All crows are extremely intelligent birds

Despite what the books say, this group of carrion crows numbered over 20.

Despite what the books say, this group of carrion crows numbered over 20.

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What a difference a week without rain makes. Underfoot conditions are improving and the birds are singing – happy days!

Oystercatcher numbers on my local patch of the Ettrick Water peaked at 71 last weekend and already they have started to pair off and disperse.

As soon as the ice disappears from my garden pond and things warm up a bit, I am hoping that I may get some frog spawn for the first time since I installed it two years ago. I’ll keep you posted.

On my regular riverside rambles, especially in winter, I have noticed lots of “crows” in the adjacent fields and not paid them any real attention. Since starting to note down everything I see, it was interesting to discover that all was not as it seemed. According to the books, the usual way to tell them apart is that if there’s only one or two, they’re carrion crows and if there’s loads, then they’re rooks. Not so. First of all, birds don’t read books. Last weekend, one field with grazing sheep, had upwards of a hundred “crows” feeding on what they could find. Scanning them carefully with binoculars, most of them were jackdaws, followed by around 30 carrion crows and a handful of rooks.

They are quite easy to tell apart, once you get your eye in. Rooks have bare, greyish-white faces, thinner beaks, black feathered “jodhpurs” coming down its legs and peaked heads, making it distinguishable from the bigger carrion crow, which is much more uniformly black and has bare legs.

The jackdaw is the smallest, with a grey head and is very vocal, especially when in flight, when it gives off its familiar “chack chack” call, from where it gets its name.

All crows are extremely intelligent, especially the carrion crow or “corbie” as it is known in Scotland. They are also supremely resourceful and persistent when it comes to food as I have discovered on numerous occasions in the garden, while trying to protect nestlings in a nestbox or prevent them from carrying off a peanut feeder.

Soon all three species will begin to nest and then they are easy to tell apart, as they all have completely different nesting habits. Rooks nest in noisy treetop colonies in large nests made from twigs, while carrion crows’ nests are similar, but are solitary. Jackdaws are hole nesters, favouring hollow trees where they often nest in colonies.

The next time you are out and about and see a field full of “crows”, have a closer look. You might be surprised.