Earl and Echo’s Very Busy Summer

While some crow couples in the neighbourhood are now seeing glimpses of light at the end of the parenting tunnel, Earl and Echo are still in the thick of it.

They were about three weeks behind the Wings and the Bongos in the fledging launching stakes this year. I was beginning to wonder if they’d have any success at all but, near the end of June, Earl and Echo’s territory was suddenly full of noisy babies (I counted four) with the parents racing between them and trying to keep them fed, quiet and generally under the radar of local predators.

Two of the new fledglings, one napping, June 24 2023

Fierce Earl on guard

Earl is identifiable, even when flying, by his one bent leg

Earl — incoming!

Echo is identifiable by her one blind eye and constant head bobbing movement

Vision problems notwithstanding, little gets past Echo

In spite of their various physical obstacles, Earl and Echo are fierce and competent parents. Through the long dry summer, fraught with the usual fledgling-perils, they’ve managed to shepherd three of the original four to crow teen-dom. An impressive feat for any crow couple.

Earl with two of the youngsters in mid-July

Earl and one of the kids last week — you can see how badly bent his poor leg is

Most of the other crow parents have now weaned their fledglings from begging for food (via a combination of studious ignoring and the occasional well-aimed peck.) Because Earl and Echo were late starters this year, they’re still having to put up with a certain amount of teen angst.

Earl seems to be almost blown off his feet by the sheer volume of whinging

The combination of ceaseless parenting  and moulting season have both Earl and Echo looking distinctly the worse for wear at the moment.

Earl this morning, sporting the classic “reverse-mullet” typical of this stage in moulting

Note the scratch marks on Earl’s well-worn beak, as well as the tiny new pin feathers coming in on his face

When not following the small details of individual crows’ lives around the neighbourhood, I’ve continued to think of them from a more “zoomed out” perspective, with all of their potential as messengers, if only we will take a moment to try and listen to what they have to say.

Whenever I’m in this frame of mind, I go back to the more abstract thinking that led to the crow typewriter idea. Lately, among other things, I’ve been working on a more stylized “sans-serif” version of the Crowphabet.

Here’s a little preview, spelling out the names of today’s crows.


For more on Earl and Echo:





© junehunterimages, 2023. 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 Crow Summer of ’23

I’ve been putting off this post because, as you may have guessed from my last mention of the Walker crows, things have not been going well for them. I know this update will make many of you sad, as it has me.

Their tragedy, set in the context of this summer’s many, many heartbreaking tragedies, can seem like “hill of beans” material; and yet, I keep watching, thinking about and reporting on the crows’ lives because I believe to my core, that we need to watch them all — the small pictures and the big picture.

For the Walkers, things went from pretty good, to very bad, to surprisingly hopeful, to disaster in a few months. To recap: by mid-April, they seemed all systems go for nesting when Mr. Walker suffered his eye injury, which put everything on hold as he recovered. By the first week of May, they were back in the nesting game. The next challenge was the empty lot next to them suddenly sprouting a massive new structure which surprisingly brought a lot of human activity right up to nest level.

The Walkers met that unexpected challenge and, in  what seemed to be the final victory, got both of the two fledglings safely down out of the high nest. I really thought the odds had turned in their favour at this point.

Two Walker fledglings safely fledged

It was right at this point that Mr. Walker just disappeared. I walked that block time after time, day after day trying to spot him but only found a very exhausted Wanda (who is also blind in one eye) braving the hot dry weather, trying to keep the two fledglings fed and out of danger.

Mr. Walker, last seen around July 12

Walker Baby on July 13

Walker Fledgling on July 19

Wanda doing her best as a single parent


Exhausted Wanda

Wanda’s impaired vision has always made it hard for her to make a smooth landing on branches. I guess her depth perception is a bit off, so she was crashing from one tree to another trying her best to keep the young ones safe. But there was one danger she couldn’t keep at bay. The first baby to fledge, and then the second, started showing signs of avian pox around the beak and eyes. They are the only crows I’ve seen recently with the pox, and I won’t post photos as I just can’t bear to look at them myself. I’m not sure why these two came down with it when all of the other local fledglings I’ve seen look healthy — but I do know that having the variety that infects the beak and eye area is usually fatal.

I was away for five days for the Hornby Island trip and went up to the Walkers’ area as soon as I got back to see how things were going, only to find an eerie silence. No baby begging sounds and no Wanda. No Walkers at all, in fact — from four Walkers in early July to zero Walkers a month later

I go back at least once, often twice, a day to see if I see anyone. I have occasionally thought I caught a glimpse of Wanda, but I can’t be sure. As always, watching and becoming fond of wild creatures is, as my husband always says, “not all beer and skittles.” It does require a willingness to have your heart broken (and yet hold on to a small patient hope that fall might bring some sort of miraculous return.)

Mr. Walker in happier times, spring 2022

In Happier News …

Other local crow families are faring better – the Wings, the Bongos and the very busy Earl and Echo have managed to get through the season, although all are looking a bit bedraggled as they combine the later-stage fledgling care with a moult that seems to have started earlier than usual for some of them.

More on them in the coming days …



© junehunterimages, 2023. 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 Amazing Long-eared Owl

Crows bring people gifts.

