As with all families, there are fractious days when Marvin and Mavis get frustrated with their fledgling — and yet there are just as many peaceful days when the family bumbles along in (relatively) quiet domestic companionship.
I call the following series of videos, Wind in The Wires.
There are no moles, badgers and or rats (though I’m sure some of the latter may be scurrying about down below somewhere) and there’s a noticeable dearth of meandering rivers and lush green woodland in these mini-tales
Instead, I offer you a soothing urban nature bedtime story featuring East Van alleyways, crows, family bonds, Hydro wires and a stiff breeze.
(Note: There’s a bit of wind noise on the videos because, as the title suggests, it was rather blustery and muting those sounds, while keeping the crow voices, is beyond my technical ability. )
Wind in the Wires One
In which baby crow hangs out with mom while she preens and stretches and finds a stray bit of feather fluff.
Wind in the Wires Two
In which baby crow finds his own foot quite entertaining.
Wind in the Wires Three
In which baby crow hangs on in a gale and wants to be just like mom.
Other posts about Marvin and Mavis’s 2022 fledgling:
I always have mixed feelings about this time of year when the baby crows, still in the nest, are getting oh so close to checking out the pros and cons of gravity.
Sometimes, if the nest is too high and the wings too fragile, this is their first and last adventure. However, most will make it to the ground and then the crow parents’ work really begins.
Fledgling crows are a little like feathered disaster machines — hopping blithely into roads, napping under parked car tires, wandering innocently up to cats, crashing into garden fences, ignoring crow territorial boundaries and antagonizing the neighbours — I’ve watched each one of these scenarios every spring.
My breath is bated for the entire month of June … and I’m just a spectator to all of this.
As I always like to advise people at this time of year, try and put yourself into the mindset of the very tired and very tense crow parents.
Yes, they may swoop at your head if you get too close to their precious offspring. There will definitely be a lot of sound and fury, signifying something.
But try not to think of this as an adversarial, crow vs humanity type of situation — rather just another way in which crows, as devoted parents, are very like us.
Lots of the cawing isn’t even directed at us. Sometimes, I’ve noticed, the parents make a huge amount of noise just for the purpose of making the vulnerable little baby crow calls less obvious to listening predators.
Sometimes they’re just delivering a loud and endless stream of advice for the fledglings’ benefit: “flap harder,” “get off the road,” “sshh!”
And, if you MUST let your cat outside, please, oh please, at least keep them in during nesting season. Baby birds are, literally, sitting ducks for recreational feline hunters.
Also, take a moment to check around your parked car before driving off!
I haven’t actually seen a fledgling yet this year, but any day now …
I heard some quiet fledgling burbles coming from Marvin and Mavis’s nest a few days ago. Listen carefully after the car noise …
Marvin and Mavis were running a full time Uber Eats service between my deck (and an hourly peanut supply) and this tree a couple of days ago.
Here I am again …
They’ve also been fiercely defending our garden against a new crow couple in the area. Marvin’s feathers have been in fluffed out warrior mode for so long I wonder if this may be his permanent new look.
Now Marvin and Mavis’s visits are much more sporadic and I have the feeling that the fledglings are on the move, so the parents just have to go wherever their waddling, falling or flapping takes them. This is the most nerve wracking and disaster prone stage, so we can only wait and see what happens next.
More updates soon on other local crows’ nesting progress!
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 …
… 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.
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;
Crow babies are a particularly efficacious form of Crow Therapy. I know they’ve really helped to keep my spirits up during the long and strange summer of 2020.
Mabel, in particular, is having a busy time this year. Again.
She had three fledglings last year. Two survived the winter and have stayed with her and Gus to help with nesting season this year. Just as well, as she has another three to contend with this year!
Three babies. It’s a lot …
Normally she doesn’t come to the house, although our back yard used to “belong” to Mabel and the late lamented George Broken Beak. This summer, however, with three new mouths to feed, and the lure of a bird baths and an occasional sprinkler too strong to resist, she’s been coming back. There have been occasional spats with Marvin and Mavis, but Mabel’s clan have the numerical advantage, with four adult crows and the three rambunctious babies.
Young opera star in training
It started a couple of weeks ago when I was watering the katsura tree in front of the house and it turned into an impromptu corvid version of Splashdown Park.
Enjoying a nice cooling mist.
Learning how to sit with beak open to release heat on those hot summer days.
The triplets first fledged in around mid-July. Most birds don’t indulge the youngsters for nearly such a long time period as crow parents. The babies of smaller birds, like sparrows and finches, are expected to fend for themselves after a few short weeks. Their parents are usually keen to try and fit in a second round of nesting before the season ends, so it’s a short but intensive course on necessary survival skills, and then “good luck and off you go.”
Young crows, however, can be heard, loudly begging for food all summer long and into early fall.
The parents will start refusing to feed them after a few weeks, insisting they learn to forage for their own grub — but they do let the goofy youngsters hang around all summer — and often, as in Mabel and Gus’s case, right into the following year and beyond.
Mabel enjoys a brief moment to herself.
Scientific studies seem to suggest that this extended period of time with mom and dad contributes to the braininess of crows. You can almost hear the mental cogs spinning in the young crows’ brains as they gradually start to figure out the big new world around them.
Some things — like “is foliage a good snack?” — they just have to work out for themselves.
But a lot of the time, you can see them watching intently to see what mom or dad will do in a given situation — and carefully storing that information away for future reference.
I’ve had such fun watching Mabel’s babies this summer, I’m working on prints from some of the pictures.
I also had some buttons made from these new images, plus one of Mabel and a fledgling last year (The Art of Parenting) and I’m mailing them out, in random fashion, with all current orders from my shop.
I’m not sure what it is that I like so much about buttons. I think it reminds me of the thrill of getting a free badge with one of my comics in England, back when I was a fledgling, many years ago.