I called my blog UrbanCrows.com because I naively planned to write lots of fascinating, insightful pieces about Vancouver’s urban wildlife. The new David Attenborough, that’s me, I thought. But the regular readers out there – all 6 of you including me, my mum, the dog, and occasionally my wife- will have noticed that I’ve drifted off topic and have written lots of biographical stories from my exploration days. All good and well, saves me from doing it when I retire I guess, but it’s high time for a trip back to the original theme of the blog; a quick return to Vancouver’s crows and their remarkable urban lives.
It feels like spring has finally arrived in Vancouver. The sun’s out and it’s warm. The garden has emerged from the snow drifts and is throwing up bright green shoots. My kitchen floor is crawling with big, dopey ants just out of their winter slumber. This can only mean one thing. The non-sexually-dimorphic backyard urban crows will be doing the bouncy-bouncy soon, and making lots of little baby crows. Huzzah. I’m going to be a dad again!
My crow family shrank over the winter, from 5 down to 2: I assume it’s just the dominant, adult mating pair that’s left. I have no idea if last year’s 3 offspring died, if they were evicted from the family grouping, or if they just got fed up with my intermittent dog kibble hand outs and buggered off in search of greener pasture (aka. cheese). Whatever happened to them, the resident pair have done a good job of protecting their turf over the winter, agressively seeing off a few interlopers that tried to muscle in and snag my cold-weather food handouts.
Crows raise 2 or 3 chicks per year. The babies aren’t hard to spot. They sport bright red skin on the inside of their beaks, flap their wings a lot, and make the most God-awful racket when they beg for food. They just won’t stop squawking. It’s a miracle to me that the adults don’t just off them the moment they start yapping and head to the pub. Imagine a human baby with an insatiable appetite, that never stops screaming all day every day, and you get the vague idea. Plus fledgling crows are dumb as planks. They peck at anything. Roof tiles, windows, weeds, bees, and they get run over a lot which is usually not something fixable; every year there are a handful of flattened crow corpses in the roads around our ‘hood.
For a few months every breeding season, my resident corvid parents look every bit as haggard and tired as I remember being when I had 2 demanding toddlers. Here’s a link to a youtube video which looks (and sounds) like it was filmed on the west coast- you can hear a heron at one point. A juvenile is in full-on begging-squawk mode while Mum (or Dad, hard to tell really) just stares at it in horrified disbelief, vainly pecking at it to get it to shut-the-fuck up. I sympathise.
Over the winter, Vancouver’s crows fly off every night –for up to 40-45 minutes one way depending where their daytime territory is- to a massive rookery over in Burnaby, on Willingdon Street, where an estimated 6,000 birds rest up and shit all over anything that cares to walk under them. Every night you can see the long black streams of birds flying east from all over the city. Breeding pairs stay put all summer and build their nests in their home territory. In my case, the resident pair nest in a large tree just across the road from my home office window that’s periodically raided by yobby racoons and ravens, much to the consternation of the crows. So if you still see the crows heading east on a summer’s evening, they’re probably ugly-billy-no-mates-loser birds that have failed to mate, or they haven’t reached breeding age yet, or perhaps they have lost their existing partner (crows mate for life.)
I’m curious to see if mum and dad bring the brood to our backyard this year. Last year, they vanished for a few weeks, abandoned my kibble handouts, only to turn up again in the late summer. By then, they were a gang of 5. The fledglings were screeching for food while the adults were pleading with me with their tired black eyes: “Please. Buy an air rifle. Use it. Put an end to our stupid baby crow misery.” Least that’s what I think they were asking.