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.

Last Minute Thanksgiving Tip

People are coming over. You could spend days cleaning and tidying the house from top to bottom.

Or … you could just painstakingly dismantle the vintage chandelier and polish all the crystals instead.

Of course, this will take so long there will be no time for other cleaning/tidying … BUT the chandelier will so very dazzling that visitors will be completely distracted from less than perfect bits by the blindingly sparkly light fixture.

Most important of all, the job will mean wrestling the old painting ladder out of the shed. This piece of equipment is one of Edgar’s favourite things and he usually only sees it at Christmas when it’s hauled out for decorating the top of the tree. Seeing it so early made his day.

So, if you happen to be coming over here tomorrow, kindly avert your eyes from dust bunnies in corners and feast your eyes on the mesmerizing chandelier.

And try not to trip over the ladder … 😏

Oh, and and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

For more handy home décor tips see Home Décor For Nature Lovers

September Dreams

As we say farewell to September, it seems to me that we’ve seen fewer golden evenings than is usual for a Vancouver fall. More rainy grey September skies are perhaps what made those few gilded evenings more shimmering and dream-like.

By just happening to walk the dog early on one such lovely evening, I chanced upon a new autumn crow phenomenon. Usually at this time of year groups of roost-bound crows stop at the end of our street to “help” with the nut harvest of a neighbour’s hazel tree. This year, the tree didn’t seem to produce many nuts, so our area has been relatively crow-quiet in the evening.

I thought the crows must just be barrelling on through straight to the roost — until I found they were partying at an alternative fun and refreshments centre.

A short walk from us, there’s a street lined on both sides, for several blocks, with dogwood trees. At this time of year, the lovely blossoms are long gone, but among the brilliant fall leaves are bright, juicy berries!

I expect the clever crows have been harvesting this bounty every fall, but it took me until this year to notice.

On those nights when it hasn’t been raining, I’ve gone up there and watched them.

They seem to move in tandem with the fast fading sun, leaving each tree as it falls into shadow, and flying ahead to the next one still touched with light.

The crow crowd included this year’s juveniles, meaning it’s that happy time of year when the whole family can go to the roost. The young ones were learning the finer points of berry harvesting for the first time.

For some, the berries seem to be a taste that needs some acquiring …

Young crow with berry, like a soccer player in possession of the ball, unsure on next moves …

Older crows showed off harvesting techniques honed over many Septembers.

Now September is over and the berries are harvested. The dogwood street is quiet and the young crows are dreaming about how great they’re going to be at harvesting berries by this time next year.

 

 

http://www.junehunter.com

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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.

Hummingbird Interlude

There’s really nothing like an Anna’s hummingbird bathing in a rhododendron leaf for a mid-week pick me up.

There you go.

Now you can carry on with your week.

Maybe dream about bathing hummingbirds tonight.

 

 

http://www.junehunter.com

© 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.

Late Summer Surprise

2019 has been a rough year for fledgling crows and their parents. Marvin and Mavis had three babies up in the nest one day, and then the local bald eagle swooped by and suddenly there were none.

Mr. and Mrs. Pants, Whitewing and her mate, the Kaslo and the Napier crows were all fledgling-less by the time I got back from my UK trip in June.

Mabel and Gus, however (see most recent post) bucked the trend by successfully raising three babies, born in June some time. Their territory has been the neighbourhood nexus of juvenile crow begging sounds this summer. Both parents are looking a bit exhausted at this point and looking forward, I’m sure, to the young ones becoming fully independent any day now.

Mavis and the Terrible Trio back in early August.

The young ones still occasionally beg for food, but you can tell their hearts aren’t really in it. Mabel and Gus are pretty much ignoring their pleas now — encouraging them to become self-sufficient little urban foragers. The neighbourhood was becoming quiet.

