A Crow’s Narrow Escape

This week has started with a hawk heart attack.

Barely awake, and with freshly brewed and highly anticipated coffee in hand, I chanced to look out of our back window to the Hydro pole where Marvin, Mavis and Lucky usually perch.

A bird landed on that pole. “Not a crow,” my sluggish brain remarked as I grabbed the ever-handy camera.

A hawk — the first I’ve seen around here all summer.

I looked at the hawk. The hawk looked at me.

Then he or she bent over to preen their feathers …

At that moment another bird landed on the other end of the pole’s cross beam. A crow — Marvin or Mavis!!

My heart stood still. You can see the hawk, still bent over at the bottom left of the the next photo.

Time stood still.

It seemed as if neither saw the other for a micro-second … and then they did!

The hawk dove at the crow and both tumbled off in a flurry of feathers and claws — stage right and out of view behind the shed roof.

Coffee forgotten, I raced outside, very much expecting to find a scene of carnage in the alley.

Instead I found Marvin and Mavis on the next Hydro pole down doing some stress preening and stamping around.

No sign of the hawk.

Marvin quickly returned to the original pole as if to reclaim it, fluffy moulting feathers and all.

Mavis moved to our roof to continue preening …

… and also keep an eye on the sky …

My coffee was a bit cold after all this, but I hardly needed it — heart thumping as if I’d just downed an entire carafe of espresso.

Phew, crazy crows!!

 

PS In case your mind, as mine did, immediately went to Lucky’s whereabouts, I have seen him, safe and sound, since this incident.

 

 

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Crow Parenting, Summer 2022, Part 4


Removing The Training Wheels

Just look at how grown up and fully crow-like he is already!

It’s been about twelve weeks since I first saw Lucky out of the nest, and he’s come such a long way since those first helpless days.

The first time I saw Lucky, back on June 11

Now that he’s going to the mix and mingle at the roost every night, I can’t help thinking he must be starting to feel the temptation to fly off to see the world with some fellow teen crows.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week I didn’t see or hear him at all, so I was beginning to think that was that for our little family of three.

Marvin and Mavis having a quiet morning to themselves

But no — it seems he’s not quite ready to ditch those training wheels yet. As grown up as he’s looking now, he (or she, just a guess at this point) is wise enough to know he’s still safer when mom and dad have his back.

In the photo below, Lucky looks just like a fully independent crow coming for snacks, but further investigation reveals a watchful mom, waiting in the wings in case of emergency.

I think she’s also making sure he’s following all the protocols he’s been taught over the past few weeks:

  • look left, look right, look up, look down, look left again and right again and up again, etc.before taking a moment to grab a snack … and repeat
  • grab the highest value snack items first in case this is your only chance
  • dunk snacks in water to add hydration boost
  • pack beak and gullet with maximum efficiency before take off

Nice work, but remember, look left, right, up …

Efficient snack packing starts with careful planning

I noticed that the constant begging (feed me, feed me, feed me) sounds that filled the air all summer have recently ceased.

The photo below, taken on August 18, was the last time I witnessed Lucky begging from his parents — and you can see the somewhat cynical and unobliging look he’s receiving in response.

He still calls for his parents, but it’s more of an “I’m here. Are you there?” type of communication.

From a distance, Lucky looks just like a grown up crow.

His eyes are no longer grey or blue — they’re now close to the same brown as an adult crow.

The pink gape at the side of his mouth is now quite subtle when his beak’s closed.

Still goofy, but then aren’t all crows, regardless of maturity?

However, as soon as he opens his mouth, especially when the sun hits it, that pink gape lights up like a stained glass window!

His mouth HAS been open a lot this week — not for begging purposes, but for keeping cool in the ongoing hot weather.

Aside from expelling heat via the open beak, he also sits with his wings held out from his body to let the heat out that way too, and catch any hint of a cooling breeze — just like mom and dad showed him.

I have so many photographs of Lucky now — partly because he’s so darn photogenic and partly because there are weirdly few other bird models around at the moment. That’s another, rather anxious, story for another day.

Suffice to say, at this point I have so many pictures of Lucky, he could easily have a calendar all to himself.

I have to stop and watch and photograph every time I spot him because I can’t shake the feeling that each time might be the last.

