Crow Fest 22 — Part 2

Once the nutty attractions of the Hazelnut Happening are exhausted the crows still just wanna have fun — and seem to know it’s now time for the …

Dogwood Disco

A temporary evening scene of colour and sound, the Dogwood Disco is a kaleidoscope of rosy berries, golden leaves, flapping black wings and excited crow calls.

The whole thing lasts for under half an hour between the arrival of the party guests and their departure for the roost just before sunset. They leave behind a bit of a red carpet situation on the sidewalk …

Dogwood trees run for several blocks along Charles Street and, for some reason, the crows seem to start at the west end and, each evening, move a little to the east. They leave quite a lot of berries uneaten. Some sort of mysterious crow etiquette … ?

Perhaps they’re leaving some of the berries for the humans. Apparently they are edible, though from what I’ve read, it would take quite a lot of work to make something palatable from them. These are Kousa dogwoods, and apparently the pulp of the berries tastes a little like persimmon, but to get to that, you first have to deal with a bitter skin and a lot of hard seeds within the fruit. If you’re interested in doing a little urban foraging, I found this helpful blog post with some tips from T. Abe Lloyd. He aptly describes the berry as “a pink soccer ball on a stick.”

You could also view them as teeny, crow-sized disco balls!

And here’s what the blooms look like in early summer when the street is a river of white …

But back to the crows …

They are clearly undeterred by any finicky concerns about bitter skin or seeds as they dig in for their evening snack, which seems to be as much competition as fine dining.

 

The leaves are still so thick on the branches, it often looks as if the crows are swimming along the surface to get to their prize.

Almost there …. I can already taste it!

Sometimes the berries are consumed in the tree, while others prefer a more stable surface for consumption.

Unless there’s too much competition …

Giving new meaning to the phrase “Fall Launch.”

Like the Hazelnut Happening, it seems that the event is partly about food but, like all good parties, it’s about much more — mixing and mingling, marking the end of summer, and teaching those fledglings about  group etiquette  — all while making as much noise and mess as possible. Woohoo!

Over the course of a week they seem to be getting the the eastern edge of the dogwood feasting area, so I’m not sure how many more nights they’ll be stopping. I expect there’s probably another important Crow Fest venue in their fall itinerary but, if there is, it must be out my walking range.

Who knows where they’re headed next, but keep your eyes open — it might be your neighbourhood!

 

A continuation of Crow Fest Part One: Hazelnut Happening

 

 

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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 …

You might also be interest in:

 

 

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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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7 Reasons Why You Need a City Crow Calendar

I’m hoping to pick up the 2023 City Crow Calendar from the printer in the next couple of days — and then will begin the mad flurry of mailing out all the pre-ordered copies.

In the calm before the storm, I’ve been thinking of the reasons why you, or someone you love, might find you really need one … if you haven’t already booked your copy, that is.

Like all calendars, they’re handy for jotting down birthdays and dentist appointments and the usual day to day stuff, but here are a few more reasons to consider dedicating some precious wall space to a City Crow Calendar.

If you’ve owned one of my earlier versions, you may have thought of other uses, so if you have suggestions (polite ones only, please!) send them to me and I’ll write a sequel to this post!

FOLLOW THE SEASONS CROW-WISE

Sometimes, living in the city, you start to recognize the passing of the seasons only by the changing nature of the items on display in local shops, or in our social media feeds (back to school items … must be July, Halloween décor … what, August already?)

I like to think that City Crow Calendar owners will:

(a) be inclined to get outside to see what their own local crows are up to, and thus witness first hand what the sky and vegetation have to say, and

(b)  start to see the crows themselves as messengers of seasonal change.

Crow seen with sticks in their beaks … aha, must be the beginning of nesting season.

Croaking duck-like sounds, followed by slightly strangled cries of ecstasy … obviously summertime with crow parents feeding their insatiable fledglings!

Raucous gangs of crows roaming the neighbourhood … yup, it’s the beginning of fall and the crow parents are feeling their first freedom since nesting season started, and the fledglings are now teenagers meeting other teenagers, and the suburban trees are dripping with fruit and nuts — it’s party-time!!!



GET IN TUNE WITH THE MOON

When everyone is saying “that moon looks amazing — is it a full moon?” you will be able to answer sagely “not quite, but tomorrow night will be the Full Crow Moon” and your friends will be duly impressed by your one-ness with the universe.

(Really, you just had a quick look at your City Crow Calendar, but I won’t say anything if you don’t. )


BE AN URBAN NATURE ENTHUSIAST

There are any number of calendars you can own that will show you breath taking scenery on the coast, in the mountains or in the deep woods. The City Crow Calendar (the hint is in the name) is specially designed for those of us who, for one reason or another, spend most of our time in the urban jungle.
It’s a daily reminder that you don’t have to wait and wait until you can finally get out of town to experience really being in tune with Nature  — you can find those moments any day, any time by just going outside (or even just looking out of your window) and checking in on what your fellow city dwellers, the crows, are up to now.

Of course, in addition to the calendar, you can also subscribe to this blog, and/or follow me on social media for regular reminders on the wonders of urban nature.

 

 


CONVINCE THE “CROW CAUTIOUS”

We all have at least one friend who has not yet realized (poor benighted soul) how amazing crows are, and how worthy of watching every single day.

Buy them a City Crow Calendar and see if it can sway them.

It HAS been known to happen!


ENHANCE YOUR COCKTAIL PARTY CONVERSATION

Now that people are starting to attend social gatherings again, it’s time to dust off those small talk skills. Looking for a conversation opener?

