.

More about crow nesting season in last week’s Georgia Straight (with Mavis on the cover.)

 

And remember, fingers crossed, in a few weeks time we should be getting to know some brand new crow friends in the neighbourhood!

One of Mabel’s fledglings, summer 2020, with tell tale blue eyes and pink beak edges.

 

 

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Crowpocalypse 2015

The summer of 2015 had been a rough one for crows. Actually it’s been tough for urban wildlife of all kinds, but since I watch the crows so much, I’ve been feeling their pain especially.

Crow silhouette against the eery red sunrise caused by smoke from forest fires

Crow silhouette against the eery red sunrise caused by smoke from forest fires in areas around Vancouver.

Raising fledglings is hard work at the best of times – constant feeding, along with perpetual vigilance against the usual dangers – racoons, hawks, eagles, cars, cats etc.  Added to the usual list of challenges this summer: high winds (just when babies were emerging from the nest), heat and drought, served with a garnish of forest fire smoke.

Tired crow parents, made fierce by anxiety, are prone to dive bombing unwary human pedestrians every nesting season. It seemed to me that they were even more ferocious than usual this year.

Furious guardian

Ferocious parent gives a warning to passers by. Stay away from my fledglings. Or else …

Who could blame them?

It was too hot for me to venture out at all after noon on days when the temperatures soared this summer. Pity the poor crow parent – obliged to fly about relentlessly, heat or no heat, seeking tasty morsels food satisfy their perpetually hungry, pink-mouthed babies.

Feed me, feed me, feed me ...

Feed me, feed me, feed me …

One of Eric's fledglings waits impatiently for a snack.

One of Eric’s fledglings waits impatiently for a snack.

Eric feeds one of his two babies

Tea time!

Even worse than the heat — drought. Until the fledglings learn to fly a longer distance, I don’t know how the parents keep them hydrated.

Eric and his family (for reasons I will go into) have been avoiding my garden and the bird bath there. Worried for them, I’ve been making early morning trips to their “territory” at the end of out street with a saucer of water and a few nuts.

Almonds and a fresh saucer of water

Eric enjoys some almonds and a fresh saucer of water!

All of the crows, even Eric the Elegant, are looking terribly bedraggled this summer. They began their moult in early July. This is a normal occurrence, but usually happens at the end of the summer. I can only imagine that the scorching temperatures must have brought it forward. The ground is littered with black feathers.

Eric Moulting

Earlier this year I read the wonderful book, Corvus, by Esther Woolfson. From her writing, I learned that the moulting process makes birds rather irritable and out of sorts.

One of thousands and thousands of dropped feathers.

One of thousands and thousands of dropped feathers.

In the garden in early summer we had Hank and Vera. After weeks of diligent nest construction and guarding, they lost their eggs to a hungry racoon. They remained for a while and then moved on. Here they are during the period in July when Vancouver’s air quality was affected by forest fires in surrounding areas – looking rather sepia in the smokey atmosphere.

Sepia Vera

Sepia Vera

Sepia Hank

Sepia Hank

When Hank and Vera left, I thought Eric and his family would return to the garden. Instead, I found that they would come to my front gate,  looking for handouts, but would never, ever venture into the back garden. Eric’s fledglings even adopted a “silent” begging mode, going through all of the usual baby crow pleading motions, but without sound. Its almost as if they didn’t want to attract the attention of other crows.

Eric in sepia

Eric in on the front fence (in sepia)

Meanwhile, Hank and Vera had been replaced in the back garden by another crow family – two devoted parents with a very homely looking fledgling. The baby crow had various lumps under his beak, and eventually on his feet too. Luckily, a sharp eyed visitor to my Facebook page, where I’d posted a photo of the new baby, pointed out that it could be a case of avian pox.

Sick baby crow

I checked the symptoms with the wonderful people at Wildlife Rescue Association BC and they confirmed that this was likely the case. Avian pox is highly contagious among many bird species, harmless to humans.

I always keep my birdbath and feeders clean, but on hearing this news I’ve started cleaning the birdbath in particular with bleach twice a day. I don’t normally like using bleach, but apparently only a 10% solution of bleach to water is effective against the virus. You can read more about this illness in Corvid Research’s wonderful blog, here.

My theory is that Eric and his family know that there is a sick crow around, and that is why they haven’t returned to their old stomping grounds. I am heartened to think that this is yet another example of crow intelligence.

Clara

Eric’s mate, Clara.

Eric and his mate, Clara, started out with four fledglings. It’s to their credit that they have, so far, managed to nurse two of them through a very rough summer.

Eric baby

One of Eric’s two youngsters – already looking like a chip off the old block, and wonderfully healthy, thank goodness.

If you like crows in general and Eric in particular, you can follow my Facebook page for regular updates. Also, stay tuned to my website for news of a 2016 City Crow calendar, featuring the adventures of Eric and his family.

logo with crow

Look out – Crow!

Dive bombing crows are in the news again.
A scary experience for pedestrians, but it may help to know why they do it.

Incoming

Imagine this. You and your sleep-deprived spouse have just had triplets. A few days after they’re born they have the mobility capacity of toddlers — combined with the burning desire to see the world and the “I-can-do-it” attitude of teenagers!

They’ve got the keys to the car but have had no driving lessons.

They don’t know anything about “stranger danger”.

Is this food?

Is this food?

At the same time, they’re loudly demanding food and attention every moment of the day.

You’d be kind of wild-eyed too. You’d be prone to acts of desperate bravado to keep danger away, just until the kids get the hang of the flying business and the basics of urban survival.

 

Please may I have some more …?

If I just jump and keep flapping everything will be OK, right?

If I just jump and keep flapping everything will be OK, right?

If you know there are worry-crazed parent crows in your neighbourhood, I hope you’ll try to forgive their seemingly aggressive behaviour. It will pass soon, once the kids are just a little older.

In the meantime, give them a wide berth — or use an umbrella for protection. Maybe soothe their frazzled nerves and offer a bribe by dropping a few peanuts.
Try to put yourself in their shoes/claws for a minute.

Crow Family Moment

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logo with crow

Dive Bombed by Crows!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you have recently been terrorized by seemingly deranged crows — it’s likely because the crows ARE slightly unhinged. Like all new parents they are consumed by the fear that something is going to happen to their newborns. In the case of crows, the danger to their offspring is very real. Strolling along the boulevard, you may not see yourself as a threat to junior — but the hyper-vigilant parents can’t really tell you apart from real danger (cats, off leash dogs, eagles, racoons, cars etc). So please try to have some sympathy for their soaring stress level, and don’t feel too victimized. It’s not personal! Plus, dive-bombing season should be coming to an end soon as the babies become less vulnerable.

Here’s a guide I created to help you spot baby crows. They’re surprisingly adorable once you start noticing them. Don’t get too close though — remember those protective parents!

Guide to Baby Crows