Of course, I’d be so thrilled if Lucky turned out to be one of those fledglings that sticks with mom and dad to help out and learn the ropes of nesting next year, but I can hardly bring myself to hope for that much.

Any day now he could decide to take off to complete his crow-ducation at a faraway institute of corvid higher learning.

I just hope he’ll remember to look left, right, up, down etc and to always take the good bits first.

 

 

 

For more Lucky:

 

 

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Crow Parenting, Summer 2022 Part 3

Family life with a pre-teen. I think I remember those days myself.

One minute they’re all grown up and don’t need their parents AT ALL, next — they just need a snuggle and some comfort food.

At least, when I was raising my kids, I didn’t have moulting to deal with as well.

A moulting crow is a cranky crow, and the whole family is starting that process now.

At least the fledgling can entertain himself with his own escaping feathers

At the same time, Marvin and Mavis are dealing with a pre-teen (Lucky) who is going through the two steps forward, three steps back process of learning to feed himself.

Lucky can definitely come and get his own peanuts from our deck. He has demonstrated prowess (well, competence, at least)  in this field.

At first he’d just get one peanut and then wonder what exactly to do with it, but now he’s on to the advanced level of stuffing his gullet to capacity before flying away and hiding some for later, just like mom and dad do.

Other advanced skills include perching on the water bowl and dipping snacks to moisten them.

For most of the day, the family is off on adventures around the neighbourhood, while Marvin and Mavis are presumably teaching Lucky the skills needed to grab more “in the wild” food.

Yet several times a day I still hear Lucky making his begging calls, and every once in a while see one of the parents wavering in their determination to get him self sufficient by stuffing a snack into his waiting beak.

More often the scenario plays out like this …

… and even …

 

 

 

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Crow Parenting, Summer 2022 Part 2

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:

 

 

 

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Crow Parenting, Summer 2022 Part 1

Since I am spending most of my time watching and photographing Marvin and Mavis and their fledgling  …

… and since it’s so hot …

… and since I can hardly type now, having given myself tennis elbow by holding my camera with long lens for so many hours …

… how about some short, word-light blog posts to show you what’s going on with the family?

More like these to come over the next few days!

As I mentioned last time, Lucky the fledgling is perfectly able to get his own food from our deck, but seems to prefer to badger his cranky, starting-to-moult parents instead.

One little interaction from yesterday …

Have lessons been learned here? Stay tuned …

 

 

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The Quietness of Crows

“Quiet” and “crow” are, let’s face it, rarely used in the same sentence.

We tend to think of crows as stridently outspoken and rowdy birds, bringing a racket wherever they go.

Crow nesting and fledging time can be especially raucous, with parent crows cawing wildly at fledglings, and at potential threats to fledglings; and the babies begging loudly and unreservedly for food.

Our attention is mostly drawn to them when they are being loud, but crow do spend a lot of time pursuing more secret, secluded and silent crow pastimes.

The large Katsura trees by our our house are never chosen as nest sites, but they do seem make for a perfect crow creche. Often, especially in the afternoon, Marvin and Mavis will come by with their babies and just chill for a couple of hours.

One of my very favourite things to do is peer up into those leafy rooms and see what exactly it is that they get up to during their “down time.”

Here are some of the things I’ve watched Marvin, Mavis, and this year’s fledgling get up to in there over the past few days.

Usually one crow parent takes the opportunity to go off for some “me time” while the other keeps a quiet eye on junior.

Parent on duty.

As the world roars along outside, Junior finds a number of things to pass the time in the peaceful green chamber.

There’s quite a bit of snoozing going on.

When nap time is over, it turns out there are a ton of other things to keep a baby crow amused in a Katsura. Playing with leaves is a lot fun, perhaps because the leaf stem looks just enough like a worm to be interesting …

Also bits of moss are quite entertaining. I imagine this is all part of the important “is this food?” learning that needs to be mastered in these early weeks.

The whole world is a classroom for a baby crow.

Then there’s a lot of s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g to do, preferably without falling out of the tree.

Risky shot of fledging undercarriage …

All those lovely new feathers need careful preening …

Baby M is a few weeks old now so their eyes have moved from that early blue colour to a soft grey now

Learning to be a “covert crow” just like dear old mom.

Mavis, model for Secret Crow image, 2017 … a definite family resemblance

And, of course, there’s trying to figure out what’s up with that strange creature down below with a camera.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this oh-so-quiet little look into the more hidden world of a crow fledgling.

