Flicker Family Saga – Part One

This gripping tale is a repost from nesting season 2017 … enjoy!

Northern Flicker profile close up, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

I didn’t realize it was going to turn into a saga, but now I’ve accumulated about a hundred photos of our local Northern Flicker family, chronicling their ups and downs over the last few weeks.

I kept meaning to post some as things unfolded, but it turned into such a roller coaster, I didn’t want to start telling the story until I had an idea of how tragic (one a scale of one to three) the ending would be.

Now the number of images is just out of control. I feel as if I have the makings of a small novel! And, besides, who knows what the conclusion will be in any family’s story?

So here is part one of the Flicker Family album.

It began earlier this summer when I noticed a lot of flicker calling going on all around the house and garden. This handsome fellow was to be seen, with his mate, working away with their beaks at a hole in the plum tree right in front of our house.

Northern Flickers are a type of woodpecker, and quite common in Vancouver. In fact, they were the runners-up in the recent vote to elect an official bird to represent the city. You can tell the males from the females by the dashing red “moustache” at the base of their beaks.

After a few more weeks, strange noises began to come from the tree.

The flicker pair were on ferocious guard at all times. Here’s the dad, holding the fort against a marauding squirrel. The squirrel eventually gave up and snuck away down the far side of the tree trunk.

Below, you can see the female flicker on the lower part of the tree. If you look closely, you can see also the male’s head peeking out from the nest hole further up.

Northern Flicker profile pair at nest, photograph by June Hunter, 2017

Here’s Mom visiting the feeder in the garden. She was usually in the nest and you can see that her feathers were getting a bit dishevelled in the confined space.

Dad on guard, nest bottom right.

 *** PART TWO OF THE FLICKER FAMILY SAGA COMING TOMORROW ***

*** STAY TUNED! ***

PART TWO now published. Read on HERE.

 

Meanwhile – in an unrelated Flicker incident, we had the …

FLICKER IN THE STUDIO FIASCO

In late June a neighbour brought me a flicker that she saw hit by a car as she was waiting for a bus on a main street near here. The bird was stunned and in danger of getting hit again, so she and her son braved the pointy beak and picked him up to bring to me.  The plan was I’d keep an eye on him and see if he needed to go to the wonderful people at Wildlife Rescue for treatment.

I put him in a covered box and I moved it into the studio to keep warm. But then I noticed that the scrap of towel I’d put in the box to pad it had become a bit unraveled, and a thread was wrapped around the flicker. I tried to carefully untangle it and … of course … the bird got out of the box and suddenly regained his powers of flight.

Part bird, part Swiffer, he scooped up some cobwebs from the skylight.

Understandably scared, he took cover behind just about every counter and work table in the place, then flying up the skylight (and doing a bit of dusting for me as he went.)

Luckily he finally made its way to a window that I could open for him.

Apart from never wanting to be in a studio again, he seemed fine as he soared off in the direction he’d been rescued from.

 

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Random Wednesday Beauty

Just a quick little post today as I have to turn my hand to cake-making shortly. Wish me luck, as I’m a bit of a hit and miss baker these days, due to lack of practice.

But it’s my husband’s 68th birthday tomorrow, so a cake must be made, since no shopping can be done. The Mississippi Mud Cake contains bourbon, so how bad could it be, really?

I always like walking in alleyways, just because they off an interesting view of the neighbourhood, and are full of randomly dilapidated beauty.

Now they have the added advantage of fewer people, so higher score on the social distance-o-meter.

Unusually crowded alleyway moment.

Topographical view of a verdant landscape.

Those colours are almost as good as a tropical vacation. Feel free to squint your eyes and pretend its palm trees and a Caribbean sea.

Blue and Gold, Van Gogh colours in an old wheelbarrow.

Meanwhile, on our front street, the Spring Thing is going ahead as scheduled, in spite of everything.

 

You might also enjoy these older posts:

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

In Other News …

Partly to distract myself from the actual news, partly to distract you, here is a long overdue local crow news update.

Finally out of my foot cast, I’m really appreciating being able to get about and check what’s going on with my various crow pals.

