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.
Bringing you, direct to you from the runways of East Vancouver, the very latest in autumn fashion inspiration. I encourage you to leaf through the new trends and adopt some elements to create your very own signature fall look.
I can guarantee you will stand out from the crowd.
Eric and Clara model “dragged through a hedge backwards” look that is so of the moment.
The Statement Nostril
I really can’t over emphasize the importance this new must-have fashion staple!
A particularly severe molting season this year has left many a corvid nostril exposed to the elements. As with most things in life, if you got it, you might as well flaunt it.
Flaunt those nostrils …
Own those nostrils!
How To Wear It
This season’s look screams, “I don’t care what I look like!” along with a touch of “I’ve pretty much given up on grooming.”
A determinedly devil-may-care attitude is required to successfully pull off this somewhat challenging fashion trend.
So worth the effort though. Just look at the results when it’s successfully done …
Don’t be shy. Get out there and strut your tattered stuff.
Mabel, last year’s calendar cover model, demonstrates how the careful use of accessories can help pull off this look. A bit of hard old pizza in your beak makes you the indisputable Queen of the Runway.
Who you lookin’ at?
The Neck Ruffle
Hot from the fashion presses, this dynamic new look is a sort of mullet hybrid.
Quite the party in back, although not much business in front (see next trend below.)
The Indie Beard
This electrifying new trend is taking all of East Van by storm. Some humans even sport the look. While thoroughly of the new and now, we see in it a nod to the first beatnik hipsters.
Mr. Pants (such a fashion guru) was an early adopter of this bold new facial experiment …
But now some of the younger crows are hopping on the straggly chin bandwagon …
Marvin thinks he looks pretty groovy.
The Most Important Fall Fashion Question
Of course, these are only fads and foibles. What those of us in the know most want to find out is:
Will Mr. Pants regain his full trousered splendour after the molting season???
Here he was, back in early August when his Pants were at their most magnificent.
Things have been looking a little sparser of late …
This gives me great hope that His Pantship will be back in full regalia once the molting season is over.
We do hope you’re going to try some of these looks, brought to you by the Crow-dashians of East Vancouver. Do send us any photos of the results!
I have felt a bit like one of those fashion bloggers who photograph edgy street fashion over the past few days. It’s been quite a laugh.
Seriously though, the poor crows are kind of miserable and irritable during the molting season, so do be nice to them. If it’s still dry where you are, think of leaving them some water. Kind words are also always appreciated.
My mother had a storehouse of wonderful sayings — one for every occasion, really.
If I was looking particularly unkempt (a look I actively cultivated in my hippy days, but that’s an entirely different story) she’d say I looked as if I’d been “dragged through a hedge backwards.”
Sometimes, at the end of a particularly hard day of cleaning and chores, she’d describe feeling like “the wreck of the Hesperus.”
I’m reminded of both sayings every time I go outside at this time of year and see the state of the local crows.
They always look bedraggled at this stage of the molting season, but the seemingly endless, long, hot summer seems to be making them even more tattered and grumpy-looking than usual.
Feathers do not last forever, and after a year of hard service, the crows’ feathers begin to lose their glossy blue-black patina and become dull, with muted shades of sepia and grey. Luckily they have the ability to grow a new set of spanking new ones, but this metamorphosis comes at a cost. The process takes a lot of energy, which is why it’s usually timed for a period of relatively low corvid activity — after nesting and before migration (for those who head to warmer climes for winter). They need rest and good nutrition to grow the new feather cloak and hormonal changes associated with the process can make them feel out of sorts.
This summer, with no rain to speak of in months, it must be especially gruelling. Food sources, and even water, are harder to come by than usual. I’ve been putting out a couple of bowls of water in my neighbourhood for Eric and Clara and the harried parents of the Firehall Triplets. I feel especially sorry for the molting crows with young ones, as they have to find food for extra mouths — and deal with the loud and constant appeals for food.
The Firehall Family
Although they continue to try their luck at getting the parents to feed them, the fledglings are, by now, capable of doing some of their own foraging. The photo above was taken just this morning. The parent crow ignored that gaping pink beak and flew off with most of the peanuts I’d left. There were a couple left in the grass, and junior eventually got the hint and picked them up himself.
Baby crow figuring out if the leaves of my neighbour’s squash plants are “food.”
Warning: This is a risky vantage point from which to take a photo of a baby (or any) crow.
Eric and Clara
This is Eric, described by my husband as “the James Bond of crows” for his usually sleek unruffled feathers, and manner.
As you can see, even Eric the Suave is looking rather ragged and disgruntled these days.
Eric and Clara this morning. Only 8am and it’s hot already!
Mabel can be found every morning just down the alley from Eric and Clara. Here she is, her faded feathers looking almost as colourful as the towels on the washing line behind her.
My new pal has conveniently marked him- or herself with some paint around the neck, aiding in instant identification. It’s already fainter now and I guess the little paint mishap will be a distant memory when the new feathers come in.