Sneaking away now and maybe baby will go back to sleep and give mom or dad a little more time to regroup before things get rowdy again.

S-s-h-h-h ….

 

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Nervous Nesting Notes

Crow couple photo

It’s a stressful time of year, nesting season.

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 …

Raccoon on a drainpipe

… 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.

Crows pursuing a bald eagle

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;
  • Use an umbrella;
  • Leave a peanut or two as a token of peace.

More about crow nesting season in last week’s Georgia Straight (with Mavis on the cover.)

 

And remember, fingers crossed, in a few weeks time we should be getting to know some brand new crow friends in the neighbourhood!

One of Mabel’s fledglings, summer 2020, with tell tale blue eyes and pink beak edges.

 

 

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Chip’s Tips For Hanging Around

It would seem that the local corvids took exception to the title of my “Boring Walks” series and have been pulling out all the stops to prove me very wrong.

Young Chip must have been especially offended, as she’s been starring in her own production of Cirque du Corvid this week.

Remember I said in Boring Walks Part One that Chip is fast and cheeky? It seems that she read that and thought, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

At first I didn’t notice Chip at all. It was Marvin, sitting on the fence and staring intently up at the sky.

So I looked up to see what he was watching …

In all my years of watching crows, I’ve only ever seen this hanging upside routine once before.

But Chip wasn’t JUST hanging around. Oh no.

She hung there for a minute or so and then let go, prompting Marvin to give chase.

That was so much fun, so she did it again. And again.

Looking to see if Marvin is watching

 

A head tuck and fiddle with the feet

 

And down she goes

Marvin cannot look away

Chip apparently decided that the “hang and drop” routine was too simple, and added to her routine by clambering, using feet and beak, between the multiple rows of wires.

But with the same end goal — flip, hang, drop and get chased. Woohoo!!

Down on the ground, I was literally gasping at the acrobatic skill. At the same time, I was laughing out loud at her determination to draw Marvin, who was trying to look very dignified, into her vortex of fun and games.

Chip’s family, The Mabels, weren’t even around — it was just her, having a laugh with the neighbours. She often visits the garden when Marvin and Mavis are there. They’re pretty territorial and have spent months trying to chase her off, but they seem less fussed about her presence lately.  After all, she is pretty darn entertaining — and way too fast to catch anyway.

Chip’s lesson for me this week — you can just be hanging around, being bored and a bit grumpy — or you can go ahead and make an art form out of it.

 

 

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Marvin and Mavis: 2020 in Review

Marvin and Mavis have had a pretty stressful 2020.

They’re far from alone, of course, but spare an extra thought for these two.

Spring was looking pretty good. Several years of effort had paid off and they’d finally driven all other crows out of “their” row of poplar trees on Kaslo Street.

I like to think they had a couple of weeks of feeling satisfied with their achievement before the trees were all felled in June.

Left with a blue construction fence instead of 22 stately trees, they tried at least two different nesting sites in smaller street trees. At one point it seemed that they did have a single fledgling, which came to the house a few times and was spotted on the construction fence.

It’s always hard to keep track of the crows during this period as they change their habits, protecting their young ones and chasing off in unpredictable directions after their novice flyers. All that, combined with the summer of noise and dust on the construction site, caused me to completely lose sight of Marvin and Mavis and the young one.

Unfortunately, by the time the literal and metaphorical dust settled at summer’s end, there were just the two of them again, looking a bit glum on the blue fence and starting to moult.

Fall feathers came back in and I was looking forward to getting back to the normal routine of them coming by the house a couple of times a day and  having some quiet chats about world events.

Trouble on this front too, though.

For new readers, a short crow history lesson may be needed here.

Before Marvin and Mavis became our “house crows”, our place “belonged” to George and Mabel. When George died in summer 2017, Mabel moved to the other end of the block and eventually started a new family there.

Mabel and just a couple of her clan.

In 2019  Mabel and her new mate had three fledglings, with two of them staying with mum and dad. This spring they had three more, and the two survivors of that batch are with them now as well — creating a large family unit of six crows.

Six is a lot of beaks to feed, and Mabel seems to have now remembered that our house was once her territory. Consequently, we have a bit of a power play going on, with Marvin and Mavis seriously outnumbered.