So much to catch you up on! I think it’s best I divide this into instalments lest I overwhelm you with it all.

Let’s start today with the general crow mood.

Apparently, one in three crows already think it’s time to get started on the nest.

Three crows silhouette

The air is full of pre-nesting season energy. In previous years I’ve noticed Marvin and Mavis starting to gather twigs as soon as the blossoms are fully out on the plum trees on our street. Almost there now!

In the meantime, there are lots of crow-diverting things going on.

And it’s always worth going to see what the commotion is about.

On one dog walk this week we first saw the conductor with his orchestra.

A walk down the alley where they were performing revealed the reason …

Raccoon under gate

By far the most spectacular gathering was a few days ago when a whole street was suddenly full of crow fury. Trees up and down the block were venues for cacophonous corvid conventions. No “social distancing” or Skype meetings for them, obviously.

All the fury was directed to one chimney, and once I got to the right angle I could see a lone raven trying to enjoy a leisurely brunch on the conveniently flat surface.

Judging by the feathers that floated from the “table” it looked as if a mid-sized bird (possibly a robin) was on the menu.

Even though the raven wasn’t feasting on one of their own, and even though they’re a relative, the crows were in full attack. The raven is permanently on the crows’ naughty list because they will, when the time is right, snatch crow eggs and fledglings.

In spite of their best efforts, the raven spent a good fifteen minutes in the chosen spot finishing their meal.

 

The owner of the chimney came out, wondering why her house was under attack. While I was explaining what was going on the raven finished their snack and flew off.

Today was quieter — a blustery day, so a lot of just-for-fun windborn antics and posing.

Tomorrow I’ll update you on the specific news re. the various crow groups. Quite a few to get through — Marvin & Mavis, Mabel and family, The Pantses, Art and his family, Young Ada — so I think I’ll tackle one a day till we’re up to date.

Think of it a little corvid gossip to break up all the COVID19 news.

 

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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.

 

George and Mabel – A Love Story

George and Mabel, a Love Story

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, this is a re-post of the popular 2017 George and Mabel: A Love Story 

They say that crows usually mate for life.  George and Mabel have certainly stuck together through good, and some very bad, times — so, in honour of Valentine’s Day, here is their story.

I wrote about some of their trials and tribulations about a year ago in the blog post George’s Tough Year. This is the next instalment of their story.

In spite of babies lost to illness  and a seemingly catastrophic injury, George has kept on keeping on and, with the help of his mate, Mabel, seems to be thriving.

We never did figure out what exactly caused George’s beak to break. Theories have included: crash landing; attack from other birds; and a run in with a rat trap. I don’t think George is going to tell me any time soon. In any case, I hardly think he notices his half-beak any more.

He’s developed his own method of scooping up food, turning his head upside down for a more efficient “shovelling” action.

George the Crow eating peanuts

You would think that other crows would take advantage of George’s disability, but he and Mabel, as a team, are a force to be reckoned with. While George comes down to pick up their breakfast, Mabel stands guard on a higher roof and warns of incoming interlopers.

Fluffy Mabel the Crow

Mabel on Guard

George’s great advantage over other crows is that he’s not afraid of me at all. If I’m present, the other crows are too afraid to come and eat, while George regards me as his personal catering manager. If I forget one of his “snacks” he will perch right by my studio and stare meaningfully at me through the window until I get the message.

George on the Bird FeederIn 2015 they had a baby but s/he was terribly afflicted by avian pox and died as soon as the cold weather came. Last summer I watched carefully to see what would happen. They had two babies. One didn’t make it, but the second is hanging in there. Boy/Girl George, as I like to call him/her has a small foot deformity, but has survived a bitterly cold winter, so fingers crossed.

George and Mabel's Baby Crow

Boy/Girl George

George and Mabel are working incessantly to make sure their offspring thrives. After George has collected the food I put out (and he can cram an amazing amount into his gullet and beak) he flies off to share the bounty with Mabel and the baby. I think George is trying to show Junior the food collecting ropes, but s/he remains skittish about coming too close for now.

