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Crows - Feb 2021




One of the most obvious birds to visit the Rec is the magnificent Common, or Carrion Crow. This large jet black bird can often be seen strutting across the grass whilst probing for insects, or perching in one of the trees and calling out with it’s harsh, guttural kaarr-kaarr-kaarr.


The crow gives its name to a family of highly intelligent birds of which there are 8 representatives in the UK. Namely, the Rook, Raven, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Magpie, Jay, Chough and Hooded Crow. But it’s the Magpie and Carrion Crow that are probably the most ubiquitous and adaptable, and the ones most likely to be seen at the Rec.


Crows, unlike rooks which are highly sociable, tend to occur on their own or in pairs and are thought to mate for life. This is one way to distinguish these two very similar birds. As the old saying goes: ‘A Crow in a crowd is a Rook, and a Rook on its own is a crow’. But non- breeding Crows do occasionally flock, in which case they’re known collectively as a Murder of Crows. This assignation reflects their longstanding reputation as being birds of ill repute, symbolic of darkness, death and all things macabre. Their colouring and their liking for feeding on carrion, have secured these beliefs in the folklore and mythology of many cultures, and sadly resulted in a great deal of persecution.


But Crows are extremely adaptable and intelligent birds, and perhaps too successful for our liking. They occur throughout the UK in a range of different environments and are very eclectic in their tastes; they will eat scraps, insects, invertebrates, grains, eggs and carrion……along with more or less anything they can get their beaks on! And their intelligence has been well studied and documented. Members of the crow family can use and adapt tools, count up to 30, and problem solve to an astonishing level. Besides which Crows apparently have an uncanny memory for human faces, and can recognise and remember people, and their behaviour towards them. So please be nice to them!!

Photo courtesy Bruce Larner    Click image to enlarge

Next time you’re round at the Rec take a look at the pair of crows that are frequently feeding there.  They are black all over but if you catch them in the right light, they have a greenish, purply sheen to their feathers. You generally see them strutting with long strides, and intermittent hops, as they probe the grass for worms and insects. If you look closely, you can see that there is a small patch of bristly hairs at the base of the upper beak. Their flight is fairly slow and deliberate and the feathers at the end of the wings look like extended fingers. They are truly impressive birds.

Photo courtesy Bruce Larner  Click image to enlarge


Their nests however, are bulky and untidy looking, being constructed mainly of sticks bound together with mud and lined with whatever material is available, such as bark, grass and sheep’s wool. The female will lay only one clutch a year between April and May, which comprises 3 to 5 eggs. Both parents feed the birds regurgitated food when they first hatch and amazingly, it’s not unusual for the previous years offspring to help rear the new hatchlings.


Members of the Crow family do feature quite regularly in folklore and literature throughout the ages and in many cultures. There is Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’, Ted Hughes book of poems called ‘Crow’ (by no means bucolic!) and more recent references in the popular novels and TV series ‘Game of Thrones’. But I think my favourite depictions of crows are in works of art. Do check out Friedrich’s “The Tree of Crows’, Van Gough’s ‘Wheatfield with Crows’ and the beautifully tender ‘Woman with a Crow’ by Picasso. These birds really are deserving of our respect.


By Denise Long




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