The gifts most often talked about are the tangible kind — little bits and bobs left by crows for their human friends, seemingly in gratitude for peanuts or other treats.

But the bigger gift they give, for me at least, is their habit of yelling at me “Oi, you! Yes — you! Come over here and have a look at this, right now!” on a regular basis.

When I hear the crows making a ruckus I always, if I possibly can, change plans and go see what it’s all about.

Invariably, it’s something.

Occasionally, it’s something amazing.

Always worth the diversion!

Yesterday, Geordie and I set out on the morning walk, following the usual route to say hi to the Walkers and Wings when crows from near and far started flying over us to a tree a couple of blocks north. They were kicking up a crowcophany audible around the neighbourhood.

Naturally, we immediately made a sharp detour to see what was going on.

I peered at the tree from a variety of angles but couldn’t see what the fuss was about until a woman walking by on the other side of the road said she could see something —maybe an owl!

Not only was it an owl, it was an owl with what looked like ENORMOUS ears. I had a quick look at my Sibley’s bird guide phone app and thought that ears of this magnitude could only belong to the aptly named Long-eared Owl. But, reading on, I saw they were “rare or uncommon” — so that didn’t seem too likely for an urban East Vancouver street tree.

Various other neighbours, of the human variety, stopped by to see what the crow noise was about and we all gazed up into the branches. It was a “Where’s Waldo” situation as the owl was so well camouflaged, and the tree so big, that if you took your eyes off it for a moment it was really hard to locate again.

After about half an hour, most of the crows moved on to other crow business, leaving just the local family to keep an eye on the owl interloper. They would ignore the visitor for a while, pecking around nearby lawns in search of worms and then come back every 15 minutes or so for some pro forma cawing — just in case the owl was getting ideas.


Here’s how All About Birds describes the Long-eared Owl …

Long-eared Owls are lanky owls that often seem to wear a surprised expression thanks to long ear tufts that typically point straight up like exclamation marks. These nocturnal hunters roost in dense foliage, where their camouflage makes them hard to find, and forage over grasslands for small mammals. Long-eared Owls are nimble flyers, with hearing so acute they can snatch prey in complete darkness. In spring and summer, listen for their low, breathy hoots and strange barking calls in the night.

Surprised expression … check!

All owls excel at looking surprised, but this one definitely earned top marks for channeling pure astonishment.

Long ear tufts like exclamation marks … check!

These aren’t the owl’s real ears — just rather spectacular feather tufts (called plumicorns) that are used to funnel sound into the actual ears, which are cavities asymmetrically positioned on each side of the head. This asymmetry enables the Long-eared owl to hone in on prey by sound alone. The location of the tiniest sound (a leaf or blade of grass rustling, a small movement under a foot of snow) is narrowed down by the way the sounds arrive at each ear cavity at minutely different times, telling the bird whether dinner is to the left or right, up or down.

If you’d like to read more about the marvel of owl hearing and navigation, there are all kinds of amazing articles available. Owls and Owl Hearing is one of them.

Hey, check out my groovy plumicorns!

Owls always seem relatively relaxed when mobbed by crows. This owl was pretty small — about the same size as the crows, so you’d think they might feel threatened.

A glance at the heft of the their feet and the dagger-like sharpness of those claws may give a clue to why they seem so unworried by the crow clamour.

I’m not sure why this lovely owl was caught out in the open in the daylight like this. Perhaps they got carried away with hunting the night before and didn’t leave enough time to get to a more private place for day-time rest. We went back this morning to see if he or she was still there — which would have been worrying  — but saw no sign of them.

I hope, like the barred owl that rested in a tree in front of our house for a whole day a few years ago,  this Long-eared relative just waited until dusk until it was time to fly off into the darkness and become a hunting ghost — and that, today, they’re sleeping peacefully in a more tranquil location.

Oh, and I’m pretty certain now, rare or not, this was in fact a Long-eared owl, bringing an amazing day to our rather urban little neighbourhood.

Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds section on Long-eared owls

This owl was so well camouflaged in the tree there’s no way at all I would have spotted him or her without the crows leading me.

I know the crows had their own reasons for kicking up a fuss — owls are on the crow “naughty list,” along with any other creature that will prey on adult or fledgling crows or eggs — and so will be mobbed by the well organized Crow Cooperative in order to encourage the danger to move on to less rowdy prey.

Crow don’t waste their energy on these loud protests, so it’s always worthwhile to go check them out. While helping us with birdwatching isn’t their goal, it’s a service they do offer if we’re willing to take the help.

Just happening to see amazing birds while watching crows is a little different from “regular” bird watching in that you have to wait for the sighting to come to you, rather than seeking it out.

And, when it does come, out of the blue, it feels more like a gift that a personal achievement.

Other “gifts” I’ve been given by following crows include a juvenile eagle, other owls, coyotes, raccoons, a peregrine falcon, hawks, ravens and, one especially miraculous day, a runaway dog that had been missing for six weeks.

You can read about some of these special events in earlier blog posts:

While that crow “wall of sound” can be a little irritating if you’re seeking peace and quiet, I do suggest that you occasionally give in to your curiosity and go see what it’s all about.

You never know, it might just be a rare owl sighting right outside your door!


© junehunterimages, 2022. 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.