So, when you slip on your new back-to-school or back-to-work outfit, spare a thought for the poor crows who have to grow their own.
It’s an arduous process, and I’m sure they’ll be mightily proud and relieved when their fall wardrobe finally comes in.
Crows and ravens are generally (and understandably) described as birds with black plumage. It is their darkness that allows them to grace the sky with such striking calligraphy.
Formal sentences composed on wires; more fluid, improvisational characters when taking to the air.
But it’s so much more complicated, and beautiful, than that.
Crow and raven feathers are highly iridescent. They collect and reflect the light and the colour of the world around them. Gunmetal storm clouds, cornflower blue summer skies, the fire of the rising or setting sun — all paint their feathers with fleeting shades of indigo, lavender, copper and gold.
Dawn crow, gilded
George, with his eye on the sky … and the sky reflected in his feathers
Crow takes flight from birdbath
These reflected shades are often featured in my photography and jewellery, so I think of, and marvel at, corvid hues often.
Sometimes I wonder, idly, about how many colours you could actually find in a crow or a raven’s feathers.
Imagine my surprise when a computer glitch answered my question.
I recently downloaded a batch of photos taken of a crow (Vera) in my garden. I use software called Bridge to organize my images. It allows me to see the images from my camera in thumbnail size, like an old fashioned contact sheet. It’s handy to see at a glance what’s there and do a quick edit.
I was amazed to see that some of the Vera images had been randomly translated by Bridge into, part normal photo, and part digital sampling of the colours in the photo.
Vera’s plumage of many colours
At a glance, I see lavender, lilac, violet, mauve, periwinkle, indigo, charcoal, forest green, sand, pearl, slate — hardly any black, in fact.
It was an ephemeral glitch, but I managed to “capture” a couple of versions.
Quasi-scientific proof that a crow is not just a black bird.
Read this blog and the others in the scavenger hunt, find the answers to the questions, and race to win fabulous prizes (including one of my raven pendants)!
I have to admit, I have been a bit envious of the little girl in Seattle* who has received so many fabulous gifts from the crows she feeds every day in her garden.
My local crow, Eric, and his family don’t usually leave me anything, except that which is white and rather slimy.
But the more I think about the nature of gift giving and receiving, I realize that I’ve gained many things, large and small, from my relationship with crows.
Some things are both large and small at the same time.
Take the feather, for instance.
I was busy. I was putting out the recycling in the lane behind my studio. I noticed a small fluffy crow under-feather on the ground by the blue box. I picked it up and looked at it.
It was really beautiful. But I said to myself, “June, pull yourself together, you have book-keeping to get to. You can’t get distracted by every feather you find.”
I let go of the feather and it floated in the air. I walked back to the gate and re-entered the garden. The feather wafted along with me. As I closed the gate behind me, the feather snuck in.
At that point I felt that being actively followed by a feather must be a sign that the book-keeping could wait.
I spend an hour taking detailed photographs of that feather. The images are integrated into many of my favourite compositions. To most, it just looks like an interesting texture. But to me, it’s a little reminder that the book-keeping can always wait.
A lesson and a gift from the crows.
Eric’s greatest gift to me is that he allows me to take his picture. There is a reciprocal agreement, of course, with peanuts being involved. Still, Eric is exceptional in his willingness to be photographed. I have been a crow observer and photographer for years now, and found that most crows are immediately terrified and/or evasive when something is pointed at them, peanuts or no peanuts. No doubt they have strong ancestral memories of being shot at by things other than cameras.
Eric, perhaps because he’s seen me out with my camera so many times, is far less fearful. Which has given me the priceless gift of getting to “know” and capture images of an individual crow and his family ties and foibles. Eric has a “sliding scale” of how close I can be to him, based on the offerings I present. For the usual peanuts, I can be two feet away. For mouldy cheese or slightly stale sausage, a foot or less is permitted. He is the dominant bird among his group, always grabbing the biggest and choicest pieces of food before the others dare to sneak in. But he’s also an affectionate partner and parent.
In some ways, the crows’ greatest gift is their potential role as a “gateway” to appreciating urban nature of all kinds.
In her wonderful book, Crow Planet, author Lyanda Lynn Haupt points out that these birds are “the most oft-encountered native wild animal” in most peoples’ lives. Learning to appreciate their intelligence, humour, agility and essential crow-ness can be the first step along the road celebrating all of nature, in the city and beyond.
As John Marzluff points out in his latest book, Subirdia, it is critical that humans maintain a “thirst to remain part of nature” in order to moderate our competing hunger for development, expansion and the continued degradation of the natural world.
So, while I still dream of some day receiving a little trinket from Eric as a token of our “friendship”, I’m happy just to enjoy his company each morning. Every day I notice some new things about the crow life he leads. While I watch him, I also soak up the beauty of the sky, the trees, and the light in the chickadee’s eye.
And I always keep any eye open for any crow feathers that might float by.
If you’d like to read more about Eric, check out my earlier blog post Who Is Eric?