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Archive for August 5th, 2007

Since I live beside a green belt, one of my markers of the year is when this year’s crop of newly-fledged crows become independent. The Vancouver area is in the middle of the season now, and it never fails to entertain me.

The first sign that the baby crows have left the nest is the echo of their plaintive cries as they try to convince their parents to regurgitate for them. The more aggressive of the babies go so far as to push themselves underneath their parents’ beaks. At first, many of the adults oblige, but, after a week or two, they keep their beaks resolutely shut, no matter how the babies position themselves. Once, I even saw an adult thrown off balance by a baby’s insistence. And there’s always a few parents who do their best to lose junior at this stage.

Eventually, though, the young ones grudgingly accept their independence. They come together in groups of four to twelve birds, all identifiable as young ones by the narrowness of their bodies and their slightly shrill cries. Like human teenagers, they tend to do everything together, the flock chasing after one who has sighted something that’s possibly edible and squabbling as they brush against each other in midflight or land too close together. They seem to congregate where the food is plentiful, such a shopping mall, and, for a few months at any rate, their elders seem to cede such places to them.

At this stage, the young crows are clumsy – which isn’t surprising, considering how fast most birds grow in their first few months. They simply haven’t had time to learn coordination in the middle of their constant growth. Frequently, they’ll try to land on a branch too small for their weight, and lose their footing as the branch whips up and down. They haven’t learned, either, to coordinate hopping along the ground and keeping an eye out around them, so they sometimes trip themselves.

Unfortunately, too, they don’t understand cars, and some of them always die each year before they can learn. However, crows are adaptable enough that many of them learn quickly enough to survive. In another month or so, they’ll have left their small flocks for the great host of crows that roosts about six or seven miles from where I live, and become at least tentative adults.

Many people despite crows as vermin, and no doubt I would feel the same if I were a farmer. But as an urbanite, I find myself impressed by how adaptable crows can be to human changes to the environment. Whatever else you can say, crows are survivors, and I always enjoy their first self-taught lessons in how to get on in the world.

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