Corvid

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I am an enormous fan of the corvid family of birds.  They are highly intelligent and extremely clever. They do use that intelligence to bully and steal on occasion, but then so does homo sapiens.

I once knew a family of magpies who successfully raised a couple of young ones a year. Their dramatic looks reminded me of a gentleman’s evening tailcoat with electric blue silk lining and their machine-gun staccato cries like the braying laugh of the gentleman’s wife.

Crows are universally confident – it takes a lot to frighten them. Crow-scaring devices provoke an initial flurry of alarm, but canny corvids quickly work out what is a real threat and which a ruse.

One day this crow was patient enough to pose for me. Initially perched in a tree overlooking a riverside path, he hopped obligingly closer and struck a pose in nobile profile, that keen eye always keeping me in sight. People refer to this type of crow as little undertakers because of their all-black feathered suits.  If that’s so, then they are a very superior type of undertaker, for their sleek glossy feathers are many wonderful tones of black.

Their ghoulish reputation as scavengers of the dead is probably exaggerated, but it does give us that marvellous Scots song, ‘The Twa Corbies’:

As I was walking all alane,

I heard twa corbies making a mane;

The tane unto the t’other say,

‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’
‘In behint yon auld fail dyke,

I wot there lies a new slain knight;

And naebody kens that he lies there,

But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.
‘His hound is to the hunting gane,

His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,

His lady’s ta’en another mate,

So we may mak our dinner sweet.
‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,

And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een;

Wi ae lock o his gowden hair,

We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.
‘Mony a one for him makes mane,

But nane sall ken where he is gane;

Oer his white banes, when they we bare,

The wind sall blaw for evermair.

Photo © Rachel Cowan

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