Saturday, 6 September 2014

The View from the Nest

I thought I was pretty well done with writing about crows, but I was wrong. It’s not the first time I’ve been wrong, of course. Just last week, I wrote in my blog that I might install “I just called to say I love you” by Jim Croce on my cell phone as a ringtone for the RS. Oops! One of the first rules of writing is to check your facts. My dear cuz reminded me that Stevie Wonder sang that song. Jim Croce sang “Operator.” So please, don’t believe everything you read here. This is for you, RS: (deep breath) I am sometimes wrong.

Anyway, about my latest crowlogue – I’ve been thinking of nests. I don’t know about you, but the word “nest” to me feels warm and cozy and all about home. My friend Jennifer quilted this robin and nest, and the piece seems to embody that message.

Piece created by Jennifer Harrison.
 I’m not sure, however, that warm and cozy describe crow nests. When a crow couple decides to raise babies, old nests are rarely re-used.  Crows like their nests high up in fir or spruce trees – often 60 or more feet in the air, and close to the trunk of the tree. The nest is a big jumbled affair, often 2-3 feet in diameter, and roughly built with big sticks and twigs. Within that outer structure, however, it creates a much smaller nursery, lined with feathers, grasses and whatever it can find. Ah, warm and cozy after all.

photo by Bob Armstrong (

By the way, some quilters think they’re doing birds a favour by leaving  nice soft scraps of cotton on fences and branches so the birds can use pick them up and use them to line the nest. But that’s not a good idea: cotton absorbs moisture, and is slow to dry, so the baby birds are being raised in a cold, wet, home. That’s equivalent to leaving your children in wet diapers all the time.

I tried to make a crow nest of my own. Believe me, it is not as easy as I thought it would be. I have more respect for those master builders now.

We often have an idyllic image in our minds of nests as bird bedrooms: the birds return to the nest at night to rest. Not so, especially with crows. A nest is a nursery for babies. Once the brood is raised and the nest empties out, that’s it! The world becomes the bird’s home. Once their job is done, adult crows are free to hang out with other crows, including their juvenile kids. This gives rise to the roosting phenomenon, which I wrote about in Meet You at the Roost, November, 2013.

Crow observers tell us the success of a crow’s nesting efforts relates, among other things, to the distance of the nest from the trunk. Young crows who are making their first nests may decide to be a little different from mom and dad – “Hey, the view’s so much better out here,” says would-be-papa crow to his lovebird as they move out on a limb. They build their nest there, then learn the hard way it is now much less stable, and more visible to predators. As a result, they loose more of their children to storms, hawks and owls. The parental units weren’t so dumb after all.

Sometimes, however, young crows also have something to teach old crows. One day, a crow, lured by bright city lights, must have decided to leave the old folks behind on the farm. I’m guessing it must have been a youngster. Now more crows live in town than in rural areas. Perhaps the old folks moved into the city, too, to be closer to the grandies. And it might have been a youngster, as well, who invented a new kind of nest when there was a shortage of twigs and branches in an urban area.

Tokyo crow nest (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
As you may have guessed, all these observations could be applied to us. Build your nest. Build it well, and make it as safe as you can. Do everything you can to raise a successful brood. And then let your babies fly away. The next generation will do things their own way, and they’ll make their own mistakes, and that’s the way it is. Often, they’ll return with a new appreciation for your efforts. Sometimes, they may teach you a thing or two. The bonus is that now you can begin to hang out with them and share in their lives. And you realize that an empty nest is not the only home you have: the world is out there, and with your job done, you can go ahead and move in new directions.

This week, we’re doing just that. The view from our empty nest is good, but there's more to see. We are taking the trailer for a 5-6 week trip down to the southern states to visit canyons and ruins and deserts. Thanks to our new cell phones, we’ll be able to caw-ll home and stay in touch, perhaps even with a blog or two. There’s much to be seen and I hope to share that here, so stay tuned: you may hear me squawking again soon.

I call this piece Leaving the Nest. I have entered it into a Comox Valley Art Gallery show of fibre art called Hanging by a Thread. The show begins September 27, so if you are live in the Comox Valley, I invite you to check it out.

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