Baby Crow and Parent

Mom and Baby

Crow family in silhouette

So this Valentine’s Day, we can celebrate the many kinds of love. From the giddy excitement of first infatuation, to the less dramatic but lifelong kind that George and Mabel enjoy.

George and Mabel Crows in the Snow

 

Crow Love

Happy Valentine’s Day!

2020 Update

Some of these pictures may look familiar. This may be because you read my blog post when it came out in 2017, or it could be because some of these photographs were taken without permission and used in a fabricated crow love story that went wildly viral across the internet. The story here is the true story of George and Mabel, and these (as with all of the images in my blog posts) are my photographs.

Sadly, George passed away the summer after I wrote this story. He is buried in my garden. See: In Memory of George

George and Mabel’s offspring did survive and Mabel is still thriving. She eventually found a new mate and in the spring of 2019 they had three babies, two of which survived and are still hanging around with mom and dad. See More on Mabel

 

 

 

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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.


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Crow Collective

In spite of local squabbles, crows will come together for a crisis. Instantly.

Border skirmishes, crow etiquette lapses, hereditary rivalries  — all forgotten in a corvid heartbeat when the alarm call goes out.

Peregrine falcon in the ‘hood!

People sometimes consider crows’ mobbing behaviour towards larger birds as somehow mean. The collective noun, a “murder” of crows, is referenced, darkly.

To me, it’s one of their more admirable features — having the sense to know that they’re stronger together, and the ability to put aside individual differences in the face of a common danger.

Raccoons, coyotes, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls and even their own cousin, the raven, are considered enemies by crows. All of these creatures will snatch and eat juvenile crows and/or crow eggs, thus earning themselves a permanent spot on the crows’ “naughty” list.

It’s not that they’re really naughty, of course — just doing what nature dictates — going out grocery shopping for the family. The same applies to crows when they feed on smaller birds, and on through the spiralling circle of life.

While nesting season is over now, and most juvenile crows are now smart and fast enough to stay out of the way of the falcon (who is more likely on the lookout for a tasty pigeon) the crow response to a “sometimes-crow-predator” in the neighbourhood is automatic.

Every crow drops what they’re doing and flies off to join the collective effort to repel the enemy. Their job is to convince the “threat” that crows are just way too much bother and get them to move along and become someone else’s problem.

Individual crows will swoop very close to the offending predator. Sometimes too close for their health. Generally, however, the bird of prey will make a pragmatic cost/benefit calculation as to whether it’s worth the caloric output to chase a provocative crow. Most often they decide to wait out the mob for a while and eventually move on to a quieter spot.

All in all, I think “collective” is a much better, and more descriptive, word for a group of crows than a “murder.”

Apart from group defence, another advantage of crow mobbing behaviour is that, if you pay attention, you can catch glimpses of things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

For other posts about crow-revealed nature sighting:

Raccoons: Wall of Sound

Owls: Owl Dreams

Owls and Poets: Owls, Crows, Rooks and Poetry

Ravens: Raven Tutor

Missing Dogs: A Christmas Miracle — With Crows

 

 

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© junehunterimages, 2019. 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 Metamorphosis of Mr. Pants

To keep an eye on Mr. Pants year round  is to witness a miracle of transmogrification.

If you didn’t know it was him, by the territory he guards and by the company he keeps (Mrs. Pants), you might think he was a different crow in each season.

We all first came to know him for his breathtaking breeches, his tremendous trousers,  his peculiar pantaloonery …  I could go on, but I’ll be merciful and stop now,  letting a series of summer pictures of Mr. P at his most sartorially splendid  tell the story.

Purple haze, all in my brain …

Splendour In The Grass

Mr. Pants with his summer hipster beard, cover model for the 2020 City Crow Calendar

The following video captures his fantastic pantaloons fluttering in the summer breeze.

 

But. like a perfect truffle, ice wine, or a pumpkin spice lattée, Mr. P’s trouserly splendour is a seasonal offering, and must be appreciated as such.

In winter, he really just looks likes your average pant-less crow.

Suave and handsome for sure, but minus the feathery kilt.

In particularly frosty weather he can, like all the other crows, deploy some feathery long johns, but they’re not the same as his summer finery.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants, January 2018

By spring … still just your normal dapper city crow.