So imagine my surprise when, only last week — well into the second half of August — there was a brand now source of begging sounds. It was the tentative call of quite a young juvenile crow. It took a while to spot her*, but there she was, way up in a sycamore maple, softly quorking …

… and playing with leaves.

It was on a corner I pass by at least once a day walking the dog, and one where I don’t usually see any crows. It’s a buffer zone between two crow territories (the Slocan trio and the Firehall Family) and is generally crow-free. I’m not sure where this little family came from, although I suspect they might be an offshoot of the Firehall gang (for reference see: A Puzzlement of Crows.)

She isn’t a brand new fledgling. She can already fly reasonably well and her eyes have transitioned from the just-out-of-the-nest bright blue, to the grey colour that comes next. But she is obviously several weeks younger than Mabel’s brood and still very much dependant on her two parents. Her beak is still rosy pink at the sides, marking the bright pink inner mouth (gape) that makes such a good target for the parents to deliver food to. Over and over again.

All of this begging and feeding is very usual, but not in late August. So what happened?

I imagine these parents lost their first batch of fledglings to one or more of the usual disasters (eagle, hawk, raven, racoon, car, cat, flying mishap, etc.) quite late in the first go-round, and decided to give it a second try. I can only imagine how much hard work went into the repeat project.

If it had been one of the recent summers, which have been hot and bone dry, I don’t think they’d have managed to find enough food and liquid for the baby so late in the season, but this year has luckily been a bit damper. I’m not sure where they kept her, safe and secret, until I first saw her last week, but they did an excellent job.

Our neighbourhood newcomer has the benefit of two parents devoted to her welfare, but she’s going to have to be a fast learner to catch up with the older juveniles and be able to join them all at the safety of the Still Creek Roost as the nights start to draw in.

She’s a lot noisier now than when I first spotted her last week. I can hear her from our garden (a couple of blocks away) calling to be fed. That in itself can be a bit of a predator-attracting risk when your’e the only noisy one around.

 

Luckily she does seem to be a quick study. While she still needs her parents to break food into tiny pieces for her, she’s already mimicking their food caching strategies.

Here she’s hiding a peanut that was too big for her to eat under a bit of moss. She’s enrolled in the accelerated Being An Adult Crow class, while still a baby.

She’s got all the curiosity needed to gather important information about this new world of hers. What is, and is not, edible is something that takes a while to figure out.

Now that’s one giant berry …

(… so if you find your Christmas light a bit sticky this year …)

She’s beaten the odds to have made it this far, so here’s hoping she makes it through the next few risky weeks and graduates from her Crow Adulting 101 class with flying colours.

May your late summer be full of nice surprises too!

 

*I’m referring to this young crow as “her” fairly randomly as, of course, at this point I have no way of knowing her gender. 

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 …

 

Raven Watching at the Tower of London

Watching the ravens: amazing.

Meeting the Ravenmaster: fabulous.

Watching the ravens and tourists interact: priceless.

We were a bit jet lagged for our Tower trip (first morning in the UK) and I was still trying to figure out how to use my new, tiny, and infinitely complicated,  travel camera. But with only two days in London, it was time to dive right in!

If you’re planning a trip to the Tower of London,  tip number one would be to get there as early in the day as you can. This is a massively popular tourist attraction and, while the first hour or so were relatively quiet, the place fills up fast!

My childhood included annual trips to the Tower of London when we came down from Newcastle to visit my grandparents.  A standing family joke was that we shouldn’t call it the Bloody Tower because “that’s swearing.” Somewhat ironic, coming from our dear Dad! Our jovial family name for it was the Woody Tower. 

I do remember ravens on those trips, but they were secondary to the haunting tales of imprisonment, intrigue, mystery and murder that have always permeated those ancient walls.

This time though, my priority was clear — ravens, ravens and more ravens.

Phillip, who had never been to the Tower before, was determined to see it all — the Crown Jewels, and every tower, gate and courtyard.  I set off in search of the ravens and their “master.”

