Crow Fest 22 — Part One

Although my last post was about how miserable the local crows are as they go through their annual moult, don’t feel too bad for them — this season is also their most social and joyful.

Several things come together in the the crow world to make fall time the best time:

  • Parent crows are mightily relieved that their fledglings are (mostly) independent
  • Fledgling crows, like teenagers everywhere, are busting to get out there, meet their peers and show off a little
  • Crows, even the still-moulting ones, look fabulous in the golden fall light and glowing autumn leaves
  • There are feasting opportunities/excuses for crow parties all over town

Crow Fest in our neighbourhood begins with …

The Hazelnut Happening

Around the autumn equinox a couple of local hazelnut trees become ripe, and many crows seem to have this date carefully noted in their social calendar. Hundreds of them, and dozens of intrepid squirrels, show up for the event every year.

A few years back a human bravely tried to harvest their share of nuts, wisely wearing a bicycle helmet as protection from the competition. This year, even more wisely, they seem to have left it all for the wildlife.

Normally the crows fly over our neighbourhood at dusk, headed to the roost a few miles east of here with only a few distant caws to mark their passing.

But it’s reliable as clockwork — the very day the hazelnuts are ready, our normally sedate area becomes an evening Crowstock venue, complete with rousing musical accompaniment.

The cawing is accompanied by the random percussion of nuts hitting the tarmac as crows drop them to break the shells.

Bombs Away!

There are other seasonal delicacies on the menu too …

While the raucous crow chaos is the big story here, as with all big events, it’s made up of so many small and personal sub-plots.

I love to pick out small groups or individuals in the crowd and watch them for awhile, trying to parse out the individual stories.

In the seemingly undistinguishable line of crows on the wires, you can often detect a family group — parents and fledglings, or just couples taking a quiet moment in the midst of it all.

The other night I spotted a personal acquaintance on the wires.

White Wing!

I’ve been worried about the Wings as they’ve not been in their usual spot for most of the summer. As if to confirm this was indeed her Wingship, she came down and landed by my feet …

The party rages on, but still full of individual little crow vignettes.

One young, ambitious and agile crow takes a moment to show off the Cirque du Soleil skill set they’ve been working on.

Look, Ma, only one foot!

I’m an a-crow-bat!!!!

Another independently-minded crow in the crowd decides to add a distinctive yip to the chorus of cawing.

A quiet young crow whiles away the time by catching and playing with one of their own recently moulted underfeathers before it floats away on the evening air …

And so the nightly Hazelnut Happening hurtles on for a few days until, finally, the nuts are devoured and relative quietness returns to the ‘hood.

Don’t worry though — the fall festivities are far from over. It’s just time to move on to the Dogwood Disco up the street.

More on this later …

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Corvid Flash Mobs

Somewhere between harvest festivals and soccer riots, these autumnal corvid gatherings are a sure sign of the seasonal shift.

Crow Crowd

A quiet street corner that is normally the domain of a one crow family is suddenly full of noise and dark feathers. It’s usually early evening when they come, making a stop on the longer trip to the nightly roost.

crow crowd on wires

Wires that are normally punctuated by only two or three crow silhouettes are suddenly sagging under the weight of dozens.

And it’s loud. Not, I grant you, as spectacularly cacophonous as the Still Creek roost — but enough to make itself heard over the indoor household noises.

Enough to make you put on a jacket and go outside to see what’s up.

Often there are additional sounds among the cawing. Crack, plop, bang.

Like giant hail, nuts are falling from above.

 

 

In our neighbourhood, two hazel and one walnut tree produce their bounty at about the same time. It seems that the crows of Vancouver have those dates indelibly written in their mental calendars, because every late September/early October (and I’ve been watching for several years now) they come.

Hazelnuts and Crow

The crows leave many nuts on the roads so that cars can do the heavy nut cracking work for them. Because it’s not a very busy street, they entertain themselves between vehicles by dropping the nuts themselves. This seems to have little effect, but they do look as if they’re having fun.

