Imagine if crows were as rare as Golden Eagles. How we would marvel at their shimmering jet black colouring, their mastery of the air in the strongest of storms, their resourcefulness to survive in the harshest conditions, their intelligence and their striking harsh “krraaaaa” call. Alas, because there are so many, we completely overlook them but does this make them any less beautiful? I would argue definitely not.
What most people call ‘crows’ are actually four separate species. The Carrion Crow is (pictured above) is usually seen alone or in pairs; the Hooded Crow is closely related and until recently regarded as the same species but looks quite different (see below); the Jackdaw is smaller and has more grey; and the Rook is larger, noisier and lives in small colonies.
Rook – larger with grey bill
In all there are actually 8 species of the crow family in Britian. We are so fickle that some of these are loved (the chough, which is rare, with its red feet and bill), others tolerated (jays, ravens) but some hated; hooded crow, rooks, jackdaws, magpies and probably top of the list: the Carrion Crow (Corvus Corone).
The RSPB website states: “The all-black carrion crow is one of the cleverest, most adaptable of our birds. It is often quite fearless”. Their size is 46cm, with a wingspan of 98cm or just under a metre, which is impressive, more than many of our revered birds of prey. You might think that these are qualities to be admired, even celebrated.
However, it goes on to say….“although it can be wary of man” ….. and with good reason! Hundreds of thousands of these clever, adaptable birds are shot or poisoned by man in the UK every year. They are described as pests, a nuisance or worse, that awful derisory term: “vermin”. Just look at the collective noun, a “murder” of crows! Clearly they fit the category of “hated wildlife”. All talk of Crows being dark, evil or menacing is absolute rubbish however. Let’s not forget that these are characteristics we put on them, they are nothing to do with the poor Crow’s personality.
The Carrion Crow is a true native species, nesting and living here throughout the whole year. It is an extremely intelligent bird. This has enabled it to adapt to all habitats throughout the UK including cities, towns, woodlands, parks, gardens, farmland, hedgerows, coasts and mountains. It lives in every county, apart from in North West Scotland and Ireland, where it is replaced by the Hooded Crow, Corvus Cornix. Our disregard for crows is further shown by the remarkable fact that we didn’t even recognise this as a separate species until as recently as 2002! Surely any idiot looking at these two can tell that they are different!
Hooded (left) and Carrion (right) Crows
Here’s a video of Hooded Crows sent in by Mark from Avibirds, thanks Mark: https://youtu.be/OXX2sg1K6co
Carrion Crows are abundant, with around 800,000 pairs. Rather than worrying about this and punishing the poor crow, why are we not congratulating them and celebrating their success?! Thank goodness no-one is judging us on the same basis: the most abundant and supposedly intelligent creature of them all!!
They haven’t achieved this abundance by prolific breeding however. Unlike blue tits, which can have 14 chicks in one go and nest 3-4 times a season, crows only nest once per year and lay only 3-4 eggs. So a deliberately destroyed nest may not impact on the species as a whole but to that family of crows, it is pretty devastating. They only have one go per year and only live for 4 years on average. So they have done it the hard way!
It is only one of two birds in the UK which are completely black (apart from the Raven, another member of the crow family). However when glistening in the sunlight, they can appear vibrantly purple, green or blue. If it wasn’t so abundant and we weren’t influenced by past human descriptions, we might describe this as striking, dapper, charming, iconic even.
They are one of the most intelligent and adaptable of all animals. They will eat anything from kitchen scraps to eggs to fruit, seeds and insects. Some of them have learnt to thrive on beaches and in estuaries where they eat shore-crabs and mussels, whose shells they crack by dropping them from a height.
There is no doubt that the Crow does take other birds’ eggs and chicks. However, isn’t this a survival technique that we admire in other top predators such as Lions and Eagles? They are only feeding their chicks and trying to survive!
Some kind-hearted souls consider them to be a natural regulator of bird populations and argue that, to some extent, they play a useful part in improving the chances of birds which can manage to outwit him. They particularly take chicks which are laid early in the Spring. In a cold spring, the chicks which would have hatched from these eggs would in all probability die of starvation, whereas when further clutches of eggs are laid in replacement of those lost, the offspring stand a much better chance of survival. If a bird loses its first eggs, it usually seeks a better concealed place in which to build its second nest and in any case there is always more natural cover from vegetation later in the spring. In learning to escape the vigilance of crows, birds also avoid the attention of some other predators, such as jays and magpies. They also tend to sit closely on their eggs and only leave them, when they have to, with secrecy.
As well as being intelligent, Crows are also brave. Although often cautious (or smart!) at first when finding a new food source, once they realise it is safe, they will come back time and again to quickly make the most of the opportunity. An extreme example of this is that some crows have taken to playing chicken, using heavy road traffic to smash hard nuts! That leaves the problem of eating the bits without getting run over, so some birds wait by pedestrian crossings and collect the cracked nuts when the lights turn red! Check out this amazing footage: Youtube
They even sometimes harass birds of prey and foxes (yes, foxes!) for some of their kill (getting them to do the dirty work for them!)
Although no-one knows why, they are said to have a strange obsession with fire and have been known to carry burning material back to their nests. Maybe they just like living dangerously!?
What a clever, adaptable, successful and beautiful bird. You gotta love ’em, haven’t you!?
Do you love crows too? To share your love and contribute any interesting facts and stories please visit our Facebook page or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
and say with pride: I LOVE CROWS!!