Friday, October 26, 2007

Don't Stone the Crows

Crows have been on my mind a lot lately (maybe I do have too much time on my hands after all). This is partly because I'm reading Mark Cocker's rather wonderful book about them, Crow Country, and, in tandem, W.H. Hudson's still more wonderful Birds In London, which is largely about crows in their various forms. I'm trying to love these big black birds, with their slouching posture, ugly gait, preposterous beaks and malicious-seeming eyes - and it's not easy. Rooks are one thing (Cocker points out something I'd never consciously noticed before - that the instant shorthand for a British rural location, on TV, flim or radio, is a background of rookery sounds). But the carrion crows that are invading my corner of Surrey suburbia in ever increasing numbers are another matter. This morning, as I left the house, the racket was amazing - so loud and hideous I thought the local parakeets and jays must be contributing, but no, it was some kind of ferocious territorial battle among the rooftops and chimneys, between crows and magpies. Crows have been known to eat young magpies, and for that they should be applauded. If it was reciprocal, they might even get each other's numbers down, but there's no sign of it - and the crows, now, are definitely in the ascendant. The unfortunate effect of this burgeoning corvid population is a decline in songbird numbers - smaller birds, their young and their eggs are all grist to the corvid mill - but of course that sinister organisation the RSPB won't blame any bird for anything. Still, crows can be loved - as Cocker and Hudson and even this demonstrate. I'm beginning to come round to them already...

16 comments:

  1. Crows are wonderful birds. In Berlin I note they are black and grey in colour. I wonder why? Any thoughts on that?

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  2. Crows and magpies are the avian equivalent of mods and rockers, and bluejays are punks. Just mindless thugs, can’t see the appeal myself. An awful lot of crows about this year too. Fewer bluejays, perhaps? One can but hope.
    J Cheever Loophole

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  3. There you'd be looking at either the Hooded Crow (full crow size, but with rather fetching grey-and-black plumage) or the smaller Jackdaw, which has a greyish head ( and pale eyes).

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  4. Cheever, in the interests of Bill Oddie types everywhere, I should point out that, despite their blue wingflashes, our own jays are just plain Jays. Bluejays are American birds, and very blue.
    I guess the crows are the rockers and the magpies the mods? The jays are certainly punks. But you must like the sound of a rookery in the distance, don't you? My grandfather lived rather too close to a rookery - nextdoor in fact - and had his 'man' go out and shoot them. The more I find out about rooks, the sadder this seems.

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  5. Ah, thanks for that Nige, I stand corrected! As for the sound of a rookery, it always reminds me of tv and film of the Seventies. The great 1972 cinematic version of Sleuth, which I have recently revisited, is packed with the sound of cawing. Quite sinister. Especially with the clown costume worn by Michael Caine...
    JCL

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  6. Ah yes, cawing and coulrophobia - sinister indeed... Oddly there seems to be no name for crow phobia, though it's surely quite common, as phobias go. Corvophobia would do.

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  7. Jackdaws are a good half-way house. Wonderful acrobats, not a little silly as they scuffle and tumble about, intelligent and fairly easy to tame (they were a popular pet when I was at school). I don't think they have quite such a taste for songbirds, if any, as their sinister cousins, the Hell's Angels to the Jackdaw's scooter-boys. As for shooting rooks, wasn't rook pie - young ones only please - a fairly common country dish once? If only squirrel pie would replace it, but about the only aficionado of that seems to be Robin Page and I don't think his paper was really very keen on the idea.

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  8. Well, now I know why a "murder of crows" is the phrase for a flock of them.

    We get 'em here about once a year and they are HUGE. Our old tom cat stalked one once from the cliff behind our house and managed to leap onto its back. The crow then went airborne and Brad was so shocked he let go when they were about ten feet off the ground. And you thought cats couldn't fly.

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  9. Good grief Susan - they must be big indeed. Some kind of ravens perhaps (seldom seen in these parts, except at the Tower of London). A nice try by that tom of yours though.

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  10. I once saw Stone the Crows and Joe Cocker on the same bill. Is your man any relation?

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  11. Stone me Richard, did you really? I don't think Mark's a Sheffield lad, but you never know. There's Jarvis too...

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  12. Mark, this one's for you. Apparently crows are bastards to prepare - you skin them rather than plucking them, and you need about a dozen to make a decent pie. Feathers everywhere...

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  13. Thanks Nige. Mrs Beeton to the rescue with some suggestions for preparing rook and steak pie: "Skin the birds without plucking them by cutting the skin near the thighs, and drawing it over the body and head." Er, on second thoughts, I think I might try telling the butcher I've bagged a melanistic partridge. Think my mother used to cook rook pie just after the war when there wasn't much else around. It's probably not bad at all.

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  14. I've just seen a crow with white wings - most of the primaries pure white. A very handsome effect. It was on its own, probably being shunned by its fellows. Life's hard in Crow Country.

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