Mr. Pants as seen in the May page of the 2020 City Crow Calendar

But we keep watching.

Around June the fashion miracle begins and the legendary leggings reappear  …

But it is perhaps the autumnal transition from summer splendour to his streamlined winter look that is the most eye catching. For Mr. Pants the molting season is very, very dramatic.

It’s true that every one of the local crows looks like a rejected extra from a pirate/zombie movie, but Mr. P takes things to the extreme.

He does nothing by halves on the feathery fashion front, and the late summer/early fall molting season is no exception. Go big, or go home, seems to be his philosophy.

Here he is as photographed yesterday, September 10, 2019

By October he will be smoothly magnificent once again.

By mid-June 2020 we should see the beginnings of tremendous trousers.

It is the circle of life (and of feathery fashion) embodied in one magnificent crow.

More on Mabel

Mabel and I go back a long way.

When I first met her, she and George were a couple, and they visited my garden several times a day … for years. I wrote about them a lot in earlier blogs: their love story, their very tough year, the time that George was missing and, finally when George flew off to that great Crow Roost in the Sky.

Mabel never did return to our garden after the summer that George died. I’d still see her every day, as she took up residence at the other end of the street where I’d pass her often and exchange pleasantries (and peanuts) on dog walks. The fledgling she and George had that last summer stuck around for a while, then she seemed to be alone for a bit.

Mabel isn’t a classic beauty. If she cared about such things (which I’m sure she doesn’t) she’d always insist on having her photo taken from the right — her “good” side. From this angle, she looks perfectly hale and healthy. From the left you can see her bad eye, which started to look a bit “wonky” a couple of years ago. She’s also got one very elongated claw, which she’s showing off in the photo at the top of this blog post.

Mabel, February 2017

Mavis, Both Sides Now, July 2019

Mabel is one tough cookie. Although she almost looks blind on that one side, somehow she manages, just as George did with his broken beak. She must be able to see out of that eye a little bit as she never, ever misses a dropped peanut and is ALWAYS first to get to it.

In Spring 2018 she built a nest with a new partner. They didn’t have any surviving babies that year, but she and Gus persisted.

This spring, 2019, was a very tough one for prospective crow parents around here. Marvin and Mavis, Mr. and Ms. Pants,  Eric and Clara, White Wing and her mate — they all built nests and tended them diligently for months. I think the bald eagle family in the neighbourhood may have had something to do with the fact that none of them had any surviving fledglings by July.

Mabel and Gus, however — they hit the jackpot!

As of this morning they still have three surviving fledglings. There are days (quite a few of them) when it looks as if Mabel could use some baby sitting help from all those footloose, fledgling-free, parents out there.

So far, no childcare offers from the other crows. Luckily Gus is an active partner in the endless care and feeding process.

Stiff fledgling competition for that one half a peanut.

Wing stretching exercises on the Hydro wires.

Full of personality already.

Some days, there is just no getting away from parental responsibility.

You think you’re having a quiet rooftop moment to yourself and suddenly …

Pop-up babies. There is no escape!

I’m just going to walk away over here …

To start off with, all three of the babies needed to be fed constantly.  Now that they’re a few weeks old, Mabel and Gus are training them to do some of their own foraging. With varying success.

Two of the three seem to be getting the hang of it, but there’s always that one who just never gives Mom a break. Until she finally snaps …

We’ve all been there, Mabel.

You just need a few minutes of peace and quiet to regain that maternal equilibrium.

Then, back into the child rearing trenches.

Every once in a while, when the fledglings are tucked in for the night, Mabel and Gus get a few moments to dream of grown up crow fun. and being able to fly off to the roost with the other crows. Some time in September …

Mabel has been a past City Crow Calendar cover model. Her “Frazzled” portrait graced the 2018 version. Marvin is the high wire crow on the 2019 cover and  2020 (available now!) will feature Mr. Pants.

Related posts:

Hey Mom, tell me the story about when you were a cover model …

 

Huge Thanks!