Mabel on the garden gate post, back to her old haunt

I have tried to apply the Peanut Diplomacy method to the problem, scouring the scene for the Mabel gang before putting a few discreet peanuts out for M & M.

But, with six pairs of sharp crow eyes on lookout, it’s very rare that anything gets past them — and Marvin and Mavis are constantly having to fend off interlopers.

It’s rare to see either of them these days without fully deployed head or pants feathers, trying to look as fearsome as possible.

Or ducking …

Anxious to avoid crow riots, and potential crow injuries when they dive bomb each other,  I’ve stopped putting peanuts out for anybody for now. When the dog and I leave our gate and I find eight crows waiting, I just walk off and try to lure Mabel and company back to their usual territory at the other end of the block, before rewarding them with a small nut offering.

At the end of the walk, I arrive by a different route at the back of the house and, if I’ve succeeded in losing my “tail,” I can usually find Marvin and Mavis and we can have a bit of discussion about how 2020 is going for each of us.

Suffice to say, sympathy is offered on both sides.

 

 

 

 

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Some Good News

I confess. I have been hoarding a small bit of good news.

First, because I didn’t really believe it could be true.

Second, in a year with so little good news, I felt sharing it might be a jinx, leading to me having to give you bad news later (which no-one needs.)

The second reason still stands, but I can’t keep this little nugget of joy to myself any longer. Time to celebrate the small good things as they come along!

Drumroll, please . . . I think Marvin and Mavis, after 3 years of failure, may have finally achieved parenthood!

Our immediate neighbourhood has not heard the gurgling/quacking sound of a baby crow in some years. Raccoons, eagles and simple gravity have stymied Marvin and Mavis’s efforts time after time.

And, of all years, I hardly dared think that 2020 would be the one in which they’d  finally luck out. Apart from losing a big part of their habitat when the poplars disappeared in June, they’d already built and abandoned three nests in other trees before I lost track of their nesting activity during the construction chaos.

So, when I thought I heard baby crow sounds just outside the house in early July I wrote it off at first as wishful thinking. Or maybe a baby crow from elsewhere that had  flown off course on an early training flight.

But I heard it the next day too. And the next. Finally I saw this small face peering out of the tree in front of our house. Then this happy scene in the weeping birch across the street.

The “direct deposit” feeding method.

Now, small caveat: with all the upheaval going on in our neighbourhood, it is just possible that this is some other crow family taking advantage of the chaos to move in on Marvin and Mavis’s turf. All of the crows are behaving a little differently and varying their daily routines — partly due to the rigours of nesting season, and partly due to the suddenly changed local ecosystem. Other crows have been popping by from time to time, but judging by the regular appearance of these two and offspring,  I’m 95% sure this is Marvin, Mavis and family.

Anyway, I am trying to stop myself from feeling like a besotted new grandma. Unchecked, I could easily start knitting tiny crow-sized bonnets for this youngster.

As it is, I’m out several times a day taking photos. “See how adorable s/he is?” “Isn’t this absolutely the cutest little fledgling you’ve ever seen?” ”

One of the first “baby” photos — July 9

Such a good eater!

Strong family resemblance!!

I had all but given up on such good news for Marvin and Mavis this year. In the days after the poplars came down I often saw them sitting together on the construction fence assessing the devastation.

But somewhere, I guess, they had this little newcomer tucked away until rudimentary flight skills had been achieved.

Things could, of course, still go badly wrong. The survival rate for bird fledglings, including crows, seems to be 50-50 at best. Every morning the first thing I do is go outside and anxiously listen for the tell-tale begging sounds.

A few days ago, parents and baby came to hang out in the Katsura tree in front of the house for a couple of hours. One of the summer’s highlights so far!

So far they haven’t brought junior into the garden with them when they come for their breakfast, but I’m hoping they may do so soon.

Baby in the background

Parenting is a tiring business …

Worrying about a baby crow is a good exercise in taking one day at a time. Here is junior yesterday looking for interesting things in the gutter (a reminder to check around your car before taking off too quickly at this time of year!)

Checking out a wide new world

Here’s my most recent photo (I told you there’d be lots!) taken this morning. The blue eyes are changing to grey now and more adventures (much nail biting) are being undertaken.

The video below, also from this morning, captures one of the things that make crows so very entertaining to watch.

Who among us, human parents or kids,  cannot relate to this little exchange?

 

 

 

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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.