A Message in the Sky

It isn’t a dove, and it isn’t carrying an olive branch.

Probably too early for that, as we bob about in our socially-distanced arks on a vast sea of uncertainty, fear and loneliness, with no land yet in sight.

But it did feel, when I saw this crow flying over, trailing its lovely garland, that I was seeing some sort of message.

Perhaps: “Life is going on for us, and it will for you as well one day.”

Or maybe: “Look out and up, and there is beauty.”

Possibly: “My neighbours are going to be SO jealous when they see what I just got for the nest.”

As you may know, I’ve been photographing crows for many years now. I especially like to watch them in the spring when they’re collecting material for the nest. I love the silhouettes they make against the sky with twigs of various shapes in their beaks.

I have also watched them struggle to get just the right branch out of a tree. It’s not an easy task, as they have to first break the twig off and then wrestle it out of the tangle of branches on the tree. They often lose their prize, or just give up and look for an easier one.

This is, by far, the most impressive and lovely thing I’ve ever seen a crow manage to acquire.

Crows are known to sometimes present miscellaneous material goods to people who befriend and feed them. The crows of my acquaintance never do that, but they do give me wonderful things.

The fact that this determined crow* managed to haul this ridiculously long and beautiful garland out of an ornamental plum tree; that they happened to be poised on a roof with it just as I walked by with the dog; that they chose to fly off with it right in front of me — you must admit that these are a series of rather special gifts.

So, in a spring season like none we can remember, these pictures are gifts from the crows to you, via me. With love.

 

 

 

 

*This crow is either Mabel, or one of her family.

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Nesting Instinct

It was just like a door-crasher sale for crows, with home furnishings 50% off.

Like a gang of bargain bin foragers, they created an explosion of tugging, flapping, snapping, inspecting and discarding.  Reject twigs littered the sidewalk. In spite of the massive effort involved in finally getting a stick free, the crows would often cast a critical look at their prize and dump it. Perhaps they decided it was going to mess up the feng shui, or didn’t quite match the colour scheme — whatever — it wasn’t up to snuff so time to head back into find the “right” one. Even if a twig was worth flying off with, it would often be taken to a rooftop for some further DIY modification before being deemed nest-worthy.

These photos are of Eric and Clara. I know it’s them because of where they’re building their nest. That half block has been “theirs” for as long as I’ve been watching them — at least four years.

Eric finally flies off with a “perfect” twig.

Eric and Clara’s nest, way up in the poplars.

Because it’s been such a delayed spring here in Vancouver, crows are building their nests before the trees are leafed out enough to camouflage them. I can actually watch Eric and Clara working on the nest from my living room window at the moment. I only hope the local bald eagles and racoons aren’t also making notes!

There was a definite joie de vivre in the air last Friday. Not only were the blossoms out (three weeks late) but it was also dry and sunny for the whole day.

In between battling to acquire furniture, the crows would spend a bit of time just relaxing in their newly-pink world, and enjoying the novelty of the twin phenomena of sun and “not rain.”

 

Clara in the pink.

The blossoms were still there the next day, but the weather took a severe U-turn. There was very little twig collecting going on in the pouring rain. Trying to shake a twig loose from the soaking trees would have resulted in near drowning.  And the wind!

I think this juvenile crow’s look spoke for many of us when the rain started up again.

Nest Construction Notes

Last year, after nesting season was over, I found this fallen crow’s nest. I brought it home to photograph its architectural features — a perfect embodiment of urban and nature. The main form was constructed from sturdy twigs, grass and moss, then reinforced with human detritus — old zap straps and twine. A bit of packing fluff for a luxurious finishing touch.

 

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Meet Vera

Vera is a little nervous around the camera, but not as phobic as this photo would suggest. She was actually enjoying a good scratch!

She and her partner (Hank) are one of many young couples starting out and trying to raise a family here in East Vancouver.

Vera and Hank

Vera and Hank

The two of them started hanging out in my garden regularly a few weeks ago. Sadly, I haven’t seen Eric in a while, but I’m hoping he’s just busy nesting nearby. I hope to see him again in the fall.

Vera and Hank have been busy ransacking my trees for branches that are “just right” for weeks. I soon began to suspect they had plans to settle in the area. They fly in and out of a big tree close by, so I’m pretty sure that’s their new address.

This will look fabulous in the living room!

This will look fabulous in the living room!

A couple of weeks ago I noticed Vera begging for food and being fed by her partner, another sign that babies are on the way. Finally, I noticed a big pink patch of featherless skin under Vera’s belly. At first I was worried that she’d been in a fight and gotten injured, but then the phrase “brood patch” popped into my head.

Feeding Vera

Yum!

I’m nervously monitoring their progress. They both seem pretty young. Vera, in particular, could be one of last year’s babies. She still has the brownish feathers of juvenile crow. It seems that she’s pretty low ranking in the crow-verse. When I first saw her she’d appear in the morning adorned with droppings, meaning that, in the crow roost, she got to sleep on the lower branches. High branches are reserved for the senior crows, like Eric. Lately she’s been cleaner, probably because she’s not going to the roost at night, but staying with Hank to guard the nest.

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Curse those higher up crows!

Flying Cinderella

Vera looks as though she’s having a bit of a hard life. Her feathers are strangely tattered — the Cinderella of the crow world. She’s clearly at the opposite end of the crow hierarchy from Eric the Magnificent.

I named her Vera after one of my favourite British TV detectives. The fictional Vera is tough and determined, so I’m hoping some of that will rub off on this “Vera”. She’ll need all the help she can get make it in the rough and tumble world of the urban crow.

Vera, Incoming

I’ll keep you posted on any developments in the baby crow department!

For portraits of the crows of East Vancouver, check out my web site.

www.junehunter.com

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