Try, something like this …

“Did you know that if you see a crow in springtime with white goop on their beak it’s probably because they’ve been removing their offsprings’ fecal sacs from the nest?”

Just watch those jaws drop!


MAKE SOME NEW FRIENDS

If, for some inexplicable reason, the party poop chatter doesn’t earn you a mass of new human friends, you can always be inspired by the City Crow Calendar to get out there and get to know some of your corvid neighbours on a personal level.

Like Marvin here, most local crows will at least pretend to be impressed by your wit and wisdom if you happen to have one or two peanuts in your pocket.


WALLPAPER WITH CROWS

Of course, I LOVE IT when people buy my signed crow prints as it keeps the wolf from the door, but I’m also happy to know that City Crow Calendar owners don’t usually chuck their copies out at the end of the year, but keep them — and sometimes put the pictures up around the house.

If you’d been collecting my calendars from the beginning, you’d have enough crow portraits by now to wallpaper a small room!!!

 

 

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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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Fledgling’s Progress

I try to resist naming fledgling crows until at least September, given the myriad ways in which disaster can befall them in the first few weeks of life. Marvin and Mavis’s young one is tempting me though — and I seem to have started thinking of him as Lucky, rather that just the “safer” Baby M.

Of all the crow parents who built nests this spring, Marvin and Mavis seem to be one of the very few around here with a fledgling surviving into August.

In years gone by all the other crows had much more success at child rearing, with up to three or four fledglings in one season to show for their efforts. Marvin and Mavis’s every nesting attempt met with disaster, until last summer when they successfully raised not one, but two fledglings.

Through a Heat Dome, no less.

This year they only have one, rather doted upon, offspring. His little begging voice is the only one I hear in the neighbourhood. I have to walk a few blocks to find another family with a single fledgling. I’m not sure if this is a Vancouver-wide phenomenon, or just a local quirk.

The Wings suffered some sort of early catastrophe and seem reconciled to a fledgling-less summer

In this area the other crow regulars seem to have resigned themselves to a year off from parenting. They all built nests in spring but, for one reason or another, no fledglings appeared and now there seems to be little appetite for a second, late season, attempt. I wonder if they’re learning to anticipate how dry the summers are getting to be, and remembering how challenging that makes the job of fledgling rearing.

It’s a worrying thought, but it makes me feel all the luckier to see Marvin and Mavis come by most days with little Lucky in tow. It’s such a privilege to watch him figuring the world out, one day at a time.

You can almost see his quick brain absorbing and analyzing every new sign and sound in his rapidly expanding world.

Earlier in July, he spent quite a bit of time napping in the shady Katsura tree in front of the house …

… allowing mom and dad a few precious moments to themselves …

Each parent gets to choose their own self care priority.

Spa treatment … meditation … each follows their own bliss.

I’ve realized that there are few things more peaceful than watching a sleeping bird, riding the gentle waves of the wind-wafted branches and dreaming bird dreams.

These photos were all taken earlier in July, before we went away for a short holiday.

You can see that. his beak was still that bright “feed me” pink, but the eyes had already faded from the bright blue of the first few weeks to a rather lovely soft grey. Marvin and Mavis were still mostly feeding him via “direct deposit” before we left, but also starting to encourage him to pick up his own food.

Worm for the win!!

By the time we came back from our ten day holiday, my first concern was whether Lucky was still with us. I was very happy to hear him squawking from a distance on our first morning back. Phew.

Seeing the family together, I note that Marvin and Mavis are getting incrementally more determined to have him get his own food. While his beak looks less dramatically pink when closed, you can see in the photo below how it still lights up like a beacon when he adopts the “feed me, feed me” pose and the sun catches it.

The begging still works some of the time, but mom and dad are getting a little less indulgent every day.

This morning I noticed Lucky hounding Mavis to bring her some peanuts from our deck railing, a few feet from where they both were. Mavis was having none of this.

Lucky: Mum, mum, mum, mum … peanuts, peanuts, peanuts ….!

Lucky: MUM! MUM! MUM! PEANUTS! PEANUTS!! PEANUTS!!!

Mavis: @#$%&!!!!

Mavis retires to a quiet branch to regroup

If all goes well, Lucky will be pretty independent by September and ready to either stick around with mom and dad until next year to help with nesting chores, or take off on his (or her) own to make their own (exciting, risky) crow way in the city.

Either way, I feel almost as lucky as Marvin and Mavis to have had his entertaining company this summer.

And, by the way, Lucky is already quite capable of getting his own peanuts. For all the fuss this morning, here he was calmly collecting his own food just the day before.  Like all skill acquisition, it’s one step forward and one step back, but there IS progress!

 

 

 

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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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Crows in the Boardroom

On Monday I jokingly posted the suggestion that crows would make excellently determined school zone speed limit enforcers.

I’ve often thought that an intense corvid stare might help bring home all kinds of messages.

Room for 28 crows more up here

The Wings enforcing their local stop sign

Today’s crow thought: why stop at traffic signs?

Put crows where the big decisions are made!

Instead of stuffy CEO portraits or generic landscapes, let’s see crows adorning the walls of the centres of power. We need giant judgemental crows gazing down at the humans sitting down to set policy in government and corporate settings.

A thoughtful corvid presiding over a meeting might help decision makers remember that any new plan should meet the objectives of that most important of all stakeholders — Nature.

At the very least, it would remind meeting attendees to not take themselves too seriously.

Crows — the ultimate influencers!

 

 

 

 

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