I started off at the raven enclosure. Poppy* (one of the younger Tower ravens) was posing on top.

NOTE: Thanks to my online friend, Samantha, who is a volunteer with the ravens at the Tower and who helped me identify them retroactively from the colour combinations of the bands on their legs. I think Sam can tell them apart just from knowing them so well, but the banding code is handy for me, the Tower Raven neophyte. 

Just like the ravens I’ve watched in the West Coast mountains, Poppy was starting her day by getting all those magnificent feathers in order. Must look one’s best for the visitors.

And speaking of the visitors, I had almost as much fun listening to their comments about the ravens, as I did watching the ravens themselves.

“Good grief, these crows are enormous,” “how did they all get out of their cages?” were a couple of entertaining things I overheard.

Poppy is particularly keen on interfacing with the public — mostly, it would seem, because she has a bit of a shoe fixation. Watching peoples’ reaction to having their footwear inspected by a raven was very entertaining. Of course, I was kind of thrilled when she had a bit of a peck at my shoes. Others were a bit less sure.

Poppy seemed to be available for selfies …

… but it turned out there was a fee for service.

She was very curious about this man’s hair and they had a genial encounter.

Time for some more preening …

And off to check out some more footwear.

So many to choose from!

I probably could have just watched Poppy all day. In fact, I was so fascinated by her I didn’t really notice that George, the Tower’s very newest raven, was inside the enclosure having a rat for brunch. He’s one of four baby ravens born at the Tower earlier this year. I did take a picture of him, but since I hadn’t had time to figure out the manual focus on my new fangled new camera, he’s just a blur behind the perfectly focused enclosure mesh. 😦

But there were lots more ravens to see. Here, for example is Jubilee — looking rather magnificent on an ancient parapet.

Jubilee was also a regular guard by the the Jewel House (where the Crown Jewels are housed.)

Looking slightly less magnificent as he does a bit of a feather shuffle …

But pulling himself together in time to make an important announcement.

Here’s Jubilee again, looking utterly at home among the throngs of tourists, completely unfazed by the paparazzi.

One more announcement …

The next raven is Erin (my friend, Samantha’s special buddy at the Tower). Here she is looking terribly official on the multi-lingual warning sign, “Caution, Ravens May Bite.”

Here she is again, in a slightly less official capacity …

It looks a bit as if the Yeoman Warder’s arm in the poster is reaching out to stop her …

A small child was yelling at her that this was a naughty thing to do, but Erin clearly feels that littering rules do not apply to her.

Erin strikes a pose with some more ravenly gravitas …

By now, almost six hours of raven watching had gone by. Phillip had explored everywhere and it was time to leave. I was a bit disappointed that our wanderings hadn’t turned up the Ravenmaster himself, but I was still really happy with my visit.

But luck was smiling upon us.

Not only did we run into Chris Skaife (AKA The Ravenmaster) — he was momentarily not surrounded by fans. In fact, he was all on his own until he gave a signal to his special raven friend, Merlina, who flew directly over to join us.

Having read his book and followed him online, I was thrilled to meet him in person and I can now confirm that he’s just as nice a man as you’d expect him to be. We managed to have a short chat about the amazing personalities of the ravens, the enormous value of  nature in an urban setting, and about his efforts to move away from the closely manicured landscaping traditions at the Tower to a slightly wilder, more creature-friendly environment. We were very lucky to get to talk to him for 10 or 15 minutes (time flew by) before he was once again deluged by other visitors.

You’ll notice that I was (of course) carrying my raven bag.

Bye, bye, Merlina — till next time.

This is moments after we left, so you can see how lucky we were to get the Ravenmaster (and Merlina)  to ourselves for a few moments.

So day one of our UK trip was amazing and , as it turned out, was just the start of four action-packed weeks of fun. More blog posts to come!

PS  — on another note, the 2020 City Crow Calendar is almost ready to go the the printer. I’ll let you know when it’s available on the web site. I sold out again last year, so it’s always a good idea to get one early!