Believe me, Marvin, we’d all like to know …

Marvin (Mavis is otherwise occupied with nest sitting) and I want to say a huge thank-you to everyone responded to my request last week and wrote letters to Vancouver’s Planning Department and Council. You wrote about the Notre Dame poplars in particular, and the importance of urban nature in general.

Vancouver City staff and council heard from all over North America and from Europe. As Vancouver has an international image as a “green” city, I believe that international comments are fully valid. They also heard from many, many people from Vancouver. They received letters from those who have a personal fondness for this area, and from others who have never seen the site in person, but who are concerned about how inappropriate and environmentally reckless developments seem increasingly able to slip through cracks in the permit and public consultation process.

Many people copied me on the letters they wrote and, wow, what an articulate bunch you are! Heartfelt, lucid and logical – they made for compelling reading and I hope they are being read and pondered as we speak over at City Hall.

On April 18 we also hand-delivered a paper petition gathered from our immediate neighbourhood with 360 signatures to the City Clerk’s Office.

So, what’s next? Well, the fight continues. The City Planning department gave April 19 as the deadline for comments, but we will keep on campaigning regardless.

Our first choice would be that the school give up on the sunken, artificial turf stadium plan and go back to the site-appropriate grass practice field that they already have a permit for, and which they agreed upon with neighbours back in 2006.

Failing that, we feel that the new development must go through a proper development permit, including appropriate studies, advisory panels, real community engagement, and review by Mayor and Council before any permits are issued.

Thanks again for your great response, all the letters and the moral support. Much appreciated by me and the local wildlife!

Signs of Spring

The signs of spring are there.  Admittedly, they’re a little tricky to spot in the world of snow and ice outside …

What the …?

Frozen puddle on this morning’s dog walk.

… but the birds know, in their featherlight bones, that spring is just around the corner. The small birds, finches and song sparrows especially, are  in full mating mode, chasing each other around the garden like daredevil Spitfire pilots.

Song sparrow diving into the season, even if it is covered in snow.

Female house finch and junco share a perch.

Male house finch in rosy finery

Goldfinch feasting on the coral bark maple tree.

A sure sign of spring is the sudden and ominous banging noise that makes me think the furnace is about to blow up …  an annual event which always turns out to be a Northern Flicker hammering on the metal chimney.  The neighbourhood will soon be echoing with the sounds  of amorous male flickers experimenting with different percussive surfaces, checking to see which offers the most impressive volume.

This flicker discovered that hollow aluminium deck railings deliver awesome reverb.

One morning a few days ago we left the house to find our street magically full of robins, singing their song of spring, and feasting on the large holly bush at the end of the street.

A close look at the ornamental plum trees on our street  shows some tightly furled little buds starting to appear.

 

In the 28 years we’ve lived beside them, the average time for these trees to bloom is the third week of March. They’re looking a wee bit behind schedule at the moment, but some sunshine and warmth in the coming weeks could get them back on track.

I haven’t seen any overt signs of nest building yet, but the crows are arguing along the edges of their territories. All of this squabbling leads me to believe they’re in the early stages of nest site selection.

Eric and Clara vie with Marvin and Mavis for hegemony in the poplars.

Marvin and Mavis view their real estate options from  the Crows Nest vantage point.

Ms. and Mr. Wing stand guard at the entrance to their fiefdom up on William Street.

 

Garden-wise, the signs of spring are obscure.

I feel a psychic kinship with the frost-fainted snowdrops.

The poor hellebores were breezily blooming in January only to be hastily buried in leaves when February’s snow and freezing weather swept in. They remain hidden, hopefully poIsed for a second act when things finally warm up.

Perhaps because I miss them, and possibly influenced by my convalescent hours with Monty Don, I’ve been playing around with some of my floral images from years gone by to create some new cushion cover designs.

While I dream of waking up to this view again …

… I’m working on some new images to invoke that spring feeling.

Spring Couple

New Growth

It’s difficult to say when Real Spring will finally show up, but Marvin seemed to be consulting a third party this morning.

Tell me, oh All Knowing Bird, when will Spring arrive?

As reliable source of weather information as any.

Perhaps I should ask him some of my financial planning questions …

A sequel to: Waiting For Spring