And it’s not only the crows that have this time of year noted in their “things to do” list. Squirrels are darting about amongst the crows, determined to get their share of the seasonal windfall.

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Last year (alas, I did not have my camera) there was a human vying for his portion of the nut harvest. Clearly he knew what he was up against as he headed out for his task wearing a bicycle helmet.

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nuts

I managed to harvest these two, without a bicycle helmet.

The nuts are the focus of all this celebration, but it really feels as if more is going on.

There’s a real party atmosphere when they gather in these loud unruly groups.

The long, hot, dry summer is finally over. Life is easier now. There are puddles to splash in, and worms to dig out of the dirt again.

Crows that have been busy — first nesting — and then trying to keep fledglings alive —since early spring, finally have some time to themselves. The young ones are big enough to forage for themselves and join in the harvest festival fun.

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Young Erica, Eric and Clara’s fledgling from this year.

Another reason for celebration — the endless molting season is nearing an end. Crazy bald-patch zombie crows are starting to revert to their true sleek selves and that has got to feel really good.

crow calendar Sept

Baby crows that have survived their first couple of months are now able to fly to the roost every night so the big nightly party is back on. These “block parties” are just the warm up to the main event at Still Creek.

Crow Choir

Getting in tune for the roost later on.

Just as the sun goes down a crow somewhere in the mob sounds the signal.

The wires erupt into a clatter of shadowy wings and commentary.

Slocan and Parker

Then suddenly they’re gone. All of them.

The wires are vacant and the nut-strewn street is silent.

Golden Poplars and Crows

A small tributary of crows trickles through the stand of poplars, golden in the last light of the day.

Crow Murder (Attempted)

In contrast to the rather peaceful imagery of Crow Calligraphy, where corvid nesting behaviour evoked the peaceful strokes of Japanese brush painting — this post is more Sam Peckinpah meets Hieronymus Bosch.

I usually don’t like the term “murder” to describe a group of crows.

Rather prejudicial, I always think. In the case of this gathering, however,  it seemed apt.

Incredibly, (spoiler alert) all participants in this brawl did walk away — but the ferocity was something I’d never seen in my all years of crow-watching.

The crows are pretty fractious at this time of year. All of that bucolic nest building has the side effect of making them hyper-sensitive to territorial infringements, — by traditional foes (raven, eagle, cat,  racoon, coyote) — or their fellow crows.

On Sunday morning the crows were particularly loud. I assumed it was the usual group protest directed at the new raven in the neighbourhood.

Crows in the Poplars

I was first preoccupied with the raven, who seemed especially oblivious to the crows on this particular morning . She carefully ran through a full repertoire of calls and meticulously groomed her lovely feathers.

The crows weren’t bothering to swoop and harass her, and I noticed that their anger seemed focussed elsewhere. I walked over that way to see what was bothering them.

Just then, all hell broke loose. From a distance, it looked like a muscular black feather duster exploding in the middle of the alley way.

As I got closer the individual participants in the melée became more distinct.

Crow Fight 1

It seems that two or three crows are at the centre of the brawl, with one of them pinned to the ground.

Crow Fight 2

The fighters are surrounded by a vociferous crowd — like a scene from Gladiator, with some Hogarthian figures passing judgement from the sidelines.

Crow Fight 3

Crow Fight 5

Crow Fight 6

Just as I was thinking that this fight might need a human referee, a corvid one seemed to step in. Abruptly the flapping stopped and “discussion” resumed..

Crow Fight Mediator

Miraculously, the combatants, aside from some ruffled feathers, looked relatively unscathed.

Indignant, but uninjured.

Crow Fight 9

The warring factions decide to suspend hostilities, and live to fight (and nest) another day.

Crow Fight 8

Of course, someone always has to have the last word …

Crow Fight Aftermath

The crowd dispersed as far as the nearest trees and wires where they continued to comment on the event for quite a while.

Political panel

Political panel “unpacks” the issues.

Eventually the tribunal concluded and all participants went back to their own territories. There they resumed the more tranquil business of finding just the right twig to complete the perfect nest.

Crow with twig

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