Novice Hummingbird

Some of us always read the manual. Others do not (except in the direst emergency.)

It would seem that our little Anna’s Hummingbird falls into the latter category.

From everything I’ve ready about these tiny little birds, they meet most of their liquid needs from sipping nectar — from feeders or flowers. I have a water mister attached to my birdbath which hummingbirds are supposed to enjoy for bathing in and drinking.  While robins, chickadees, bushtits, flickers and even crows, seem to adore the mister, I’ve yet to see a hummingbird use it.

Robin-in-a-mist

We just moved a stone lion fountain we’ve had for a while to the front of my studio and, since it’s been there, a very young Anna’s Hummingbird has been to “take the waters” there several times a day.

 

As far as I can gather, hummingbirds are not meant to drink like this. But, as I said, this one has not yet consulted the hummingbird instruction booklet …

Might as well just go for it …

She actually seems to have a bit of a  technique there — spreading her wings on the outside of the fountain to stop herself from diving right in.

She does do some more “normal” things, like sipping nectar from flowers …

… and from the good old plastic feeder …

Educational Sidebar . . .

Those hummingbird tongues are a miracle of ingenuity in themselves. Until very recently, it was believed that they acquired nectar using capillary action. Some scientists thought that the lightening speed at which they feed made capillary action seem too slow a method, so they set up feeding stations with elaborate slow motion recording equipment. In 2015 they discovered that Nature’s design is even more amazing, involving an intricate pumping action created by the elasticity of the hummingbird tongue. You can see one of the videos they made, and read more in this New York Times article, The Hummingbird Tongue: How It Works.

When our little hummingbird is  getting a bit tired from all that fountain exploration and cleverly engineered sipping, she settles into a quiet spot for a birdnap.

I find the following thirty second video of her taking a quiet moment oh-so delicately balanced on the end of a bit of old honeysuckle vine remarkably relaxing.  I keep it on my phone so I can watch it when I feel the world is going mad.

 

And, speaking of relaxation . . . in a week from now I’m heading to the UK for a month. As I’m a one woman operation, I’ll be closing the online shop from May 28 until July 1, so if you have something you’d like to order before I go, now is the moment …

While I’m gone, apart from spending much anticipated time with family and friends, I hope to see some Tower ravens, meet some of my favourite UK artists, go on some hikes and see lots of British birds. I’ll just have a little point and shoot camera with me, but I’ll try to keep you updated on the highlights as I go.  I’ll certainly be posting on Instagram and Facebook and may even manage a blog post or two.

Till then, I leave you with the thought that, although manuals are often handy, sometimes it’s fun to figure things out as you go along.

P.S. Some of my most popular posted images, including the top image of the hummingbird at the fountain are available in a new section in my shop: By Special Request.

Conflict Resolution

Well, I’m not sure if they did it by guile, by force, or by consulting the Office of the Housing Ombirdsman, but somehow the Northern Flickers have regained occupancy of their nest.

As you may recall, it wasn’t looking good for them in the last post, Battle of the Nest. The Starlings had moved right in and were even installing  their own furniture.  And yet, when I went by the next day, this familiar head was defiantly sticking out of the nest.

I check every time I go by and almost every time there is a  Northern Flicker sentry at the door. Mom or dad are on duty 24/7 to ward off future home invasions.

Oops, looked unguarded for a minute there, but a closer look reveals mother Flicker on the upper deck keeping an eye on things.

Still some last minute renovations going on too.

Meanwhile, what of the starlings?

I must admit I was rooting for the Northern Flickers, given that they were in the nest first and had done all the hard work of digging it out. Fair play and all, right?

It can be hard to sympathize with the starlings, and yet . . .

It’s really not the Starlings’ fault that a well meaning, homesick, but misguided English immigrant (human) released a bunch of them in Central Park, NY in 1890. His goal was to eventually introduce every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare to North America, but the starling was his great “success.” A great example of “be careful what you wish for.”

