In Memory of George

 


I knew I’d be upset when, inevitably, something happened to one of my crow acquaintances.

Even so, I’m surprised at how many tears I’ve shed since burying my pal, George Brokenbeak.

He’s laid to rest on the “garden of tears” side of the yard, along with countless beloved goldfish and hamsters, and the late Elvis (our cat, not the human — although there was some confusion about that when my son was little …)

George has been gone since Friday, but I didn’t want to cast sadness over the long weekend by writing about it then. I don’t really want to write about it now because it makes me cry again, but I thought you’d want to know.

On Friday morning I got a phone call from a friend and fellow dog walker (two rescue Westies.)  We often stop and chat about the foibles of our dogs, and the comings and goings of the local crows. He knew George quite well, because he and Mabel were spending the summer hanging out behind his house — and dunking food in his dogs’ water bowl. George, in fact, was a minor local celebrity.

Not nearly as famous as Canuck, his much more well known fellow corvid, but known in this immediate neighbourhood for his friendly manner, as well as his distinctive profile.

You could tell George in profile from far away. He and Mabel, sharing a quiet moment in the poplars in my “Delicate Balance” image.

My friend had found George lying dead earlier that morning, and he knew I’d want to know.

Since about May, George and Mabel stopped coming to my garden, staying closer to their annual nesting site a block or so away. Still, I’d see them almost every day when out walking the dog. We’d exchange pleasantries and peanuts.

I last saw him what must have been a day or two before he died.  All of the crows are looking pretty scruffy at the moment with the molting season underway, so if he looked a bit the worse for wear, I didn’t worry too much.

I think this may be the last picture I took of George.

It’s been a long, hot, dry summer in British Columbia. As a result, many parts of the province are, or have been, on fire. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and many have lost everything. Livestock and wildlife up there have died.

Here in Vancouver, we’re lucky to only have the smoke to contend with, blocking a lot of the summer sun.

The sun rises in the eerie smoke-filled sky behind the Iron Workers’ Memorial Bridge in East Vancouver.

But from an urban wildlife perspective, this summer is a disaster. We had less than two mm of rain in July.  None so far in August. Every puddle dried up weeks ago. Any worms must be ten feet down in the earth by now. I’ve seen skunks wandering the streets in broad daylight. They’re normally nocturnal and shy, so this is stressed behaviour. This morning I saw two coyotes on the corner of our block, again in daylight.

In the end, I’m not sure what killed George, but I suspect that, with the extra challenge of his broken beak, it was just too hard to get enough to eat and drink. I’ve been putting water out in front and back of my house, and over by the school at the end of the street. I know George had access to my friend’s dogs’ water bowls, but possibly it was too hard for him to drink efficiently enough for these harsh conditions.

George was found lying at the end of our alley — just a few houses from my back yard. I can’t help wondering if he was making his way back, coming for a drink in the birdbath and some peanuts. I hadn’t seen him anywhere near that part of our neighbourhood since May, so he was on some kind of special mission.

There was no crow funeral being held for George when I got there.  He was just lying there, looking rather peaceful. No signs of injury.

At first I thought I’d just leave him to Nature. Or the City coming to pick him up. In the end, I just couldn’t do it. I came home, put my rubber gloves on, and found a shoe box.

I dug a deep hole in the pet graveyard, wrapped George in a linen napkin, and sprinkled flowers on him. I’m sure he didn’t care about any of this, but it made me feel a little better. I placed a flat stone on his grave and stencilled a crow silhouette on it.

Let future archaeologists make of this what they may.

My daughter summed it up well when she replied to my distraught text with the words: “He was a good crow.” Indeed he was. Perhaps it was just his time to go, two years after his original beak injury. For some reason I had come to think he was immortal.

To read more about the wonder that was George, you can visit earlier stories:

And, in consideration of the thirsty and distressed birds out there, please think about putting a shallow bowl of water out for them wherever you can.

I’m sure George would approve.

www.junehunter.com

PS I know you’ll be wondering what’s become of Mabel. She is still hanging in there, over in the other alleyway. I walked by there this morning to give her my sympathy (and some peanuts.)

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“Spooky” Halloween Crows

I always love to see crows, but I must admit I’m always a bit sad to see them typecast as harbingers of death and all things spooky, especially at Halloween.

crow stamps

I was torn between excitement at seeing a crow on a book of stamps I just bought at the post office, and disappointment that they were supposed to be “haunted”.

My new “red sky crow” pendant would seem, at first blush, to be part of the problem.

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But, I’d like people who wear it to know the actual story behind the image. It’s a story that paints a truer picture of people being far, far scarier than crows.

This summer in Vancouver was rather frightening. I wrote something about it in my early blog, Crowpocalypse 2015.

In some ways it was great — day after day of dry sunny weather. Great for the beach and outdoor activities. But it was a brutal summer too, with the drought making the usual summer wildfire season much more severe. Lack of water made it a disastrous summer for wildlife of all kinds.

Red sunrise

During the hottest part of the summer I was in the habit of getting up early to walk and work before it got too warm. In July there were so many forest fires in the surrounding areas that Vancouver was blanketed in smoke for several days. At dawn things looked particularly apocryphal when the sun rose, an eerie red ball on the horizon.

Smokey the Crow

Smokey the Crow

So, this is where the Red Sky Crow came from. It’s not a spooky Halloween Crow at all. In fact it’s a “wake up people and smell the climate-change coffee” sort of crow.

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Red Dawn Crow

It just so happens that the colours of the image and pendant are perfect for Halloween and fall – but if you do wear it, or see someone else wearing it  — remember (and share) the real scary story behind it.

Red Sky Crow Pendant

I suppose everyone has their own opinion of crows. I think of them as beautiful, wise, powerful, agile, funny, social and symbolic, but never spooky.

And don’t forget, tomorrow …CROW VOTER

If you’d like to celebrate the beauty and intelligence of crows all through 2016, check out my City Crow calendar.

Eric Calendar cover and back

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www.junehunter.com

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.

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