The Wild Heart #2 The Corvids
Corvid is the ornithological name for Crow. The family consists of, in descending order of size, raven, chough, crow, rook, magpie and jackdaw. They are all essentially black with relatively powerful beaks. To describe the magpie as black, however, is to entirely miss the point – it is a strikingly handsome black and white.
They are all permanent residents in Britain, so you’ll be able to hear them during the winter. The chough and the raven are rather localised, though, so unless you live on the top of Snowdon (for the raven) or on the top of rugged sea cliffs (for the chough), you are unlikely to hear them.
They all sound like crows, though, but the differences are quite clear, and they live in different places and have different lifestyles.
The magpie has made a move into suburban gardens in the last twenty years, and has got a bad press because of its supposed predation on poor songbird eggs and babies. It’s true that they will prey on small birds and eggs, but they are not responsible for diminishing garden bird populations. Prey-predator relationships just don’t work like that. No predator will eat all its food supply. Nature is not as stupid as human beings.
There will always be more sparrows than sparrowhawks, there will always be more wildebeest than lions.
The magpie, like all crows, is very vocal. It has a harsh chatter, not very pleasant to listen to. It is not a sound that helps its public image. In no way can any of the crows be said to sing.!
The sound of the crow is usually described as a caw. It is fairly solitary, and feeds on worms and grubs out in open pasture. It calls when flying, and tends to make three caws, but will also caw once, twice, or four times. The bird will usually be answered by another one some distance away. They are strong, direct flyers, and are carrion feeders, often found on road-kill.
Rooks sound similar to crows, but they live in large groups and nest in large communities, called rookeries, in large deciduous trees. Their caws are slightly softer and longer, and the flock will be particularly vocal around dusk, as they settle down for the night.
Jackdaws are smaller, but they, too, are gregarious and talkative. The sound is a sharp chack(hence the name), and they call to each other while they are out feeding on grassland, or around their nesting places. They are birds of cliffs and quarries, and old ruins and rural churches, which latter must seem like cliffs to them.
All of the crow family are extremely intelligent. I have seen film of jackdaws in a park, that, rather than eat the bread that was thrown to them by people, picked up the bread and flew with it to the park’s lake, where they dropped it into the water to attract fish, which they would then take and eat.
This fishing technique is clever stuff. It shows they are capable of using the bread as a tool, that they use delayed gratification, and that they pass a culture to their offspring.
I know people who couldn’t do that!