Neither is it their fault that they’re tough and adaptable birds so that now there are many millions of them in North America, competing with native birds for habitat, food and nest sites.

A few other things in defence of the Starling:

  • If you still really think you can’t appreciate starlings (and remember, a lot of people felt that way about crows until quite recently . . . ) I really recommend reading Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

So . . . what happened to the Starling invaders of the Flicker nest? Well, it seems they just moved one tree over and took over the tree cavity that was used by Flickers for the 2017 nesting season (recorded in Flicker Family Saga Part One and Part Two. ) It’s been vacant since then, so they moved in without any drama and everyone seems to be getting along for the time being.

Just to be on the safe side, the male Flicker makes regular and  emphatic pronouncements regarding property and tenancy rights.

Game of Nests

As I look forward to watching the currently taping first episode of the last season of Game of Thrones, I’m also addicted to following the real life epic drama going on right outside my window … Game … Of … Nests!

It’s a tense, political and, at times, violent tale.

Marvin and Mavis have been plotting since February to expand their territory from the north half of the Kaslo poplars to encompass the whole darn row.

Historically, Eric and Clara ruled the southern end of the stand, nesting there for the past few years. Marvin and Mavis, it seems,  are an ambitious couple nursing expansionist dreams. They spent weeks harassing the other pair and “encouraging” them to move to the street trees further down Kaslo Street.

February skirmish with Eric and Clara

Poplar negotiations

By early March I noticed that Marvin and Mavis seemed to have won. Eric and Clara ceded their hold on the poplars and began to consolidate their grip on the block to the south.

All seemed to be going well for the new King and Queen of the Poplars.

Twig gathering was in full progress by March.

Marvin looking for some sturdy twigs in our snowbell tree in March.

By early April, Mavis was looking to brighten up the place with some blossom twigs.

But Marvin and Mavis had made a terrible strategic error. Spending so much time fighting for control of the south end of the trees, they’d neglected their northern front.

The firehall crows took advantage and started to build a nest in the northernmost tree in the stand.

Incensed, Marvin and Mavis rushed to the defence of their neglected territory and days of fierce battle ensued.

Marvin and Mavis spent so much time chasing the interlopers that I was worried they’d forgotten about their own new nest at the south end of the block.

On several occasions I saw them visit their ill-fated nest from last year  — just a couple of trees over from the new nest being built by the Firehall newcomers.

It’s almost as if they were mulling over what went wrong last year (their only fledgling fell out of the nest and didn’t survive) and were taking a few moments to pay their respects.

At last they seemed to decide to leave the past behind and let the northern invaders keep their nest, turning their attention back to the new nest.

Here is a terribly wobbly video, taken from far away of Mavis and Marvin working together on the nest. Warning: do not watch if prone to motion sickness.

While things have quietened down a bit in the Game of Nests, there are still periodic outbreaks of hostility. This morning another crow got too close to the nest and Marvin and Mavis gave furious chase.

The Land of the Tall Poplars, like Westeros, is filled with danger on all sides. No sign of dragons so far — but there is an eagle’s nest visible from my house. That means there will soon by hungry baby eagles. Mom and Pop eagle are already cruising the poplars keeping an eye on where food will be be available later in the season.

The poplars are also home to lots of four-legged crow enemies. This raccoon looks pretty adorable snoozing in the hammock of some high branches … but come nesting time there’s nothing they like better to snack on than crow eggs. In fact, that’s the fate that met Marvin and Mavis’s brood the spring before last.

I find I have to “watch” many parts of Game of Thrones from behind a cushion, asking when the terrible thing is over.

Yet, as full of drama and heartbreak as the HBO series is, it’s nothing compared to the real life struggle for survival going on right outside.

All we can do is root for my favourite characters to make it unscathed through the season/series. Now where’s that cushion …?